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Marriage by Numbers

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS



As a thirty-year-old guy who’s never been married, I’m closing in on the unfortunate day when younger, single women will start to think I’m a little creepy. So far, no one has openly challenged my motives for remaining a bachelor into my third decade. There was college and all, plus a bit of moving around, and I haven’t had much time and space to get settled into life. But now I’ve put such excuses behind me. I’m quite solidly into adulthood. I know that, in a couple years, I’ll start getting those sideways glances from girlfriends’ moms — the type of glances that suggest they’re on to me; that whatever I’ve been up to all these years hasn’t been good. Not long ago, I traveled down to Texas to meet my current girlfriend’s mother. She and I got to talking about my older brothers, Danny and Matt, who are still single at the ages of thirty-two and thirty-three, respectively, and who tend to go through girlfriends at a rate of roughly one per year. My girlfriend’s mom commented that being single at their ages demonstrates an assortment of psychological and personality problems, including a fear of intimacy and untrustworthiness. So, if I’m okay at thirty and Danny’s a totally fucked-up mess at thirty-two, I must be tiptoeing along some sort of threshold.

    Needless to say, I’ve got marriage on my mind. If I didn’t have such status-quo desires, I’d simply cross the threshold into creepy bachelorhood without looking back. Plenty of happy, perfectly content guys never get married at all. I envy people who are comfortable with the prospect of dying alone: a single man can concentrate full energy on his career; he can save his expendable cash for vacations and partying; he can enjoy casual sex for the pure casualness

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of it. Unfortunately, though, I’m not one of those guys. I happen to be cursed with an idyllic vision of family life. My happiest moments are spent envisioning myself as a husband; I want a wife and a house and a kid or two, and there’s no way I’m going to let my chances for such a life pass me by.

    Meanwhile, though, I’ve committed myself to defending the moral integrity of the single guys in my generation, a task I’ve found to be relatively thankless. The married faction of society is generally not very interested in hearing about the moral integrity of older singles. Married people tend to pigeonhole single guys who are in their thirties into one of two categories: pathetic lonely suckers and cockhound womanizers. There is endless compassion for the pathetic lonely sucker, that unlikely hero in romantic comedies who stutters and drools all over himself whenever he gets near a good-looking girl. But the cockhound womanizers, a.k.a. the guy who plays the field until the last possible inning, is often looked upon with contempt. People think we’re trying to make an anti-romantic social statement by being single. Or that we’re somehow mocking the institution of marriage. But truthfully, I think that a good many older singles, myself included, are simply intent on attaining marital perfection. And the search for perfection can’t be rushed.


My happiest moments are spent envisioning myself as a husband.

As a native of the rural Midwest, I was born and bred to think that marriage is the number- one responsibility of any self-respecting man. Specifically, I was born in Twin Lake, a woodsy little town in western Michigan that serves as the nation’s unofficial capital of marital absurdity. Twin Lake residents adhere faithfully to the general Midwest doctrine that marriage is akin to American Pride. Twin Lake boys marry whomever they happen to get pregnant, or whomever they’re humping the night of senior prom. If a Twin Lake girl turns down a Twin Lake boy’s proposal, she might as well go down to Main Street and take a shit on Old Glory as well.

     A Midwest upbringing really impresses on a fella that the best way to stay out of trouble is to get hitched. During high school, I was humping a girl who got mad at me once and drove a straight pin into my shoulder, hitting a nerve so that the pain occurred in my other shoulder. She also threatened to use her witch powers to shrink me into a pocket-sized midget. She could legally buy beer by the time they let her graduate from high school. When we weren’t parked at the garbage dump, having unprotected sex in the back seat of her mama’s sedan, I was home begging to a God that I didn’t necessarily believe in: "God, I promise to marry her and stay with her and love her forever if she is, but please, please, please make it so she’s not." Sometimes I’d actually hope it would happen, just so the tension would break. A lot of my friends simply couldn’t handle the pressure. They wanted to legitimize their sexual doings and get everything out on the table, so they made a trip to the altar. In the year or two after high school I attended a dozen such weddings, then watched them all crumble in various storms of drink, financial squabbling, and the rural brand of lust that causes a young groom to start fucking his wife’s best friend when he goes to her house to fix her broken old pickup truck.

    Watching all those insane weddings was like watching people eat raw oysters and then throw them back up. I wasn’t going to quit eating, but I sure as shit didn’t want to order what they just had. Not surprisingly, the half-dozen friends of mine who made it out of Twin Lake single and childless decided to put the whole marriage idea on ice. Matt and Danny — my two fucked-up brothers with alleged commitment issues — spent a lot of time mulling over the marital tragedies of our childhood friends. They were dismayed by the meet/marry/divorce methodology of our hometown. They decided to work out some sort of method that our generation could use to determine if they were getting the right person for the right reason. Thinking that the search for a partner should have some mathematical logic to it, they came up with a handy little theory called the Gradient of Compatibility. Our gang of friends thought the invention was a great contribution to our generation’s happiness, as well as a contribution to the future of marriage in general.

     The GOC is based on superlatives, which means that every person has someone in this world with whom they are the most compatible. That person — the person you’re most compatible with sexually, spiritually, emotionally, etc. — is your No. 1 person. Everyone else falls in order – No. 2, 3, 4, on down the line.

     The chances of meeting the No. 1 individual in your personal GOC are astronomically absurd, probably analogous to your chances of getting killed by house cats. Take me, for instance. Let’s say I artificially limit my range of eligible women to those between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, a span that covers five years on either side of my age. For argument’s sake, let’s limit it to American women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are right now about twenty-two million women within my age bracket. Since turning

If we weren’t compatible, who was? I told myself that I’d have to get over the fact that I hated her.

eighteen, I’ve known only about 200 women well enough to gauge whether or not we’d make a suitable couple. So I’ve only met 0.0009% of the women in my age bracket. I’ve only slept with 0.00014% of the women in my age bracket, which makes an active sexual life seem rather paltry in hindsight. Chances are pretty good that I’ve never even met anyone higher on my GOC than my No. 1,000,000. Chances are also good that I’ve never been in the same state at the same time with my No. 1. Maybe I sat next to my No. 1,000 at Sea World when I was three. Maybe my No. 120 cut me off on Interstate I-90 in South Dakota.

    To effectively work the GOC, a person needs to decide what exactly he or she wants in a mate. Since I enjoy drinking alcohol and having sex and reading books, I prioritize those characteristics in the women I meet. There is little use in trying to hide my desires, even if those desires might make me seem shallow.

    Also, adherents to the GOC need to be honest about how high up the gradient they are likely to climb. When you feel as though you’ve gotten the highest-scoring woman you’re likely to get, then you should roll the dice and marry that person. But every choice is a gamble. It’s like that old game show where contestants had to choose between a known prize, such as a washer/dryer, and a mystery prize hidden behind a door. If you dump someone with a high score, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever score any higher.

    I found great happiness in the GOC. I had license to be as slutty as possible. I could have one-night stands without feeling obligated to call anyone back; as a man of the GOC, I couldn’t waste my time with low-scoring women. I had a wife to find! The GOC served me right for several years. I was meeting great girls, and trying not to burn bridges in case I had to backtrack later on. I really thought I was closing in on the perfect woman. And then everything went down the tubes, because I met her.

    Her name was Samantha. Every individual has attributes that are easily describable, as well as attributes that are difficult to describe. Well, I hated all of Samantha’s attributes that were difficult to describe. But I forced myself to stick with her because of the GOC. I figured she must have an extremely high score: She was good-looking and liked to drink; we had great sex; she had eclectic interests and famous relatives; she agreed with me on matters both musical and cinematic; she liked my cooking; I liked her dog; neither of us was particularly religious; we both thought Halloween was the coolest holiday; we both liked the house to be clean. If we weren’t compatible, who was? I told myself that I’d have to get over the fact that I hated her. I even moved in with her for a year. That only made it worse. Eventually she began arguing that we should get married. I tended to agree with her. We should, in theory. However, I would have rather jumped off a cliff. Once I left her, I was depressed about having wasted a year and a half of time that I could have spent climbing the gradient.

    By that time, some of my fellow GOC adherents were also beginning to realize some of the problems with the plan. For example, the GOC assumes women are all waiting around for a guy to snatch them up. A few years ago, my brother Danny had moved up to Alaska to take a job at a university. He brought his girlfriend with him, a hot Argentinian scientist named Suzanne. She was up for almost anything, literally, one of the coolest girls I’ve ever met. A really high score. After a year in Alaska, though, she realized that the state was a dead end for her career. She moved back down to the lower forty-eight, breaking poor Danny’s heart.

    My friend Joel got all flipped out over a girl from Minneapolis who was getting her Ph.D. in his field. They both liked to dine on raw elk meat and listen to The Replacements, and Joel would have killed himself if he thought that would make her like him. But it wouldn’t have. She kept dumping him for some dork who ran a dairy farm in Wisconsin.

    Very briefly, my friend David became fond of a girl named Celia. He thought they were perfect together. She agreed, but she didn’t think that perfect love was

You can only go through so many relationships before you realize that being reasonable is actually pretty reckless.

enough of a reason to dump her depressed, suicidal poet boyfriend. She thought it would surely be the last nail in his coffin. David told her that her suicidal boyfriend wasn’t her responsibility. She told David there was more to life than having the perfect relationship. Eventually she and the boyfriend went off to San Francisco, where he dumped her.

    You can only go through so many relationships before you realize that being reasonable is actually pretty reckless. Awhile after leaving Samantha, I was about as lonely as I’ve ever been. One night I lucked into a good party while I was in a drunken stupor and met my current girlfriend, the one whose mom lives in Texas. After a couple weeks of phone tag, we finally made contact and went out drinking. After that, we started hanging out all the time. We had to hide out in my new basement apartment at first, acting like we weren’t home, because Samantha was trying to kill me. One night we took a couple hits of ecstasy. We would sit in the shower until the hot water ran out, then get under the covers in bed while the hot water heater filled back up. We had the door locked and the lights turned off. I didn’t ever want to leave. An intense feeling of love for this new girl struck me like a bullet. This girl understands what I’m all about, I thought. She barely knows me and she’s willing to put up with this fucked-up situation; she’s willing to hide out in my stupid apartment with a shower that doesn’t have five minutes’ worth of water. She laughs at my jokes. Who cares about compatibility? Who cares that she refuses to marry a non-Jew? Who cares that she’s vegetarian and I eat loads of meat? Who cares that she thinks a lot of the records in my collection suck? Who cares if one of us likes getting blow jobs and the other of us isn’t crazy about giving them? I wondered why I’d waited so long to feel this connected with someone. Then I realized that I’d waited so long in order to feel this connected. I decided for once to go with my gut. I turned to her and asked, "Do you want to go to Las Vegas and get married?" I meant it, too.

    She said no.

    So here I am, thirty years old, getting older and creepier by the minute. I haven’t made any significant headway toward getting a wife since then, and most of my close friends are single. Right now, I’m engaged in something of my own design called the Marital Siege. I’ve got my girlfriend surrounded. I’m waiting and waiting, in hopes that she surrenders to the idea of marriage sooner or later. If this doesn’t work, I’m afraid I’m out of ideas. I rejected marrying my high school sweetie; I just couldn’t see spending my life fending off straight pins and witchcraft curses. I attempted what seemed like good logic, but that landed me in a shitty relationship with a theoretically perfect person. And then, lastly, I tried being a romantic and spontaneous lover, throwing out a marriage proposal on a whim. That didn’t pan out. If the Marital Siege doesn’t work, I’m going to propose that married couples create a third category for older singles. My friends and I aren’t pathetic suckers or cockhound womanizers. We’re Martyrs — special men who pay the ultimate price of loneliness for our undying belief in perfection.

 

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