“If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.” — Paul Newman
“Basically married” is how a friend described her relationship with her live-in boyfriend on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. The combined age of this “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” was over 80. She’d always played her “basically married” card in a casual and well-practiced sort of way.
But it was a bluff. Like most women (no, not all), she wanted to have a family. She could half-convince her friends that she was “basically married,” but she could not convince even herself that she was basically a mother.
The game was getting old, and so was she. Biological clocks don’t bluff, and hers told her it was almost too late for a winning hand.
She’s had lots of company. A recent study summarized in The Atlantic shows that a majority of the women among cohabiting couples say that they’re “almost certain” their relationship with the man is permanent, notwithstanding the conspicuous absence of a marriage proposal from the man. It is no surprise (except perhaps to those women) that the men say the opposite.
The guy in this game thinks he’s holding five aces. When the chips are down, or his needs aren’t met, he can just move out. If she gets pregnant with that baby she wants and refuses to “take care of the issue,” he can just move out.
The woman can move out, of course, but she seldom does. That’s because the woman imagines that this game brings her closer to her goal of having a family.
She’s mistaken. The study showed that of unmarried couples who commence living together, 80 percent are not even a couple five years later. The few who get married are more likely to later divorce.
In a curious irony, gays and lesbians for decades fought for society to legally recognize their sacred promise to “love, honor and cherish” one another forever. Meanwhile, straights cowering from commitment have abandoned that very same legal and spiritual status for which courageous gays and lesbians fought so hard.
Straight guys think they’ve stacked the deck with this arrangement. They have a mom/girlfriend/housekeeper/roommate/financial supporter to come home to. The guy doesn’t have children, but hey, the only child he’s capable of loving is the one in the mirror.
For the guy, it’s like penny-ante poker. It’s amusing, but the stakes are low. He knows when to walk away and when to run. The commitment is modest. It seems safe.
But something happened with my friend’s boyfriend. He came to realize that in the long run, his crappy little penny-ante poker game was not safe at all. He saw that indeed he never lost much, but he never won much, either. Uncommitted year by uncommitted year, lousy little hand by lousy little hand, penny-ante by penny-ante, his small-stakes game frittered away his shot at the big pot — it frittered away his mojo, his soul and his manhood. He was playing a good little game but living a lousy little life.
Real men, you see, don’t play it safe. They know that the big rewards in life are not in low-stakes poker; the big rewards are at the dangerous high-stakes table.
So my friend’s boyfriend married her. Not to make an honest woman out of her. She was already that. The reason was to make a man out of himself.
He decided to grow up, man up and marry up. He stopped playing house and started building a home. He stopped taking and started giving. He stopped being a child and, later, became a father to one.
He went all in, he put his cards on the table, and he let the chips fall where they may.
I came out of City Market the other afternoon and found my rear window had been smashed. Nothing was stolen, and there wasn’t even a scratch on the car. Weird.
At the table next to me on the Sundeck atop Ajax the other day sat a man of 70-something all alone in a onesie.
He unbuckled a fanny pack and fished out an orange, a brownie and a Tupperware container holding a bologna sandwich. He ambled to the restaurant and poured himself a cup of free water (not the foo-foo stuff with lemon), returned and ate his lunch. Oblivious to the neck masseuse, the designer goggle store, the yoga sessions and the tourist skiers drinking champaign, he then closed his crinkly eyes as he sat in the sun daydreaming of how he used to ski the big lines. And probably still does.
Published Feb 16, 2014 in The Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/10137990-113/game-married-ante-basically
(Original sketch by “Caroline” of Vancouver, BC)