By DANIEL DARWIN
My baby brother is getting married in July. He’s not the first one, either. To get married, I mean. It seems to be a thing that happens a lot. From what I can gather through various Google searches and Wikipedia, millions of people before him have also gotten married. And included among these millions is my older brother, who got hitched three months ago. So that makes two out of the three of we Darwin progeny to have tied the knot.
This, as you can perhaps imagine, is making my life fucking miserable.
Relatives I didn’t even know existed until now have emerged from the woodworking to ask me through pursed smiles How it’s possible that someone as fill-in-the-blank as me doesn’t have a girlfriend yet? and Might I just have a special someone tucked away in a suitcase somewhere that no one knows about? and How old are you again, Daniel, because you know that men are at their most virile between the ages of eighteen and thirty? I’m twenty-three. And, hysterically, they know that. I’m also gay. And, hysterically, they don’t know that. If they did, and though it’s now a viable option in a smattering of places, I somehow doubt they would be asking me these questions so vociferously.
Chief among these inquisitive relatives are my grandparents, who moved into our house at about the same time as my baby brother proposed to his fiancée and who, on top of serving as a constant – as in every day constant – reminder that I am not married, also serve as a constant example of exactly why I do not want to get married.
See the thing is, all of this marriage ballyhoo that’s brought on the onslaught of questions and kicked our family into high gear of late – the lace and the cake, the veils, the vows, the unions, the dresses, the gifts, the sobbing, the bloodshed – has just confirmed a quite concrete resolution that I’ve felt hovering above me for about six years now:
I am almost positive that I will never get married.
Like, I’m pretty sure that if China were to overthrow the world tomorrow morning and beat India into the ground and launch its nuclear devices at the ever-crumbling EU and the ever-deserving US of A and just fucking eradicate everyone in everywhere, and the only people left alive to re-propagate the human race were me, Beyoncé the day after her period ends, and a priest with two gold rings, I still wouldn’t get married.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against other people getting married. I’m thrilled that my brothers have found love and decided to perform a universally prized sacred ritual of commitment that reinforces centuries of patriarchal oppression. I think it’s peachy. I simply don’t want anything to do with it.
And, apparently, that’s odd. It makes no sense to almost anyone in my life. It used to. There was a time when I could tip back my whiskey and chortle at a young couple and say something flippant like “I’m never going to get married ever in a million years.” And every one around me would simply nod and smile sadly and after a few seconds of awkward tension the conversation would continue.
But then New York had to go and legalize gay marriage. And now the entire city has caught the bug, and by the time I left to come back to Manila, I couldn’t walk three blocks without getting hit in the face with a garter and stepping in dove-shit. And the fallout of all this is that I can no longer say I don’t want to get married without sounding like a selfish twat with standards so insurmountably high that unless you’re literally Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, you don’t have a prayer at getting a second date with me.
And, apart from the Heathcliff thing, that’s just not true.
It’s just that, at the end of the day, the fact remains that when New York added the optional “gay” before “marriage,” it did nothing whatsoever to change the distaste I feel toward “marriage.” Because at the end of the day, I still feel about marriage the way one might feel about being forced to sit in front of a kitchen counter and watch a pie rot for twenty-three years before someone finally cuts you a slice and and says, “Here! Look! I made a pie!”
I’m not sure if that metaphor makes complete sense. I tried it out on my brother and he responded by staring at me blankly for a couple seconds and then saying, “But, I like pie.” And that’s great! He should like pie! Munch away! All I’m trying to say is when you’re made to stare at a pie for twenty-three years, you can’t help but begin to notice its discrepancies – the burnt areas around the crust, the bit of soggy apple sticking out the side of the pan, Kim Kardashian, the 50% divorce rate, and that bitch who got married to the Eiffel Tower – such that when it is finally offered to you, you have to pause and ask yourself what it is exactly that you’re biting into when you bite into marriage?
I seem to be stuck in that pause.
And so far nothing has come along in my life to make me want to move past that pause. It certainly hasn’t helped at all that my grandparents now live in my house. They’ve been together for sixty years and I swear to God they have fought like rabid meth addicted honey badgers every single day of their goddamn marriage. I honestly don’t know where they get their energy considering they’re in their mid-eighties. It’s astounding.
The other day I walked downstairs, and after my grandmother had asked me why I don’t have a girlfriend yet, she revealed to me that she was furious at my grandfather because she had been cold and he hadn’t moved the fan to point in a direction away from her. She hadn’t asked him to do this, mind you, he just “should have known.” Now, my grandfather was snoring on the couch as we had this conversation, but when he finally woke up and she confronted him about her anger, his response was to look directly into her eyes and let rip one of the loudest farts I’ve ever heard. He’s just ripping ass, and cackling in her face the entire time. And I’m sitting there watching all of this take place and I’m just absolutely mortified. Because what has been seen can not be unseen, and this is what conflict resolution becomes when you’ve been married for sixty years. This is the image I will have emblazoned indelibly in my head for all time of what it is like to grow old and die with someone.
And that’s another problem that I have with marriage: see, when you conceptualize marriage it demands that you conceptualize growing old and dying with someone. And I’ve realized of late that it’s impossible for me to conceptualize growing old and dying with someone, because it is impossible for me to conceptualize growing old and dying. In fact, a few days ago, I realized that I can’t imagine my life past the age of thirty-five.
I realized this, by the way, because, on top of serving as a constant reminder that I’m not married and that I don’t want to be married, my grandparents have also done an incredible job of constantly reminding me that one day I am in fact actually going to grow old, lose control of my faculties and die. The other day, I walked downstairs and after she had asked me why I didn’t have a girlfriend yet, my grandmother asked me if I had eaten. I said I hadn’t, so she called our helper and had her prepare me some Ma-Ling and rice. Which was totally sweet, right? But as I was devouring it – as my spoon literally dangled in mid-air en route to my mouth – my grandmother walked up to me and asked me if I had eaten. And I didn’t know what to say. Because, I mean, technically, as I was still in the process of eating, No, I hadn’t eaten. But had I said that to her, there’s no telling what she’d have done. She might just have called our helper and had her prepare me some more Ma-Ling and rice. So I just stared at her, mortified. Because what has been seen can not be unseen. And this is what being alive becomes when you’ve been doing it for 85 years.
And it shocked me because I’m looking at her, and I’m taking this whole almost-a-century-of-life thing in, and it’s just, like, a big, fuzzy white space in my imagination past the age of 35. And that struck me as odd. So I ran a poll. I sent out an email to a random sampling of about thirty different friends asking them if they could without any difficulty imagine their lives past the age of 35, and the results sent in by those who responded were pretty astonishing. Fudging the numbers a bit for dramatic effect, the findings were pretty much as follows:
- All of my straight female friends responded with something like “Yeah I’m going to be married and changing the world.”
- All of my gay female friends responded with “Yeah I’m going to be married and changing the world.”
- All of my trans friends save a couple responded with “Yeah I’m going to be married and changing the world.”
- And all of my straight male friends responded with “Yeah I’m going to be married and running the world.”
But oddly enough only one of the gay male friends who I asked responded in an affirmative. He can easily imagine his life well into his eighties. But he’s a Senator’s son, so it’s easy for him to imagine pretty much anything. The rest of them responded with confessions reminiscent of my own: anything past thirty-five is a big, fuzzy white space. Which left me with this big, fuzzy white box of what-the-fuck that I now had to try to unpack.
Why can’t my gay male friends or I imagine our lives past the age of 35 unless, of course, we’re a Senator’s son?
So far I’ve been able to boil it down to two essential ingredients that weave together to produce this incapacity within gay male culture…
Ingredient I: We have a cripplingly unhealthy obsession with youth.
I was at a bar the other night and ended up talking at length with an attractive guy in his mid-thirties whose approach to flirting consisted of alternately showering me with backhanded compliments about how young and nubile I was and proclamations about how generally terrible he was. At one point in our conversation, he referred to himself as a D.O.M. Now, I had had about six glasses of Jack Daniels at this point, so, as you might imagine, I didn’t quite follow.
I thought, idiotically, that he was simply spelling out Dom. So I responded with a slight laugh and casually admitted to him that “You’re in luck, because I happen to tend toward the Sub in sadomasochistic play.”
There was a moment of petrified stillness, and he explained that he had meant Dirty Old Man. And I felt like an absolute fool for about three seconds and then I didn’t because it is completely absurd that a thirty-five year old would feel the need to refer to himself in any context as a dirty old man. Dirty, fine. But, Old? I was having none of it. So I laid into him, asking him what gave him the right to refer to himself as a dirty old man? His response was to say that anyone would feel like a dirty old man when talking to Peter Pan.
And there you have it. The sad truth. I have never met a gay man who was not positively obsessed with at least one of the following group of literary archetypes: Peter Pan, The Little Prince, and Icarus. Now, it doesn’t take much investigation to confront the fact that of the three of these characters, two die while they’re children in an effort to escape the prisons of their own ennui, and the one who survives is abandoned by everyone he loves to live alone on his island for the rest of eternity.
It’s horrifying. Whether anyone likes it or not, gay male culture seems to be separated between the Icaruses and the Princes and the Peter Pans, and those who outgrow them. The Daedaluses, the Aviators, the Captain Hooks, looking on. Craving in vain an imagined youth, while the younger ones of us crave in vain an imagined future.
Ingredient II: To the extent that we conceptualize death, it is never a peaceful death at the end of a life fully lived.
Imagine the death of a gay man. What comes immediately to mind? If it’s a cozy bed with the shades drawn on a crisp morning in the arms of his eighty-five year old life-partner, I’ll buy you a bottle of french wine. Because, chances are good, it’s not. I know it’s certainly not for me. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because Lord knows it happens all the time. But it’s not what comes to mind. What comes to mind is a young death. A death wedged into a life half lived. And I’m not talking about going out in a blaze of glory like a River Phoenix or a Jimi Hendrix or a James Dean, living so hard that you just die of life in the middle of your hey day.
I’m talking about a death that involves years of extended and painful physical deterioration, blistering lesions, and cripplingly expensive experimental medication. The kind of death people don’t want to talk about because it’s just too horrid and wrapped up in shame and stigma and all of that other juicy shit. That’s what hits the mind when you think of a gay man dying.
Or, more colorful yet, it’s a death that involves a classmate named, say, Brandon McInerney bringing a gun to school, coming up behind me and shooting me twice in the back of the head at point blank range before being defended by a hung jury as a disturbed child who was pushed to murder by my flamboyancy and getting out of jail by the age of 37.
And how sickening! How sickening that these are the deaths that come readily to mind. These are the deaths with which we live. These are the deaths that I allow myself to imagine.
And now I’m all like, “Well, shit.” Because here I was trying to sit down to write a clever, dismissive piece about how hilarious it is that I hate marriage, and instead I end up talking about gay male ageism and fucking death by AIDS or crowbar.
And now I’m all like, “Well, fuck.” Because it’s dawning on me slowly that maybe I only hate marriage in the way that I hate it when I’m sitting at a kitchen counter and everyone around me starts speaking Spanish. Maybe marriage isn’t an idea that I don’t like so much as a language that I don’t know how to speak.
Because let’s face it, the ability to imagine your life joined with someone till death do you part requires a basic reliance on the understood trajectory of a “normal life” and its connoted “normal death”:
Marriage → Kids → Grandkids → Retirement → Death.
Well, honestly, nowadays it’s more like:
Marriage → Kids → Mortgage → Midlife crisis → Divorce → Therapy → Alimony → Remarriage → Grandkids every other Christmas → Drug Addiction → Death.
Either way, I’m realizing that I don’t fit in to this trajectory. And maybe I’m not okay with that. Because the other day I walked downstairs and, after she had asked me why I don’t have a girlfriend yet, my grandmother started singing her favorite hymns. She knows dozens of them by heart, so it lasted a while. And after a few stanzas my grandfather came out of their room and sat down beside her and sang with her. And there they were, holding hands and singing their favorite hymns – my grandmother correcting my tone-deaf grandfather. And I’m sitting there watching this and I realize that they may fight like meth addicts all day long but at the end of every day they have slept in the same bed for sixty years.
Whenever one of them leaves the room, the other asks me frantically where they’ve gone. And I chalk it off to burgeoning senility but I’m not sure that’s it. I think it might be that when you sleep in the same bed together for sixty years, one of you can’t leave the room without the other one feeling like an arm’s been wrenched off. And I make fun of my grandparents and their marriage all the time, but maybe I only make fun of it because it’s easier to make fun of something than it is to admit that you’re not sure you can ever have it. Because the fact of the matter is I don’t know how to imagine myself sleeping in the same bed with someone for sixty years.
And I’m only twenty-three, yes. I’m a puppy, to be sure. But if puppy love is real to puppies, then puppy loneliness sure as shit is, too. And for the first time in perhaps ever, I’m confronting the fact that… I don’t want to die young. And I don’t want to die alone.
And I don’t know if I know how not to.
And that’s funny.
Daniel Darwin writes plays and plays with fire. He is based in New York.