holding hands at eighty: first comes love, then comes marriage…then comes death?

Two summers ago, on a hot, sunny Saturday, I’d been shopping for wedding gowns with my friend Liz. We’d found ourselves in a strip of East Vancouver stores which all seemed to be owned by middle-aged women, several with a special taste for beige satin roses or iridescent, pearl-studded butterflies. We were beginning to doubt our ability to find something simple and light and appropriate for a Mexican beach.

As we stepped out into the bright afternoon, an elderly couple walked by, hand in hand.

“So, when you see older couples, do you think of you and J?” Liz prompted.

Since I’d asked her, rather drunkenly on New Year’s Eve, if she’d still be my friend if J and I split up, she’d been trying, in the most patient and neutral way, to help me solve the puzzle of my relationship.

“No,” I’d said, honestly. But then I’d backtracked, “Well, kind of. I don’t think to myself, ‘J is the one person for me in the whole world. I could never be happy with anyone else.’ But I feel like he’s mine. I can’t really imagine being with anyone else. You know what I mean?”

Liz smiled with her mouth but frowned with her eyes. She did not know what I meant. But how could she? She was planning a wedding with someone that, as far as I could tell, she’d never really been mad at. Someone it seemed she had absolutely no doubt that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

The doubtlessness of people like that always got to me. Mostly because I’d never experienced it. When you find the one, you just know, people sometimes said. But this seemed false somehow, almost anti-intellectual, as if they were all arguing that atoms didn’t exist because we couldn’t see them. You’ll know he’s the one if you can imagine yourselves together at eighty. 

But how many other things had I ever been that certain about in my life, I wondered. After a sweaty day of rock climbing, I’m not the one who dives into the icy lake to get the shock over with. I know it’s easier that way, but, no, I wade in, ankles first, knees second, splashing my thighs, waiting, reserving the option of retreating to shore before I am fully immersed.

When it came to relationships, everyone had a barometer, I decided, an indicator of potential for life-long success. Did it matter that I didn’t think of J when I saw a happy elderly couple? As long as he came into our bedroom before work, stuffing the covers underneath me and saying, “Wake up, my little breakfast burrito,” how could I imagine loving another person? Even if I couldn’t see us together at eighty, I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up alone tomorrow.

My friend Duffy, who is privately (he has not even confessed this to me–too much is at stake) this blog’s biggest fan, sent me a link to an article in the New York Times on the necessary interdependence of romantic love and death. Briefly, the main argument is this: Continue reading

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