Are a middle-aged woman’s hopes for romance in the 21st Century the same as a twenty-year old’s from 100 years ago?

Are a middle-aged woman’s hopes for romance in the 21st Century the same as a twenty-year old’s from 100 years ago? In search of answers to love’s persistent dilemmas (even after twenty years of being a coach cum therapist cum spiritual director) I sometimes succumb to the siren song of self-help.

Recently I was reading: Have the Relationship You Want by Rori Raye. On page 54 the author wrote “Ask yourself: Am I ready to say flat-out that I want to be married?”

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“Hold on,” I thought. I thought this was how to have the relationship I want. Does she think that’s the relationship everyone wants? Sure, I want that special someone who loves me, whom I love. I want someone to spend time with, someone who knows me well, lets me in, turns me on, and is willing, so long as we’re good together, to hang in for the long haul. But married?

Why do married people think everyone has to be married? Did we miss “last call” for Noah’s Ark? Not that I have anything against marriage. It works really well for certain things, like raising children in a stable environment and all sorts of other practical, domestic considerations. Our nesting instincts, wisely developed by Mother Nature using designer hormones, make females want to bed down permanently, or at least for a while, with Thag, the big brave brute who impregnated them.

Happily for this arrangement, another hormone makes Thag content to sit around in his undershirt and watch the game instead of going out on the prowl. The method in Nature’s madness is for him hang to around long enough to protect the children until they reach the age of reproduction themselves (even if he is catching a little on the side). Great idea. It got us here. It worked right through the time, only a hundred years ago, that most people lived on farms. For those thousands of years, when women needed a man to hoe fields and fix roofs on barns before it snowed, and men needed a mate to put hot meals on the table, darn socks and birth lots of babies to work the land, it worked out well.

A hundred or two years ago, if no one got beaten and you kept shoes on your kids, anything else was gravy. It would have continued to work if we’d stayed on farms and no one had started dreaming of lasting love, romance, and intimacy.

But does it apply to me? I earn my own living, I am not having children. I don’t have a barn, and if I need someone to fix something, I can call the plumber, carpenter, or landlord. What I need a partner for is love, companionship, deep friendship, a place of refuge and stimulation, and really hot sex. My question is whether marriage is the best venue for that. Contrary to what history’s redactors are trying to sell, it wasn’t designed for that. It wasn’t designed by God as a “holy union of one man and one woman,” but for the exchange of property between men. Hence the bride was given away by her father to her husband, usually with a dowry, to ensure social stability, not romance.

Romance was an occasional perk, or it happened on the side. In light of that, am I to believe that marriage is the ultimate, or even the only, expression of romantic love? Can’t we come up with some more satisfying, committed, intimate connection that isn’t marriage and also isn’t the one-night-stand, the NSA “Friend with Bene- fits,” or the casual fly-by-night affair?

Something to sustain the romance and intimacy many people want today? When was the last time you heard anyone say their relationship became sexier after they got married or began living together? More often it’s the other way around. I must ask: Is it sexy to argue over bills, discuss what to buy at the market, and sleep in the same bed every night, even when grungy and downright grumpy, to be intimate? I know sex isn’t everything. I’m a middle-aged woman, not a teenage boy, but still…

Is there some innate virtue in this that I am missing?

My friends and clients will attest I have no problem with commitment. It’s not marriage that I find unappealing, so much as the assumption that domestic partnership is associated with sexual partnership. I know we’re wired to nest, and it got our ambitious genes—and the people who carried them—what they needed in times past. I’m not sure this arrangement can get us what we need or want… because we don’t want the same things as our grandparents.

I’ve been trying for quite a while to figure this out. So far I haven’t succeeded. I’ve met plenty of guys who wanted no strings, and a few who wanted to drag me back to their caves. Maybe I’m just stubborn. There’s something unquestionably lovely about the idea of committing to one person, whatever your particular preferences; sharing love, loyalty, warmth, and moving through time together by choice rather than necessity.

Maybe I’ll never find what I’m seeking, or maybe I’ll find it in marriage. But I have this crazy idea that the form should fit the content rather than vice-versa. So I’ll look for that. Until then, am I ready to say flat-out that I want to be married? I guess I’m not.
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