"Well," Mom said, "she's a bit depressed and teary-eyed. I think she's realizing that she missed out on some things in life."
"Yeah! Like, maybe, sex? Has the woman ever had sex?" I asked.
My mother snapped back in an air of dignified disgust: "Well, I don't know. I've never asked her." After she recovered from the initial shock of my question, she added: "Tootie's done some things. Like . . . she's been to Branson, Missouri, twice, and she's seen Lawrence Welk. Oh, and she's been to the Badlands of South Dakota, too."
I'm sure Aunt Tootie has lived a richer existence than my Mom's answer implies. However, her life exemplifies the fate of an American woman coming of age in the mid-20th Century and failing to snare a husband -- stay at home, work in a respectable, gender-appropriate profession, take care of the parents, and pass into retirement wondering what might have been. Perhaps she was a closet lesbian trapped in a time and place where coming out was not an option. Maybe she just never found a man to rescue her from the nest. Either way, her choices were limited.
I am the modern-day Aunt Tootie of my family. I am a 36-year-old single woman with no potential marriage partner in sight. Of four siblings, I'm the only one who has never married, and I didn't bear any of my parents' six grandchildren. However, beyond that, I am nothing like Aunt Tootie. I've never been to Branson, and anyone that knows me need not question the state of my virginity. Fifty years and a social revolution separate us. I have reaped the bounty of my feminist foresisters' hard work. I graduated from a respectable university and, discounting an occasional handout from the parental units, I've made my own way in the world. I've carved out a very satisfying, albeit not very lucrative, career as a journalist. I live half a nation away from where I grew up, and I've paid enough rent to make several landlords wealthy. I've dated more men than I can remember. I've shacked up with two boyfriends. I've crisscrossed the states, rambled around Europe alone, "studied" Spanish in Mexico and spent a season as a ski bum.
I'm single, independent and rootless, unbound by the chains of commitment, able to pick up and leave in an instant. If I don't like a job, I quit. If I'm fed up with a boyfriend, I dump him. If I grow weary of a town, I move. U-Haul is my friend. I'm liberated, emancipated, free as a bird. The world is my oyster. Yee-haw.
I want to get married.
Call me pathetic. Call me what you will. I want a husband, and, with 40 looming in the not-so-distant future, sooner rather than later. It took me until my early 30s to admit it to myself. But there comes a time in a woman's life when she approaches the Rubicon of childbearing, and, even if the thought of squeezing out children and changing diapers makes her queasy, she stares down that road and realizes that she has a limited amount of time to make some major life decisions. For someone like me, who wouldn't even entertain the tortuous thought of raising children alone, all of a sudden that window of marital/maternal opportunity stretching into the placid haze of "someday" meets the harsh light of "now or never."
But my desire for marriage goes beyond the biological clock. I want to build a life with a kind, sexy, gainfully employed man who makes me laugh. I want a built-in traveling companion. I want a back-up checkbook when I can't make rent. I want someone to cook for me, and I'll in turn clean the kitchen. I want to wash a full load of laundry for a change. I want a permanent, live-in booty call. I want to have unprotected sex.