Marriage has always held a place in the image of myself that seems so far away, I almost believe I will have to be a completely different person by the time it happens, the way a child must imagine herself to be an unrecognizable person by adulthood – several feet taller, dressed in adult clothing, speaking in an adult voice, concerned with adult tasks. It’s easy to imagine yourself as an adult when adulthood is so far away from you that it renders considering who you currently are, in your mental construction of the imagined future self, a bit ridiculous. When I was little I thought I’d be like Phylicia Rashad when I grew up. Such deserts of time stretched between myself then and my adult self that more drastic personal revolutions than a mere change in skin color would have to take place to transform me from a child who played with her toes to the dignified woman who could instill awe into the hearts of her unruly family with a few sotto voce threats and a confusingly sexy stare-down.
But I’m now at an age when many of my friends are getting married, or have already gotten married and are now starting their own families, or are even divorcing. And yet I feel just as distant from the woman I imagine myself needing to become in order to be married as I did when I was a child. It has in fact become more difficult to imagine myself so, because, unlike the enormous changes to my person I could take for granted would happen between then and the imagined now, I have to accept that I actually am mostly as I will be for the rest of my life. For instance, my skin color won’t change, but then neither will my personality; I’ll probably never be the sort of career woman and mother who can subdue her family with a sexy stare-down and then be at work at 8 in the morning to start a day of subduing New York’s legal system while wearing pointy high-heeled shoes and power suits. I don’t mind this, but it’s something I know won’t happen. The person I am now is basically what I have to work with, and my imagined married self has to look, and act, something like I do now. But I couldn’t be married and act the way I do. I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who’d put up with that.
What man could prepare himself for the size and scope of my vanity? It is epic, it is legion; I am the Beowolf of self-regard. I’m not exactly ashamed of this, but neither do I want someone beholding its hugeness every day, straining his philosophical faculties to make sense of his own minuteness in comparison with it. It’s not like I could hide my mountain of beauty products somewhere in the bathroom where he wouldn’t notice it, or get crushed under it, or sucked into its gravitational pull. I can’t just leave my toothbrush and some baby shampoo and an unassuming white washcloth out and pretend that’s all it takes to achieve this fresh-faced fakery that is my look. It’s not that I’m profligate with my products either; I use everything up and then buy more. How can I explain that I really do need one cleanser in the morning and a different one at night, and an exfoliator twice a week and a mask and a peel and different moisturizers for day and night and parts of my face and times of the month and it all makes perfect sense to me, but yes I understand there’s not enough room on the shelf for all these bottles so please build some more shelves? It is almost impossible to convey what eyelash conditioner is without appearing ridiculous. And also, I know aging drag queens who own less makeup than I do.
And clothing—I have a walk-in closet. It is my bedroom. I also have an annex of bulging wardrobes challenging the floorboards of my apartment in the Bronx. I like vintage clothes, which went out of style before I was born and thus will never go out of style in my heart. Unless I gain weight and they no longer fit me, why would I get rid of them? Yet I shun jobs that have a dress code that doesn’t include Uggs and yoga pants. I once turned one down in London because it would have required me to teeter about in high heels on Harrod’s marble floors for 6 hours a day. Any job that starts before ten in the morning is a job that will never see me in mascara, and only occasionally with clean hair. So I can’t even promise a consistent payoff to the avalanche we would be living under till death by suffocation do us part. I don’t like imagining my future husband trying to look manly while being crowded out of his own house by a burgeoning forest of chiffon ruching, bias-cut crepe, and those fake pashminas with pictures of peacocks in metallic thread I love so much. He would try to talk sense to me, offer to drive me to the Goodwill drop-off locations, or even help me to start an ebay boutique. I would grow to resent him for refusing to acknowledge the value of a minidress I wore both to my senior prom and to opening night at the opera twelve years later, or the fact that yes, gorilla fur is un-p.c., but totally worth it and so much warmer than any of my other capes, or that these are not rags, these are my Bag of Sentimental Panties and no, they are none of your business.
And what about our domestic life? Obviously I am too much of a feminist to ever willingly take on the role of housewife (and my secret is that my feminism in this regard is buttressed by a generous helping of laziness and apathy that eliminates housework as a serious consideration for me anyway). But normal couples cook, or take turns cooking. I know people who enjoy it. They buy ingredients, and read recipes, and wait patiently for stuff to boil. They close their eyes and lyricize about the near-spiritual satisfaction they get from communing with the various twigs and animal parts and different-colored dust they flavor stuff with. Then they sit down, fully clothed, at a table, with mats and serving spoons, and eat in silence or while exchanging civilized anecdotes about their lives. I only want to eat if I can sit pantsless in front of the internet while I’m doing it. And I only cook for parties. Spending time in the kitchen is only worthwhile if at least two dozen people will adore me afterwards. Otherwise I can just pick the M&Ms out of a trailmix bag, sprinkle them over a cup of applesauce and be done with it. I only use my stove to store my wicker basket collection and for my weekly death-by-garlic pasta binge, during which I prepare enough food to feed Haiti, and eat it all myself. I’m not sure I’d ever want a man to know these habits of mine, let alone be legally bound to share in them with me. And after ten or twenty years of letting him cook for me, I might start to suspect I’m taking advantage of him, and feel guilty about it.
As I get older, I wonder about how much of my life depends upon privacy, how much of my daily routine I would suppress if there were someone watching me. Do I want someone to witness me choosing to watch LOLCAT videos rather than read a Great Book, or even a good book, or even a full HuffPo article, before bed? Do I want to inflict my apocalyptic hormonal mood swings on an innocent man, or worse, stifle them for his sake and just guess at when the ulcer’s going to hit? Do I want someone possibly taking a dim view of my frequent daydreaming and then telling me to put some pants on and go get a job at Starbuck’s or Home Depot or wherever? I suppose that’s the fear, isn’t it, that the proclivities of mine I secretly suspect aren’t entirely benign but that I usually assume will appear charming to most other people, will be seen and comprehended in their unsimple totality by someone who would get to be as much of an expert on me as a husband would. And if he’s a man he would then encourage me, maybe even try to help me change, put his hands on my shoulders and turn me to face reality, which I always hate doing and which is why I generally can’t ass myself to do it on my own. And then I’d have to admit that I clung to a basically childish version of myself for longer than was seemly, and that instead of dragging myself up out of it, I needed a man to compel me to. God, I hate him already.