By: Liz Pardue-Schultz/Your Tango
Who we are in public together matters way, way less than who we are to each other at home.
At some point during most of the weddings, funerals, and reunions I’ve attended, there’s a moment where the couples I’m socializing with stare at me wide-eyed while I share some marriage advice that’s apparently revolutionary amongst us wedded folk.
I thought I’d share this marriage-saving technique of mine with you today.
Ready? Are you sitting down? Do you have a cool glass of water next to you? If you occasionally require an inhaler, you may want to have it in hand before proceeding.
I leave my husband at home when I go to big events with people he doesn’t know, like weddings and reunions of old friends. It saves us stress, money, arguments, and discomfort. We both genuinely love it.
We’ve done this routinely in our decade together, and yet every time I discuss this with a group of married couples, I am informed that this is apparently a novel, radical concept. In all these years of explaining my public singleness, I have heard, “I didn’t know that was even an option!” from both husbands and wives of all ages, and it honestly never fails to baffle me.
See, my husband is an introvert, so taking him to something like a wedding with hundreds of complete strangers just to visit with a small group of people that only I know and who he’ll never see again would be the equivalent of me dragging him to a public square to be lashed in the nude. It seems cruel and unnecessary, and if I’m constantly worried about him being crippled with anxiety, not only am I not going to be able to enjoy myself, but I’m going to feel like a monster for pressuring him into something that makes him miserable.
Conversely, after the first time I’d attended a wedding by myself and realized how much fun I was able to have without being worried about him, I told him that unless I specify otherwise, I’d rather sit out of his class reunions or weddings so he could go out all night, do whatever he wants, and not worry about whether or not I was bored.
It’s become our assumed method for attending social events ever since.
It just makes sense to leave my husband at home. It’s comfortable for both of us because we trust the other implicitly not to get into trouble, it gives us freedom to do what we want with our various non-mutual friends, and we always check in with the other before we turn in for the night. Everybody’s happy.
What I didn’t expect was the stunned reactions of other couples I’ve encountered during these years flying solo.
The looks I get are second only to the ridiculous questions I’ve encountered after I answer the “So where’s that husband of yours?” questions (most of which are usually followed up by a snide “Couldn’t drag him away from [fill-in-the-blank male-oriented television stereotype] for a weekend?”).
Here are a few of the conversations I end up having at least once I’ve confirmed that I have, in fact, voluntarily left my husband at home while daring to show my face in public without my legal male escort.
Married Person: Don’t you want someone to dance with?!
Me: Not really. I don’t need a partner to drop it like it’s hot. Plus, my husband would rather attempt to bathe a feral cat than dance in public, and I’m not into sadism outside our bedroom.
MP: Don’t you want to show him off?
Me: Ew… no. Um, I deliberately married a human, not an accessory. I also left my kid at home for the same reason. Showing off people like they’re personal possessions or accomplishments is a practice I’m happy to help phase out.
MP: Don’t you miss him?
Me: You know, fun fact: When you live with someone you love and see them day in and day out, you can go at least a week without requiring their presence to replenish your life source. I think I’ll be fine for a couple days. Plus, if I see something that makes me think of him, it’ll give us more to talk about next time we’re together so we don’t run out of material. Win/win, amirite?
MP: (usually whispered) Is… is everything okay with you guys?
Me: Yes. We can both love each other and enjoy time with other people without fear of abandonment or treachery. With that in mind, I’d venture to say we’re absolutely wonderful.
Not everyone who is surprised by the idea of attending coed events without a partner in tow is rude or judgmental.
At a funeral I attended last month as moral support for the deceased’s daughter, I was explaining my solo mode to a group of baby boomers, who all seemed delighted with my marriage’s standing arrangement.
One woman exclaimed, “Oh my god, you’ve just saved my life! I’m never sitting through a boring reunion with my husband again! God, I wish I’d thought of this. I could’ve had so many weekends to myself!”
She and a friend of hers laughed together with the kind of relief familiar to anyone who has unsnapped a tight bra at the end of a long day. I felt like Glinda when she revealed Dorothy’s sartorial teleportation abilities.
Despite my candor, I really don’t mean to sound smug. This practice has just come so naturally to us that I’m still always confused that married women and men alike don’t realize that they aren’t required to accompany their spouses everywhere they go. And, similarly, we aren’t required to demand it either.
It doesn’t make someone a BAD husband because he doesn’t want to meet people you only see once per decade on the off-chance there’s a slow dance you want to dance to, just like it doesn’t make a woman a “bad” wife for not being arm candy at her husband’s business gala.
Who we are in public together matters way, way less than who we are to each other at home. As it should be.
And this is not to say I leave my husband at home and alone every single time I leave the house, by the way. We play each situation by ear.
He’s joined me for mini-reunions with high school crews, and we always plan for the other to come along to extended family functions. We are present for the moments that matter, but when it comes to getaways with friends the other doesn’t know, we gp ahead and assume the other is opting out unless otherwise stated.
But having the freedom to run off to a wedding or reunion and go wherever our whims take us without having to worry about someone I love being way outside his comfort zone is a luxury I’ve realized can only be afforded in the most comfortable, trusting relationships.
With this knowledge, we’re able to sleep soundly guilt-free on the nights we’re apart and reunite joyfully and refreshed.
Liz Pardue-Schultz is a writer and activist based in North Carolina, where she overshares her bizarre journey through mental illness, recovery, and parenting. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post, Time Magazine, XOJane, Ravishly, and ThoughtCatalog.