Memory says that it was sometime in my later twenties when it occurred to me that I would never be married or live with anyone in a romantic relationship. There was no particular trauma involved, no bit of drama. I suppose it was a gradual dawning, much like realising that, say, you've gradually chosen a favourite varietal of wine, and now your wine rack is filled with pinot noir rather than cabernet. It had to be something like that--- just a quiet acknowledgment that this is the way your life is going to be.
I have in my life asked two girls to marry me. Both accepted, but the project never got much farther than some vague, nebulous idea that marriage might be out there somewhere. No rings exchanged, no plans made or save-the-dates sent. I'm not at all sure I'd have known what to do or how to act, the closer I got to a wedding date.
Those two occasions were later on, and they were nine years apart. Still, I'd never have known at either time in my life what one was supposed to do...or how to cope with what would happen afterwards. I suppose I never thought any girl could ever really want to stay with me, and I was certainly afraid that being married would be a big hit on my standard of living, that being married would make me realise how poor I really was. Marriage requires bringing social standing and stable finances to the table, and it requires some kind of understanding of how to live with another person. I've never had either of those things, and of course it's far too late now.
When I was in my later twenties, I was still in graduate school, working on my seemingly interminable doctorate. I used to blame being unmarried on having poured so much of my life into pursuing a PhD, but in all honesty I can't say that's true. I knew other postgraduate students who married, or who moved in with lovers. I never understood how it happened, though, or how people reached some kind of agreement. I'd had lovers at university, certainly, but I could never have imagined how one made the jump from planning the next Friday night to planning living together after graduation. Planning a four-day weekend in Manhattan was something I could do, but I never thought about how one planned a wedding or a life. I never thought about how one asked a girl to move in together. That always seemed like something that would be beyond me, like something that would be futile even to attempt.
There are endless numbers of articles by authors both male and female that take it as a given--- or which very plainly declare ---that anyone who hasn't been married or lived in a romantic relationship by their early thirties is damaged and unmarriageable. One male author at (I seem to recall) Good Men Project actually did a long post about how only "losers" hadn't been married by their mid-thirties. Anyone who hadn't, the author claimed, was either a failure at his career and couldn't hold up his economic end of a relationship, or was deeply damaged psychologically ("narcissist", "Peter Pan", "womanizer", "misogynist"). Since I of course have a lifelong history of immediately accepting as true any negative things anyone says about me, such articles leave me depressed and bitter.
My fear of course is that I slipped into being unmarriageable or unfit for relationships without ever noticing what was happening. But a deeper fear is that I may have had the ability to create and maintain a long-term relationship and just never known it--- or, another way, that I missed the social lessons on what to do if planning a long-term relationship.
Even here in my later years, I tend to see a relationship as being about next Friday night or next Sunday brunch. My Young Companions and I can agree on a restaurant or a kind of wine or on sharing a Sunday NY Times over flat whites at the coffee shop, but I'd have no idea how to discuss anything that others seem to have taken for granted at twenty-four or twenty-five.
I have no particular wish to be married. I'll say that. I wouldn't know how to live with another person, and I've read enough 19th-c. novels to understand how key money is in any long-term relationship. I can very nearly get by in genteel poverty alone. I have nothing to offer a girl who expects the kind of financial partnership that well-educated North Americans should have in the new century.
I've certainly fallen in love since my mid-twenties, and I've told girls that I did love them. Nonetheless, at some point I must've understood that I was now unmarriageable. I'd still to understand how it happened, though, and I'd like to know what I failed to grasp as social lessons at university and after.