Note: I originally started writing this 8 or 9 months ago, but set it aside when I reached a point where I wasn't entirely certain where I was going with it. I think it's probably deserving of being completed, though, so....
Recently, a certain 10 year old I know asked me, "Why do people get married?" We've had a lot of discussions of such things of late, and I've been digging deep into the Magic Bag of Answers Moms Give to Tough Questions grasping about for responses that will satisfy without overwhelming. I did my best to explain that most people just naturally want a partner and someone to share their life with, but the answer felt inadequate to me; incomplete. Still, she was gracious enough to accept it without seeming overly skeptical.
The question stayed with me, though, lurking behind a few others, but leaping back to the forefront as I drove back to St. Louis today from a court appearance in Benton, Missouri. I was traveling behind an SUV and noticed that it, like so many do, had a stick family decal on the rear window. I recalled a conversation with a single friend several years ago wherein we both, rather ashamedly, admitted that we hate those things. It's awful to acknowledge, but they touch an ugly, envious nerve. And I've since learned we're far from alone in that sentiment.
"Why is that?!" I wondered today, as I recalled the conversation. It isn't just a matter of the grass being greener....I frequently hear friends in marriages or committed relationships fantasize about how "fun" and "exciting" it would be to be single again, but when push comes to shove, they're generally content to remain on their side of the septic tank. Besides, if someone truly wants to become single again, they generally can arrange that. (Not without some significant effort, and often a great deal of pain. But it can be achieved.) The reverse? It's far more complicated and contingent not only on other people and the many variables they bring to the table, but also, in most cases, on luck -- timing, circumstance -- things for which most people cannot control.
No, it must be more than simple envy. I think it goes even deeper than that - I think most of us are hard-wired to familitize. We long to be part of a family -- and not just any family -- a happy one, at that. And when, for whatever reason(s), that isn't possible, it can ache in a way that few things in life do. Even when everything else is going well and life is good in most respects, there's that knowledge that something important is missing.
For a long time, for me, that translated into not "qualifying" for a stick figure family on my car. I guess, in hindsight, that seems rather silly, but somehow, I had it in my head that just the two of us -- Riley and I -- weren't eligible for vehicular stick figurehood since we weren't a "traditional" family. Then one day, I was browsing through Amazon and decided to search for the stick figures. When I found them, I realized I'd been looking at it all wrong -- they come in all different assortments, and you don't have to have a "cookie cutter" family in order to find a set that represents you. So, impulsively, I bought a set.
But once I had them in hand, I still couldn't bring myself to put them on my car. I set them aside in my "to get to" pile, and kept not getting to them. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but I think I finally figured it out. I think, on some level, I worried that applying stick figures to my car was somehow akin to setting my life's course in stone. That telling the world "this is my family" now foreclosed the possibility of that definition ever again expanding.
Yeah. I think I let stick figure decals and what they represent get into my head a bit. Today, I overcame that silliness. I placed stickers representing myself, Riley, Hurricane, Stormy and Pringle on my car. (Sadly, my set didn't come with a fish sticker -- sorry, Louis!) That is, at present, my family. And we're good -- and happy together. And if at some point our family does expand and more stickers need to be added, then we can add them. And be happy together. :)