I got engaged in 1979 when I was 23 because I fell in love – with an antique sapphire and diamond ring. I know, I know, I was supposed to be in love with the man who bought it for me but, looking back, I’m not sure that was the case.
My boyfriend was seven years older than me, worldly at 30, eager to secure his future. He’d been talking marriage to me for months. I’d never fantasized about gliding down the aisle in a satiny white gown and, at 23, hadn’t experienced even the slightest maternal twinge. Why rush?
“If you like the ring I’ll buy it for you,” he announced. “It could be our engagement ring.”
It did look like a keeper. Not too much bulk for my small hand and short fingers, sparkly and elegantly simple. But the more I thought about only having sex with one man FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, the more I began to sweat. Yet the ring was beginning to feel like part of my left hand. What was the harm in accepting it and saying we were engaged?
By the following fall, he’d worn me down with promises of a long and happy life together. We married in November of 1980 and separated after 12 years. He remarried the day of our divorce and, 16 years later, I’m still single.
Since then several men I’ve been involved with have talked about marriage; two actually proposed. I accepted a ring from one I thought would make a good partner, only to get cold feet as the wedding date grew closer. After a particularly tumultuous relationship ended six years ago, I decided to take a break from serial monogamy. I would stop looking for a life partner and instead seek nothing more than companionable dating or the company of friends. The formula worked: I enjoyed two years of fun outings and no broken hearts. Then, when I least expected it, I met a great guy.
As an avid tennis player and gym rat, I’ve met almost all my romantic partners through sports. Randy’s groundstrokes were an aphrodisiac, his topspin serve left me wanting more. We started with casual tennis dates, then quickly progressed to lunch, dinner and a movie, a weekend away. Each time we got together I felt more connected and comfortable, yet each time was exciting. In addition to tennis, we shared a passion for film, travel, reading, food and art.
From the beginning, Randy warned me that he wasn’t big on the concept of remarrying. Fine, I thought, my kind of guy. And yet, looking back on my marriage, I realized that it wasn’t marriage that failed me – it was marriage to my husband. Surprisingly, I had liked the institution. I valued the security, the commitment I’d felt to a common cause. But four years ago, when Randy and I first got together, our antipathy toward marriage felt like another common bond.
Since then we’ve weathered some tough bumps in the road: the loss of both his parents, my father’s stroke and onset of dementia, the grave illness of a close friend, an economic recession that put a damper on lofty retirement plans. And yet we’re closer than ever.
This past summer, something startling occurred. I began to yearn for marriage. Sure, the statistics paint a grim picture. For first marriages, the divorce rate ranges hovers around 50 percent. And for second marriages, it’s even more dismal: 60 to 65 percent. Forget third marriages – they bomb out at a whopping rate of about 75 percent.
But I’ve never been one to embrace the norm. I prefer to see Randy and me in the minority who will succeed. At 55 (me) and 58 (him) years young, we’re clear on what we want from a relationship and how to communicate about it. We’ve started to talk about making it legal, but we’re not quite there yet. I’m optimistic. The funny thing is, I don’t even want a ring this time.