Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Referendum


On my usual Sunday call today with my parents, they mentioned they'd been at the Liquor Store (in Canada, this is a government entity, so there is only one retailer of hard booze; the current name is an improvement on the original, which can only be temperance-based or deeply Socialist: The Liquor Control Board of Ontario) near their house, and they ran into a guy who works there and recognized them because he'd gone to high school with me.

I've lived more lives than I care to contemplate since high school, and when they described him I had only the vaguest recollection of who he was. Laughing, I said, imagine, I could have dated him and now I'd be married to the guy who works at the Liquor Store. Well, they responded, in Canada it's a great job, and he'll have an excellent pension. Okay, then.

In a recent article (yes, in the Times again, but for the record I read a lot of other things, too) cartoonist and writer Tim Krieder talks about something he's dubbed The Referendum: "..a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers' differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt."

Krieder writes that looking at our peers' choices is the the closest we can get to a glimpse of the roads not taken. He is a middle-aged man who has never been married, never had children--nor the desire for them, he makes clear. Most of the marriages he sees would, he says, have him discreetly hanging himself within twenty minutes.

A bit over the top, but I get what he means. Having been married for a long time, much of it quite unhappily, I now see plenty of unions that have a familiar glint of misery to them, though certainly I see a good many that have weathered time well. The vast majority of people in my demographic are married, and that makes me feel on occasion rather a square peg. But often there is also a little envy on their part. It may be because they imagine the life of a single person to be full of adventure--an idea a single person of any age or gender could disabuse them of over of the course of a single drink--but also because I have, at least every other week, a space that is strictly mine, and at least some leisure time that is mine to spend exactly as I please.

As time goes on, I wonder if I really ever want to give up this rather lovely life I've carved out for myself. As I write this, I am in my relatively small but serviceable kitchen, cooking an organic chicken I paid too much for and then seasoned in a way that I like. This morning I took a two-hour walk, then ate leftovers from a fantastic chowder I made yesterday. Then I went to my daughter's soccer game. After that I went and bought a pair of boots I've been deliberating over for a week or two, and in the course of that trip I ran into two of my good friends, one of whom I saw at dinner and a play only a couple of days ago. And now I am listening to Diana Krall and looking around my comfortable, orderly house, where everything is as I wish it. I don't have to negotiate with anyone about money, laundry, dinner, in-laws, or who took out the bloody trash bins.

Of course I have moments where I wish for a spouse--not just when there is a crisis, or at a school play when everyone but me seems to be paired off in happy families--but in odd moments, like when I am on my way home from a party and wish I had someone with whom to compare notes, or on a Friday night when I've had a productive week at work and want to share my trivial victories.

Should this person ever arrive (and if he does I may ask him to keep his own house so we can still like each other as time goes by) he must be: smarter than me, take care of himself, adore me, do something he cares about most days, and still be curious and adventurous no matter what he's experienced to make him feel the contrary. It would be nice if he loves New York and Paris, but these are negotiable. Because if he loves me, he'll encourage me to go on my own and listen to my stories when I get home.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the life I have because it's mine. And I like it.

1 comment:

  1. You are one of the few to correctly allude to the Frost poem as "the road not taken." Curt would be proud as most insist it's the "road less traveled." Good job!

    Whatever your future holds, your are fortunate to have found peace and a happy life you created all on your own. Some people never arrive at that place!

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