Baba ghanoush

Recently a friend of my brother’s asked out of the clear blue sky, “Are you married?” I was taken aback and sort of mumbled, “I was going to be, but then he changed his mind.” She immediately chirped back, “Well, better that than end up with the wrong person!” There followed an ungodly long pause where I floundered in a flurry of memories and thoughts. Just to get it over with, I finally stumbled out of the conversation with, “I guess.”

That little exchange has haunted me since. I keep going back to it, because I think I answered wrong. I think (I’m still pondering this so maybe I’m wrong) I would have preferred to marry him, even if it ended in divorce later. I want my shot. At marriage. Kids. The whole shebang. But now it’s too late.

My love (let’s call him “B”) was not the ultimate, perfect match for me. On the one hand, we fit together like a zipper getting zipped. It was utterly natural and graceful and “meant to be.” He was 85% of what I wanted, and offered other things that I didn’t even know I needed. When pondering marriage with him, I wondered about that spare 15%, but I never got to make the irrevocable decision because he left before I needed to declare myself.

I am almost positive I would’ve gone ahead with it. We were going to have serious issues to deal with (possible alcoholism, mental illness, differing attitudes towards guns, a tendency to dissociate, sex, and a few minor things). But knowing who I was at the time, I am almost certain I would’ve taken it on with the understanding that we would go to therapy to help us overcome our challenges.

It helped that B viewed us as a team and that problems were something to be tackled together. If the problem was mine, he would reframe it as a problem for us, and we would put it on the table and examine it side by side rather than confrontationally. I trusted him with all my heart. I still do.

We both wanted children. I have long wanted two girls. He would be happy with whatever we had. He had a much healthier childhood than I did, and I knew I would learn a lot from him about how better to raise children.

The one big area where we saw totally eye to eye was money. I know that can make or break a marriage and I was pleased that we were so completely on the same page. We believed that we should each pay our own way. Have a common fund for household expenses like utilities, but separate accounts for our own purchases like clothes, music, and games. We were meticulous record keepers when it came to money and shared everything equally, including gas costs for commuting.

But I don’t deny that there may have been some things that we wouldn’t be strong enough to overcome. One or a combination of those big issues might have worn us down over time. I know I would have given everything I had to keep our relationship alive, even in those times when love wasn’t accessible to me. To me, intimate relationships are our best chance of becoming better humans. I think it’s even more powerful than religion. Religion can be made into an abstract concept, whereas you are always bumping up against another person in a relationship and having to make adjustments. B wanted my best and I wanted to give it to him—not just because he asked for it but because I wanted it for myself. I went through deep changes in my relationship with him that made me an infinitely better person. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

And now? All these years later, I have moved beyond loneliness into a state of perpetual twilight. There will be no children for me. I am beginning to lose hope of ever having an intimate relationship again, much less getting married. I am less human than I used to be—less spontaneous, less creative, less connected, less committed, less alive. I have said it many times but it’s only because it feels so true: I am a dried-up old husk of a woman. I wish my life had gone the other way.

I try to imagine being on the other side of divorce. Losing B, losing our life together, losing our future. Possibly losing his family (whom I loved deeply). Possibly arguing over custody, though he was so inherently fair I think we would have come to a good compromise over that. I would have been devastated and exhausted by divorce, but I would have had my shot at making a marriage work. Is there a higher calling? I would have had children. And perhaps we would have worked our way into one of those “Bloomington divorces” I’ve seen around here, where the former wife and husband fall into an easy friendship, unencumbered by the past.

In Must Love Dogs, Diane Lane’s character is talking about her date with John Cusack’s character at an Armenian restaurant. They have a great time talking together but then “Where do you go from there? I mean, how much baba ganoush can you have?” Indeed. At some point in a relationship you have to make the decision whether to stop or move ahead. And you keep coming to that decision point again and again as intimacy develops. I’m surprised at myself and a little sad that I would choose a potentially doomed relationship over the terminal spinsterhood I find myself in, but I have to be honest with myself. This is worse. This life, now, is worse than the worst possible outcome of my marriage to B. Because marriage is my holy grail for self-development and healing of communities. It is a sacred thing. And I have been left behind by life, living without it.

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