At the wedding of my younger brother, in 2000, someone mistook me for the groom. And my father, with a laugh I’ve always wondered about, jerked his thumb at me and said, “Him? He’s never getting married.” I was 28 then. For the next 12 years, until this past summer, I proved the old man right.
A few things were working against me—mostly myself. For example, I had animals in my apartment. Not pets, wildlife: bats, rats, squirrels. One afternoon, I came home to find an obese squirrel squatting on my dining-room table, scarfing down a nut. He didn’t move when I approached him, and it dawned on me that he’d been here before, gotten comfortable, maybe ordered cable. I shivered with primordial panic: whose place was this, theirs or mine? I was living that close to the line.
The only vacuum I ever owned was a Shop-Vac: wet/dry, with a long wide hose and a tank like R2D2, because if you wait long enough to clean, there are no small messes. It came in handy one spring when the fruit flies got out of hand—sucked them right out of the air. My messes could fly like that.
I’m not proud of this. I was just a guy alone. And when bachelorhood stretches beyond the wide-open days of video games and peanut bars toward the narrowing maw of mid-life, you lose a little perspective. You’ve seized some opportunities that married men might not recognize as such, sometimes with a backpack in a sketchy corner of the world, sometimes with your clothes off; you’ve dodged a few bullets. And all that bobbing and weaving has made you wiry, wild, a little feral.
Lucy describes me in those days as “intense”—lots of eye contact and unchallenged opinions. This was in 2009, and after years of bumping into each other, I’d finally asked her out. What she didn’t know was that I’d made up my mind to settle down. Because, make no mistake, it is a decision. My father had died the year before, and whether it was the withering of his infamous pronouncement or the notion of stepping up, I’d prioritized a relationship. I would tell myself, while Lucy and I were driving or cooking or staring up at the ceiling half asleep, “This is my wife”—in hopes of manifesting that kind of marital intimacy. Three years later, it’s true.
I have china now, which makes me nervous, like handling explosives. I have a clay butter dish shaped like a little house. I have a real house with no obvious portals for wildlife; I am, as I should be, the furriest creature inside it. I have, according to researchers, 250-percent better odds now of staying alive into my Bananagrams years.
I have a wife whom I love. But unlike people who marry at 22 or even 32, with some part of their adult experience still unformed, I have never thought that Lucy completes me. Or even that I’m happier than before. With no one to do it for me, I had already jerry-rigged a life: a career, a circle of friends, a library card that I had every reason to believe would sustain me to the end. Marriage at 40 is a lateral move.
I’m reminded of this whenever Lucy and I fight, because our fights are not the fast-moving thunderstorms of youth, but the daily drizzle of knowing that you did all of this before on your own, from cooking to cleaning to driving cross-country, and never once criticized yourself. You never held up an ostensibly washed dish to yourself and asked, “Do you see what I see?” You never asked yourself to roll up the windows, turn down the music, and watch the merging traffic until you sat there, tense in the silent car, thinking, “I knew road trips, and you’re no road trip.”
So why did I do it? Because it’s good to be challenged, to care about someone else for a change, and to learn new kinds of happiness: security, partnership, Downton Abbey. I didn’t need this, I wanted it—for the graying, balding, prostate-pondering rest of my life.