I think about what my mother would say if she knew, and I cringe. She is a strong feminist — raised in the second wave, where things were loud and new and revolutionary — and she taught me to be the same. I love and embrace my womanhood, and I would embrace my independence along with it, if that were an option. But as of now, it is not, and I could never tell her. I couldn’t watch the way her face fell as she realized that her daughter has fallen into exactly the traps and the lifestyle that she worked so tirelessly to eradicate. She fought to live her own life on her own terms, and I am choosing the comfort and security of living someone else’s.
My fiancé is a good man, much better than I deserve. He is smart, and kind, and extremely generous — with his money, yes, but also with his time and his emotions. He is the friend who would pick you up from the middle of nowhere at three in the morning if your car ran out of gas. He would lend you whatever you needed without asking uncomfortable questions. He believes in the good in people, and life has always rewarded him for it. Until, I guess, life matched him up with me.
When we first met, I was head over heels. I was younger, just out of college, and saw the couple-years-older professional man as this port in a storm of my own recklessness. He provided a sense of warmth and familiarity that I had never known, and I was intoxicated with the feeling of playing house with someone who could actually afford to buy one. While he showed me his version of life — restaurants, shopping trips, vacations — I showed him that there was no need to be as serious and reasonable as he always insisted on being. He became just as obsessed with my frivolity as I was with his reserve.
But the feeling of comfort quickly turned into a feeling of boredom, and four years later, I am more thrilled by the prospect of a good show on TV and a glass of Chardonnay than I am about going out to yet another fancy restaurant with my picture-perfect fiancé. In the interest of not mincing words, I will simply say that I do not love him anymore. He is sweet, and does nothing wrong, and I am lulled into an emotional coma just by being around him. My care for him is near-endless, but my interest and passion are all but nonexistent. I look at him as a beloved family member, not as a life or sex partner.
I still have sex with him, of course, I just don’t enjoy it. It’s not adventurous, it’s not hot, it’s not any of the things that I used to wish for but now have grown fully accustomed to not having. While I occasionally fantasize about sex with someone who deeply excites me, I am lucky enough to have a sex drive that is low enough that I am not pushed into cheating just to fill my basic needs. More than anything, I’d like the thrill of a new first kiss, but I can live without it. I might take a lover at some point in the future, but I’m in no rush to do so at the moment.
We’re getting married in the spring, and it’s going to be beautiful. We have over 100 guests, we’ve rented the kind of Northeastern beach house that I used to dream about when thinking of my perfect, glossy-magazine wedding. There will be paper lanterns, and roast duck, and a fondant-covered cake, and a Grace Kelly dress. We will have the most talented photographer, the most delicious caterer, the most envious guests. At the end of it, I will be overwhelmed with compliments and well-wishes and comments about how wonderful my life is. They will ignore the fact that I have been struggling to make a living with my paintings for the past six years, and that my inability to support myself financially means that this wedding is as much a business deal as it is a joining of families.
I will take his last name, and his health insurance. His ring, and access to all of his bank accounts. In marrying him, I will secure a future that I could never have had otherwise, and the worst fate that I will face is being a bored housewife who resents her girlfriends who have been able to carve out a fulfilling career. My husband will treat me well, and take care of our future children, and make our perfectly-decorated house the envy of every woman in the neighborhood. I will live the life of a pampered housecat, and one day I will maybe even find a hobby or passion that will make me feel the joy of being alive again. For now, though, I will be comfortable, and that is more than many people will have.
I might never sell a single painting, but I will never be a starving artist.