How often did she say it? “You’ll leave me before we’re married ten years.”
She meant “When you see wrinkles you’ll run.” Her tone suggested a joke, but I knew she worried. I wondered whether her fear had to do with our childlessness, whether she imagined fatherhood’s tug would drive me to younger ovaries.
Hearing the line over and over acted on me as a reverse psychology. Every time she said “You’ll leave me” I knew I’d prove her wrong. The insinuations motivated me. “You’ll leave me before ten years,” also can mean “You’ll break your vows” or “Time will prove you to be shallow,” or “You’re too naïve to understand what the future holds.”
Except that I believe marriage is for the long haul and promises aren’t meant to be broken. Maybe I’m shallow, but that doesn’t mean I have to act shallow. The fastest way to maturity is to act mature, and the mature guy doesn’t dump his wife when she gets old.
But here’s the truth: staying was easy. I loved her then, knew I would love her in years to come, and that the love would last. Maybe I was attracted to the beauty of a 42-year-old, but I fell in love for more mysterious and satisfying reasons.
Years later, she has a new line: “You’re married to an old lady.” She says this when she feels bad about her age, when a sprain won’t heal or when she can’t find reading glasses.
But this is the same woman who last week lay beside me in a narrow tent during a ferocious midnight South Dakota storm. The wind shoved the tent, the rain on the fly sounded like machine gun fire, thunder followed lightning so fast we knew the bolts erupted nearby. We stayed dry and safe, but how many women her age would spend a night tent camping through such a storm? This old lady I’m married to is so very young.
Enough about her fear. Here’s mine:
She will leave me. Not for another man, but because of what the poet Philip Larkin calls “the only end of age.” Outliving her, and without children, I will have to endure her absence and my grief alone.
That’s the fear of this younger man. I try not to think about it much.