For my parents, on their 45th anniversaryPosted: November 11, 2015
They met on a cruise of the South Pacific and immediately hit it off. Back at home in the U.S., they dated and found themselves all the more drawn to each other. In an era when most people their age married right out of high school or college, they were both in their 30s and still single. But they came to realize that this was what they had each been waiting for.
It culminated one evening in a perfect setting: a candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant. After the meal, he took the diamond ring from his pocket and held it out to her.
“Well?” he said.
OK, so my dad is not the world’s most romantic guy. He’s not the type who gives flowers for every birthday and anniversary. He is the type that will always be there when you need him, taking care of the practical details, reliable and steady. Having dated other men who were good at courting and not so good at commitment, Mom knew a good thing when she found it. She still does. My parents recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary and their marriage is as strong as ever.
Mom was 37 when I was born and nearly 40 when she gave birth to my sister. Dad is three years younger than her. When I was growing up, I was always a bit of an odd one out among my friends because my parents were significantly older than everybody else’s were. Even today, there’s still a big gap. Mom turns 80 next year while most of my friends’ parents are just beginning to reach retirement age.
Both of my parents were born during the Great Depression to working class families that experienced significant financial difficulties. This history profoundly shaped their attitudes towards money, possessions, and consumption and they both can trace the aftereffects throughout their lives, even 75 years later. There’s often a huge difference in mindset in the generation gap between them and Baby Boomers born in the relatively prosperous 1950s.
Even in my own life, in the ways of managing money that I learned from them, I can see the echoes of that long-ago time of difficulty, now shaping a third generation. It’s at times been another way I’m different from my peers, subtle but persistent.
Attitudes about money aren’t the only things I learned from my parents. Indeed, one of the biggest things I’ve come to realize as I get older is just how much I take after them sometimes.
I’ve always been a loner and for a long time I’ve connected with others primarily through work, volunteering or shared interests. It surprised me recently to realize that both of my parents are the same way. It was something I had just never thought about, part of the background of my life I’d never stopped to question.
Thinking back, I can’t even remember a time either of them has had friends over to the house to socialize, nor do they visit with others. They each have groups they volunteer with but otherwise they spend most of their time at home, reading or working around the house. The only real difference between me and them is that my work and my volunteering are online and theirs are offline.
That, and that they have each other to keep company with and I’m single.
Being single and limiting friendships to shared interests and activities have been my coping mechanisms most of my adult life, the ways I’ve dealt with being asexual and aromantic in a world that all too often seems to value neither. It’s the fortress that protected my integrity when I knew no other way to get by. And it turns out this is something that I learned from my parents.
I have to admit that this threw me for a loop when I realized it. I knew that they had never pressured me at any time to date, much less to marry. They’ve never even asked me why I don’t. They’ve given me a space throughout my life to be myself and I am and always will be incredibly grateful for that.
But it’s more than that. By their own ways of living, they built the safe space that allowed me to survive with integrity intact. Whatever their reasons are as a straight couple for living the way they do, it is exactly what their asexual daughter needed.
I’ve always found the question of whether I’m out to my parents a tricky one to answer. They don’t know the word “asexual”; it’s not a term I’ve ever used around them. Heck, I didn’t even know the word myself until I was 31.
About seven or eight years ago, visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, I remember telling Mom, “I’m just not interested in people that way. Never have been.” I meant, romantically and sexually. She nodded and said, “I hope you do find someone for companionship, especially as you get older.”
That was it. That was my “coming out”. No drama. Not that I was expecting it. After all, she had seen me live my entirely life solitary, without dating or relationships, without even having had so much as a crush. If she’d had a problem with any of that, she would have said something long before.
She took a while to find her way in life, and so did I. But just as she was old enough at 34 to know her own mind when she married Dad, she trusted that by age 35 I knew my own mind too. She accepted without question that I knew what was best for myself. That meant a lot to me and still does.
More recently, two or three years ago now, I had another interesting talk, this time with both parents. We were all visiting my sister and her family for the winter holidays. Sitting upstairs while Lisa entertained guests, we got to talking about marriage. The odd thing is that I was nearly 40 at the time and this was the first time the question had really come up in direct conversation. I said, “I don’t plan to ever marry. I’m not inclined that way. Being single works best for me.”
They both nodded. Dad noted, “Your uncle Tom is the same way.” He and Mom then came up with a list of several other relatives (mostly from older generations) on both sides of the family who had never married. It made me feel… normal. That it’s natural that I’m the way that I am because it runs in my family. That my parents consider it hardly worthy of remark. That it’s just the way things are, and that’s OK.
In their own way, my parents are both remarkable people. The coping tools they taught me, and the love and the acceptance that they’ve given me, are gifts beyond measure. The stable life I lead in my asexuality and my solitude is in its way a tribute to what they’ve built together for 45 years.
Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad, and thank you. You don’t know what you mean to me.
Read more by Laura, here.
Laura P is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.