They are everywhere. They are a plague on our houses. They spring from the abysses of the city's rancid darkness to frighten the simple citizenry. Their eyes gleam red with eager malice as they prowl and drool through the gutters and the alleys of our streets. They are a poisonous epidemic, leaving disease and decay in their wake. They are a scourge.
Couples. I hate them. They make me puke.
You think I'm bitter? Of course I'm bitter! How would you feel if every time you walked four blocks to the bookstore, you encountered approximately 16 couples holding hands and staring mistily into each other's eyes, gold wedding bands glinting in the sun? Why don't they just slap me in the face?
If you're not from Manhattan, you may think I'm bonkers. In other parts of the country, couples, especially married ones, know how to treat each other: with good-natured hostility, progressing steadily toward simple hatred.
In Boise, for example, Herb will call his wife, Blanche, his ball and chain. Blanche will intentionally burn the pork chops and develop a mad crush on the meter reader. In Tulsa, Jimmy Bob and Charlene will have to be pried apart at the Liar's Saloon before Charlene's grip on Jimmy Bob's throat becomes terminal.
This is normal. This is the true nature of marriage. You fall in love, you become dependent upon each other, you resent this dependency, you freak out. Before you know it, either you're divorced or you've tenaciously fought the dark and selfish side of your natures and love conquers all for the time being. Marriage is an endless cycle of love and fury, passion and revulsion.
But not in Manhattan. These people are thrilled to death with themselves.
It's about AIDS, of course. And the new conservatism. And just plain, bloody-minded perversity. In Manhattan, marriage is a trend. Couples kiss over their arugula-and-radicchio salads. They fondle each other's genitals while devouring their pasta puttanesca. By the time the tiramisu arrives, they've slid under the table.
Oh, God, the incessant smugness that radiates like beacons from these twits! The constant "we"-speak! The hideous complacency--nay, maliciousness--with which they treat their single friends!
"We're so happy!" a close relation who just dumped her husband and married another man said recently. "Aren't we happy, bunny? You should try it, you know."
And so sanctimonious. Suddenly, every member of a couple realizes that all his/her life, he/she has secretly yearned for monogamy, that all those nights prowling the bars and the clubs, all those passionate and furtive sexual dalliances in his/her past, well, that wasn't really him/her. He/she is really into monogamy, into intimacy, into real estate and child rearing. It's enough to put you to sleep for a decade.
What's even worse is that I feel left out. I want to be an asshole like everyone else. I want to go home to someone besides two interminably necking teenagers and one prancing-in-circles little dog. I want to go with someone to Italy, and when I get there, I want a hotel room with a king-sized bed instead of two singles. I want a joint checking account. I want to file a joint return. I want couples to stop looking at me as if I were a pitiful gnat. It's hard to keep out of the fray of social pressure, not to feel sorry for yourself when others do.
So I feel sorry for myself. I especially feel sorry for myself when I'm with people who have, against all odds, found each other and who are deeply in love and not just trendy. I know two such couples. I was in a cab with one of these couples recently and it killed me. They kept grinning and looking tender. A hand was on a knee. They were together and I was separate and it caused such a sick, demented yearning, such an astringent feeling of loneliness that I felt a deep crash in the pit of my stomach.
I remember love and closeness, but it was always strenuous for me, because I was insane and frightened, and if a man went loopy over me, it brought out my mean streak. I have been lousy with suspicion and distrust and had a penchant for drama and plate throwing.
I have finally figured out the rudiments of how to love somebody, but here it is, ironically, 1989 and I'm old. There are no men my age, and if there are, they want 22-year-olds to bear their children. Will I ever be able to practice this loving?
"No," said my friend Brendan. "Shut the fuck up and get used to living alone. You don't have a chance."
"I am used to living alone," I said. "I just would prefer not to in the biggest way."
"You know ninety-five percent of guys are assholes," said Brendan.
"Maybe, but at least eighty percent of women are assholes, too."
"So that makes five percent nonasshole men for twenty percent nonasshole women, and all of them are insulated by the assholes all around them. Assuming you're not an asshole...."
"Thank you very much."
"You're totally fucked."
This is true. But at least I'm not desperate. What if I were? What if every morning when I woke, there were a horrible thud of fear in my brain? What if every day were filled with anxiety and a fevered search for Mr. Right? What if every night concluded with my crying my eyes out?
I was like that once. I was taught from babyhood that men were the answer to my problems. My mother, my aunt, my grandmother worshiped men and felt a slight distaste for women. A woman was as important as the job her husband held, as the state of her kitchen counters, as the clothing on her children's backs. A woman had little or no intrinsic worth. I was never told there was an option of growing up, acquiring skills, working for a living. I was told that when I grew up, I would get married and live happily ever after.
So I thank God that marriage is simply the latest trend, not a requirement. That I do not have to play the role of the gay divorcee or the woebegone spinster. That I can go into restaurants alone and not be spat upon. That nobody can arrest me if I point at these couples and laugh (hollowly).