December 14, 2008

I've been thinking a lot lately about marriage. It started a few weeks ago when I ran into an old friend on the street.

"What's been going on?" She asked.

We hadn't seen each other in nearly ten years. "Oh, you know…" I said, trailing off. This is a great thing to say. The unspoken part of that sentence could mean I'm on top of the world and being modest - or maybe it means I've had a life filled with wrong turns and bad choices which I don't feel like sharing. I'll let her decide.

She stared at me. Or rather, she stared at my hand which, to her dismay, was concealed in a glove. Then she cut to the chase.

"Are you married?"

I could have won the Nobel Peace Prize and it wouldn't have mattered. "Nope," I said, "not married."

She made a sad face. "We have to get you married!"

We do?

I know she intended it in a caring way, but it implied I must be unhappy because I don't have a husband.

There are a number of reasons why I'm unhappy but not having a husband isn't one of them. Which, now that I think about it, seems uncharacteristic. How did I miss that? Surely if I had a husband it would open up new opportunities for disaster.

Most of my friends whose weddings I've been to are no longer together. Yet you never hear anyone say, "We have to get you divorced!"

It's not that I'm against marriage, I just haven't cared one way or the other. And with friends who are happily married, it was definitely a desired preference.

For my friend, Laura, the symbolism as well as the language was important. They had been living together for a while but the words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" seemed juvenile.

"Now when he calls me his wife," She says. "It's shorthand for the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with and the only person I'll ever kiss with tongue again."

I can see the merits in that. People say all the time that when you get married you give up your freedom but that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

I asked my married friend, Audrey, what freedom she's had to give up and she replied: "Thinking just about myself. When you're married, you're always considering the other person."

That sounds like a lot of work. She said it is. For instance, before when she would get asked to things, she would only have to think about what she felt like and her schedule, now she factors in the time she has with her husband and if it's something they could do together. Is it a party she can bring him to? Is it a movie he'd want to see? And so on.

I can't see that being an issue for me. I don't get asked out to a lot of things so I wouldn't have to worry.

What people tend to forget is that being on one's own is often by choice. The other day Sophie told me someone said she was "brave" for not being married. She took it as a compliment. I can see how leaving war-torn Sarajevo with nothing but the clothes on your back is brave. But living in a one-bedroom in the West Village without a husband - is that really heroic?

"It is." Sophie said. "Because a lot of people get married not to be alone."

I guess I always assumed that even if I got married, I'd still feel alone. But maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I'd feel so attached to my husband that instead of panicking about something happening to me, I'd panic about something happening to him. That would be worse. I can see it now: finally I find my soul mate and a month later he chokes on a fishbone.

If I got married it wouldn't end in divorce court but at the Dignitas clinic for assisted suicide.

Then again, that's kind of romantic. At least we'd be together.

Aside from having someone to help you die, I think the best thing about marriage has got to be telling people. A few years ago I got a call from an ex. We hadn't spoken since the split and he called to say he was getting married.

"I wanted to tell to you myself," he said, "Before you heard about it from someone else."

That's nice. But how would I have heard about it from someone else? We had no friends in common. Did he think it would be announced on the news?

Perhaps because I was the last person he went out with before deciding to commit himself for life to another woman he felt he owed it to me to make it clear that when he said "something was missing" it wasn't with him.

Then he said, "I only hope that someday you can be as happy as I am."

What do you say to that?

Last week I ran into him at a party. By now, all emotion had neutralised and I was interested to meet his wife. Turns out, they're no longer together and he seemed pretty miserable. So I guess not only am I as happy as him, I might even be happier.

Who'd have thought that was possible?