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Slack To The Future

I read your column regularly, and agree, in principle, with your contention that living together can ruin a relationship. I'm 35, and my boyfriend of three years and I are in no rush to get married or move in together. Although I'm very happy day-to-day, part of me worries I'll feel something is missing if I live alone my whole life. For example, I'd like to be the one inviting single people to Christmas dinner, instead of being the single person hoping to be invited. I'd like to experience that "Honey, I'm home" feeling, where I could just relax into my relationship without continually having to make an effort; i.e., not just see my boyfriend when I've invited him and have the house cleaned and I'm dressed up for the occasion. Ultimately, I suppose I'm afraid of dying an "old maid," and never having anyone tell me they'd like to spend their life with me. Am I unrealistic?

--Happy, But...

Everybody's so busy trying to live forever that they forget to live today: "Hmm, might not make it to age 302 if I eat a piece of beef. I'll pretend ice cream is oven cleaner, and a forkful of steak is a cleverly disguised loaded gun, then subsist on pencil shavings on dry toast -- well worth it for all the extra lifetime I'll get out of the deal." And you probably will pick up some bonus time, says investigative science journalist Gary Taubes, who pointed to three studies (out of Harvard, McGill, and UCSF) showing that avoidance of saturated fat could buy healthy nonsmokers "days to months." (Yee. Haw.) Unfortunately, notes Taubes, you'll get your extra three days or three months at the end -- and chances are, you won't exactly be tap dancing around the globe in your adult diapers.

The same goes for love. You've got a big plate of hot buttered happy in front of you right now. You can either bury your face in it, and maybe chase it with some moist chocolate cake and Champagne, or you can curl up in a fetal position and bite your nails about what might be on your plate 40 years down the road. Your problem isn't that something's missing from your life, but your nagging fear that you should feel something's missing, or might eventually feel something's missing -- even though you're "very happy" right now. This is a bit like printing up a ream of "Lost Dog!" flyers before you even get the dog.

If relationships were football games, getting married would probably be most people's idea of the winning touchdown of the playoffs. But, is it yours? Or are you comparing the picture of what you have to the picture of what you're "supposed" to want, complete with all that "happiest day of a woman's life" propaganda I call "bridal porn." Maybe you'd like to believe that pledging to be with somebody forever gives you some kind of "security" that they'll actually be around to save you a seat at the AARP meeting. Sure, there are those happy exceptions shuffling off to the denture doctor together. Naturally, everybody gets married imagining that as their future. But, notice that line snaking out of city hall? That's all the "death-do-us-part"-ers waiting to get into divorce court.

Staying married, of course, doesn't necessarily mean staying in love. What some married people like to justify as love is really duty with a wedding ring soldered on it. If your requirement for a relationship isn't simply maintaining a head-count of two, and if you're emotionally and financially independent - you might have what it takes to experience some pretty exciting relationships. This takes recognizing that things end. People use each other up. Critics will sneer: What are you going to do, toss your partner when it gets dull? Well, some people have to make do with dull -- while other people have the luxury of expecting more.

Recognizing reality isn't unromantic. It's actually your best shot at keeping your relationship alive. The last thing you should do is "let it all hang out." This is not a sign of love. It's a sign you're a lazy slob who takes her partner for granted. What is this, a relationship patterned after your great uncle's goiter?

Finally, you might as well stop pining after those rosy, loving family dinners you've been picturing. If it's rosy and loving you're after, it helps to avoid being related to the people you're dining with. Nobody's stopping you from inviting single people to dinner. In other words, if you want family, cook a big glazed goose, and tell the people you care about when to come over to eat it. Sure, the grass is always greener -- or seems that way -- but maybe just because the neighbor got busy in the middle of the night with a keg of spray paint.


Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.