My maternal grandfather died when my mother was 9.  At the time, her older brothers were 14 and 12, and the younger twins were 5.  My grandmother had to figure out what to do.  She found work.  She paired up with another woman going through the same upheaval.  She put just enough food on the table.  She got her kids through high school.  She only went on one date after my grandfather died; she said he wasn’t her husband.  She knew no one ever would be.


My paternal grandmother got married before she was 16 to a man decades older than her.  After three kids she fell in love with someone else and left them all behind to start over.  A few years and three more children later, her first husband died and two of her children with him came to live with her.  And her alcoholic, occasionally abusive husband.  He couldn’t hold down a job, relatives helped keep food on the table, and their fights had a deep impact on my father.  Over the years my grandmother would leave him when it got to be too much, but she could never make the split permanent.  When he died they were still together. I was 5 at the time.


My mother’s first husband cheated on her with her sister-in-law.  They divorced when my sister was just a baby.  He poured sugar in the gas tank of my mother’s car.  He rarely paid child support.  She worried that he would be high during his parenting time with my sister.  My mother washed her hair with laundry detergent for a while so she could make ends meet.


My parents were set up on a blind date by my father’s cousin.  After they had dated for a while my dad came over drunk and fell over a footstool.  My mother kicked him out and broke it off.  He came back and made amends.  My oldest sister remembers one other time when my father had too much to drink and my mother threw her wedding ring at him, losing it in the snow.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen my father have a drink.


My mother runs our house.  She likes things to be a certain way.  She is efficient and thorough.  She stocks non-perishables and household items as though every store in America is closing tomorrow.  She has her own set of tools.  When my mother starts a project, she finishes it.


When she asks my father to do something around the house he stalls until she stops nagging him and does it herself, or the nagging escalates to the unavoidable.  My father is super nice.  He is also incredibly inefficient.   He hesitates.  He is overly cautious and unsure of himself.  He leaves the house for thirty minute errands and returns hours later.  He often behaves like a child, refusing to call home and tell my mother where he is going in case she asks him to come back.  He does not do his own laundry, and he only cleans under duress.  My mother hates that he would always rather watch tv than walk the beach.


He swears my mother is the love of his life, and he will never leave her.  My mother says she is too old to start over.  I think there is love between them, but neither one seems to respect the other.  I don’t want their marriage.


My mother made sure I can take care of myself, and I am proud that I can. I own more tools than most of the guys I have dated. I taught a couple of them how to drive a stick. My summer jobs during middle school included painting rooms and cutting lawns around the neighborhood. I held my own in a career dominated by men, and I learned how to be a hard ass in order to do it. I drive everywhere because I like to be in control of my ability to leave.


My mother’s dating advice was “use them and abuse them.”  Her worst fears came true when my oldest sister’s husband was arrested just before he tried to enact a plan to shoot my sister for a life insurance policy.


I want to date and fall in love and get married.  But he had damn well better be worth it.  I don’t want an alcoholic or a murderer, and I don’t want a man who doesn’t respect me.


I can take care of myself, so any man I am seriously involved with has to be worth my time and attention.  Because I will take care of him, too, but I want a relationship where we take care of each other.  I want to know I can rely on him.  I want to know he is a good man.  I want to believe him when he says he will handle it.  I want to trust him enough to commit for life.


I want the kind of marriage that makes me never want to date anyone else again.