I've been dating a lovely woman for two years. Neither of us wants children. I'm divorced and I made it clear from the beginning that I wanted a long-term monogamous relationship, not marriage. Seven months ago, she returned from her cousin's wedding proclaiming that marriage is what she really needs and, in fact, what almost every woman wants. She longs for "security" and needs to feel she's "good enough" to be desired as a wife. I told her she should only stay if she can live with what I can offer (love without the trappings of a wedding band), but marriage is still a recurring theme, along with her hurt and disappointment. Should I take us off this emotional hamster wheel, or hope she'll relax and enjoy our otherwise great time together?--At Wits' End
Maybe women like your girlfriend would feel less compelled to keep up with the Mrs. Joneses if all couples were entitled to a huge, coronation-style party simply as their reward for participating in a happy relationship. You aren't screaming obscenities or hurling table lamps at each other? Here's your monogrammed crock-pot. Quick, somebody release the rent-a-doves! Unfortunately, there's nothing so miserable as being with a woman who's hell-bent on having that "happiest day of a woman's life": "Where's my fairy tale?! I want my dream-come-true!"
Imagine if people ran their friendships like they run their relationships: "Sign on the dotted line to be my lifelong best bud, or I'll never grab a beer with you again!" Luckily, there's still no such thing as "friendlock"; only the aptly named "wedlock." Come on, if marriage was the bliss-bomb it's cracked up to be, why would we need to lock couples in? In "Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress," a book from 1965 I found at a garage sale, authoress Michael Drury calls marriage an attempt to guarantee "what no one can: to go on feeling a certain way. Swearing to love forever is like promising to feel perpetually any other emotion, fear or sorrow, admiration or joy." For Drury, what makes sense is swearing "to go on being worth loving," not pretending you can freeze happiness like a bug in Lucite.
Would your girlfriend buy a car that only had a 50-percent chance (if that) of getting her where she wanted to go? If it could cost her an arm, leg and several vital organs to unload if it turned out to be a junker? That pretty much describes marriage for many people: "Till divorce court do you part" -- and the other person walks off with half your stuff! How horribly unromantic that a relationship might simply involve two people loving each other and having so much fun together today that they voluntarily try to have more of the same tomorrow.
Unfortunately, it's more than glare off all the free fine china your girlfriend's cousin scored that's blinding her to the illogic of forever. In hounding you for "security," she's saying she's hot for marriage's utilitarian allure -- as if the apex of love is committing to somebody so you can avoid paying an attendant to help you get the glue on your dentures. The single biggest stumbling block, however, is her insistence on being married so she can feel like somebody -- instead of simply being somebody; imagine that. On the bright side, there are women out there independent enough that they don't feel this unquenchable urge to tie the noose, uh, knot. If you love your girlfriend, give her what she needs -- her walking papers, so she can get on with the husband hunting. The ball (and chain) is in your court.
Can't Pry Me Love
Last year, I met a wonderful woman and we fell in love. Based on things she's told me, I suspect she got pregnant as a young teen and gave up the baby for adoption. Whenever I probe, she says, "I won't go there." While I respect her privacy, I've told her everything about my life, good and bad. Am I unreasonable in wanting to know her past?--In The Dark
Perhaps the best way to show you respect your girlfriend's privacy isn't chasing her around the relationship with a hydraulic shovel. The lady doesn't want to talk about it -- probably because it's kinda painful for her to relive it. Although you choose to make your life an open drainage ditch, she has no obligation to follow your lead. (No, loving somebody isn't a free pass to open their head like a tin can and sift through all that's inside.) If you long for news, get cable. If you want a relationship, focus on making your girlfriend feel happy and safe -- which is the opposite of how she'll feel if you keep treating her like your own personal microfilm archive at the library.