Why I Waited To Get Married
March 15th, 1998
I have been boy crazy since before I could read, write cursive or ride a two wheeler. Some of my very earliest memories involve boys and crushes. I can remember Tim Allin and Ted Schroeder pushing each other to get in line behind me after recess. I stood there pretending I didn’t notice, but fully aware. We were seven.
By the third grade I had carved Tim Allin’s and my initials in one of the posts that held up the awning outside our kitchen door. I was amazed to learn how observant parents are as mine noticed immediately and I was in trouble. “It wasn’t me” didn’t fly — what with me being the only “K.B.” in the family. And everyone was well aware of my crush on “T.A.”, which ultimately lasted well into my sixth grade year. (I also learned a little something about permanence as there was no erasing those initials. In fact,they were still there when we sold the house ten years later.)
When I was in High School, my family moved to Tehran, Iran. I dedicatedly kept a diary during my fourteen months there: September 1977 to November 1978. We were there through the revolution which ultimately ousted the Shah of Iran. There were soldiers on the streets with automatic weapons; martial law was imposed demanding that no one be on the streets between 9:00pm and 6:00am.; the Shah, fearing for his safety, left the very month after we did. A unique experience to live through and I was documenting…boys. Seriously, in the hundreds of pages I wrote while living in Iran during a revolution, there are very few mentions of it. My diaries could have been written by any teenage girl anywhere in the world. “I saw Russ in the hall today,” I wrote, “I think he likes me…”
Sad but true. I tell you this because I did not “wait to get married” because I had such a full life that I had no time for boys. Boys came before everything to me and yet (and I fully credit my mother with this) I knew that I had lots to do before I got married. I could enjoy their attentions, but I had things to do. In the seventies, my mother was literally freaking out about the way her life had unfolded: dropped out of college to marry my father at age nineteen, had me at twenty-one, had four of us by the time she was twenty-nine. Paula was angry. As the oldest daughter I heard loud and clear that I WAS NOT to make such stupid decisions. (I don’t think the decisions were really hers to make: women in the fifties didn’t have many choices. I think she learned to stop kicking herself about the way things happened. Also, the folks are still happily together after thirty-eight years.) In any case, I learned that only a careless girl would marry before completing her education, before traveling, before sleeping with at least a few men. I could plainly see that once you started down that course, it was nearly impossible to redirect it.
And so, in the early years especially, it never occurred to me that I might marry one of those boyfriends. It simply wasn’t time, no matter how I felt about them. I am not sure why I didn’t buy into the soul-mate idea because had I, I might have thought my first love was mine, married him and would likely be divorced by now. I guess I always believed that there were many men that I could be compatible with and to me that meant that one of them would show up when the time was right.
My interest in boys may have been in part because of the kind of girl I was, but I would guess that much of it was imposed by the messages I learned within my culture. For instance, as a little girl, I adored the television program “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and was not only aware that the purpose of the show was to have the men and women flirting with each other, but my young mind was fully content with these hollow plot lines. And I was very conscious of the reasons Biddy wasn’t going to get a man. She was too chatty, too bossy, too much of a…biddy.
I can’t explain why so many little girls are fascinated with male/female love relationships, even without the ancillary messages we receive, but I do know that we don’t receive enough cultural messages that tell us “It’s okay to like boys, but by all means wait to marry one.”
I will marry for the first time on May 25th to a man who is also marrying for the first time. We say we skipped our divorce. I am 36 and he will be 39.
When I was in my early twenties, there was a lot of talk about how a woman over 30 was more likely to be kidnapped by terrorists than to find a husband. I remember Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia cartoon of the time. Frizzy-haired , cigarette-smoking Sylvia sitting in a chair watching T.V. as the report is being announced: “Statistics show a woman over thirty has a better chance of being kidnapped by terrorists than finding a husband…” “And would rather” mutters Sylvia. I’m sure these reports scared a lot of women.
As far as I’m concerned, the thing to find is not the husband, but yourself. I think so many young women end up trying to define themselves by the guy they date, listening to his music, hanging out with his friends. I’ve done it myself and god knows I’ve watched my friends “disappear” enough times.
I don’t want to sound like I did it all right. I had plenty of heartache, was rarely monogamous and made plenty of mistakes. There were weekends a few years ago when it seemed like all my friends were in relationships. I would cry and cry and whine “when is it going to happen to me? I’m tired of being patient! I’ve been good: independent, developing my interests…” But still I was conscious that once I found the guy I would want to spend my life with all of the preceding experiences would make sense. Even at my most despairing, I used to imagine that one day when I found my good partner, I would lie back against his chest with his arms around me and literally look back at the experiences that lead me to him. “Ah!” I would think, “that’s why that happened! And that, and that!” And knowing that without that particular set of experiences, I wouldn’t have found him.
Even though I wanted one day to meet someone, I was a good single person. I really took advantage of being single because I knew that one day I would crave all that independence and didn’t want to have squandered it.. I enjoyed not having to answer to anyone and had flings and went on trips. I learned to be spontaneous and more in the moment. I played the music I wanted to and developed close female friendships. In particular the five years I lived alone were invaluable in helping me know who I am and what I like.
Early in 1995, my therapist asked me what I was impassioned about. The question stumped me completely. I pondered this question for months and didn’t put my finger on anything very concrete. Interestingly, just a month after she posed the question, I had the idea for the Kate Moss poster. I cruised along preparing to launch the campaign without ever making the connection that I was doing something I was deeply impassioned about. But I was aware of how good it was for my life and how many of my best qualities were being utilized. When I started receiving supportive letters from perfect strangers, I knew that all good things were going to come to me because of About-Face. I knew very clearly that I was going to find love.
In April of 1996, at a birthday gathering in a bar, an acquaintance named Barrie asked me to join her and some friends for a 10 day camping trip on Maui. It was oddly spontaneous for me to agree to go even though the trip was only three weeks off. I am not really a camper, I didn’t know Barrie very well, and the rest of the group were all close friends and seasoned campers.
In a strange and fortuitous twist in the life of a busy and contented single girl, I met Frank on the trip. He was one of Barrie’s close friends and he and I benefited from having many days to hang out and get to know each other. (Nothing romantic while on Maui – that happened a month later.) When we officially started dating, I knew within weeks that “this was it” and wouldn’t you know I was still thinking “Not now! I have too much to do!” But when it’s happening, it’s happening and you’ve got to go with it. Timing was an important factor for us. If I had met Frank ten years ago or five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready because I still had so much to learn. Now as I lean back against Frank’s chest and feel his arms around me, I can see the path of experiences that got me here and I think, “I needed all of those: the great ones , the painful ones, the stupid ones, the smart ones.” These are the particular experiences that led me to Frank. I took the right path.
Kathy Bruin is the founder of About-Face. She wouldn’t change her past for anything.