Diane Lawrence • Contributor
The religious conservatives have it wrong ... again. Gay marriage will not destroy the institute of marriage. How can people who want to get married end marriage? In fact, gay men and women who crave marriage are the distraction, the front, the “beard” if you will for the real secret, pervasive threat to the Institute of Marriage ... childless, single, joyous, happy and free women who just can’t get worked up about getting married and who do not want children. And our numbers are growing. Nearly half of the population is single and 61 percent of them have never married.
I have been unmarried all my life (60 years) despite being attractive, bright, talented and accomplished. I’ve had a few men hover around aiming at my ever moving target, and I’ve had a few men who were too fast on their feet to fall over my extended foot. I had one man hint around about marriage, and the only response I could give him was “Think, man, THINK!”
I remember an incident in my childhood that might provide a clue to my spinster trajectory. When I was about 7, a local playground provided summer activities. Unfortunately it was a rather dismal playground, offering minimal shade while we participated in the usual pipe-cleaner, stick-figure projects or popsicle and glue creations designed to keep us out of mom’s hair for a few hours.
One day a counselor decided to shake things up. She sat us down, boys and girls, and told us we were going to have a wedding day. There would be cake, ice cream and balloons! Sounded great until she dropped the bomb and told us we would be paired up to marry each other.
I listened in anxious confusion as she explained how we would dress up in our Sunday best and go through a little wedding ceremony. “C’mon! It will be fun!” Inside every little kid brain is the adult they are going to become, quietly observing and occasionally commenting. My thought? “This is the worst game ever.” Yet I went along to get along and came to the appointed day looking fetching in a new white party dress. My mom had fun putting the veil together and wished me well as she dropped me off and watched me trudge toward the other kids dotting the playground in white dresses and black suits. I was paired up with a poor young lad who looked quite serious about the whole thing as we took our place in the marriage line with the others. I have little memory of what happened next, other than my betrothed and I standing stiffly next to each other avoiding eye contact. I suspect he was wondering if this meant we were really getting married and how the hell was he going to support me and the kids.
That day, 53 years ago, was the closest I ever came to a wedding dress or wedding day. I remember in my 30s standing next to a girlfriend as we waited for the light to turn green. She suddenly gasped out loud and exclaimed, “Oh NO!” Startled, I turned and asked, “What!?” In all seriousness she said, “I forgot to get married!! DARN I knew I forgot something!” We both broke up laughing as the light turned green, and we proceeded on our merry, unmarried way.
I am not against marriage. I know some wonderful unions where two people have lasted and are so well suited one couldn’t imagine them with anyone else. In some cases one couldn’t imagine anyone else putting up with either of them. I have also seen disastrous unions and placed bets at the wedding as to the number of years or even months it would last. I’ve seen wonderful unions that ended with the untimely death of the partner. I like the stories of “We knew we were right, right from the start” and they were right.
Yet this “right for each other” never came my way. And if it did, I apparently didn’t notice. But contrary to what married folks want to believe, lack of children or husband has many rewards for an adventurous woman. Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose. I have had the enormous great fortune to have been able to pursue everything I’ve ever wanted to do and become the most full version of myself, something I hear gets lost for many women in the middle of endless husband and child demands. I do know that a family can have its rewards: Who can deny the benefits of protection, affection, support? But so many are a hotbed of tangled resentments, unspoken fears and complicated intrigues one can’t deny that single isn’t better or worse than being married: It’s just different. Actually for some of us it seems to work exceedingly well. The secret is out.
When I meet children, I am immediately drawn to those kids who are curious about everything. Yes, it can be exhausting to answer their endless questions but the rewards are so worth it. “How come birds can fly and we can’t?” “Why can’t dogs talk like we can? Parrots do.” “Can God swim?” “Has anyone not died?” It’s not fun when a child arrives in your bedroom at 3:00 a.m. to ask, “What are lungs for?” The temptation is to say for sleeping. When a child asks all those questions, we don’t always have to know the answers but we shouldn’t ignore them as if they had never been asked. We can start a conversation no matter how odd their questions by asking them what they think they the answer might be. That’s how conversations and problem solving starts. Even more importantly, they get the knowledge that they are being heard. With so many of us glued to our various electronic devices, we have a tendency to close ourselves off to those around us. We may be unpleasantly surprised when that comes back to bite us in the form of our kids not hearing us or just plain shutting us out.
To open a child’s hearts and minds, physically be present and really be with them in the moment. We need to ‘turn off to have turn on time.’ Unplug and grab those children who grow up so fast and help give them memories and our attention. Take them fishing; paddle a boat. Blow bubbles, wash the dog, watch fireworks, take in a sunrise, have a picnic in your living room on the floor. Visit a farm; milk a goat. Show them where eggs come from. Run outside in a rainstorm. Jump in a puddle.
Take the time to open up to the really, really big questions and have a conversation about who God is, what they think God can do and what they wish God could do. Then have them draw what they think God looks like. They will have even more questions. But isn’t that great?
Wake them up when the moon is full, talk about heaven and then spin some dreams with them. They are only children once.