A husband, I’ve learned, can’t be everything. You have to choose the human qualities that matter most — to you — and trust your gut, and go with that. This is much harder, even, than it sounds, because in the 21st century a woman is encouraged to display herself, kalaidescopically, as contradictory things, a kitten and a badass both at once, a bottom and a top, an earner and a dependent, an athlete and a scholar. Choosing a spouse narrows your self-definition, and not just because it forces other prospective spouses out of the game. It forces you to settle on a version of yourself.
And I married the perfect man for the apocalypse. This is a good thing, because increasingly I imagine the apocalypse is coming. Since November 9, I — like so many of my fellow patriots — have seen that any horror is possible, and so the expectation of horror has become normal to me. In my mind’s eye I can see children running, our city aflame, shootings, stabbings, broken glass. In the apocalypse, we are living in Prospect Park, in cardboard shacks, and our daughter is like Oliver Twist, bringing us thieved prizes with her filthy hands. And Charlie, my husband, is there, keeping things running, making electricity, guarding our internet, and improvising solutions to problems we never imagined we’d have. I always assumed that I would marry, but that was as far as my predictions went. Domestic life was always a black box, and yet here I am in it, surprised and curious at its satisfactions.
I have always been at odds with myself. Especially into my 30s, as I developed an appetite for more and bigger professional successes, I came to enjoy a high-end life. I had disposable income, which I spent on clothes (retail) and shoes (also retail) and a trainer and drinks and taxi cabs. At the same time, I’m anxious — a Jewish Northeasterner with a puritanical streak, descended from Holocaust refugees who passed on to me an atavistic certainty that things are always worse than you think. Certain aspects of modern womanhood — like the application of eyeliner or the regular, comprehensive genital wax — were lost on me. And so as I established myself in New York, I longed simultaneously to run away to Vermont, to sip coffee at a kitchen window overlooking a green horizon, wearing the same pants for days on end.
This conflict extended to my thoughts about men. On the one hand, I was conventional enough to want conventional things: A straight man, monogamy, cohabitation — okay, a wedding dress. Definitely one baby, maybe two. But I had found, after decades in the heterosexual rat race, that I was not so interested in conventional men. The lawyers and the bankers left me cold. I was allergic to ego, to show-offs and blowhards, and I recoiled at the prospect of a lifetime spent tenderly stoking another’s ambition. The men who made a necessity out of creature comforts — central air, business class, baths before bed — received a disproportionate dose of disdain from me. And yet I couldn’t imagine making a life with the other sort: the alcoholic American heir, the recently divorced heartbroken boss, the hot boy who raced horses. And so I lived alone. I ran marathons and drank martinis and asked for raises.
All this was fine, until it wasn’t. At 37, dumped and gutted, I realized the time had come. I had been single and heartbroken, in cycles, for decades. I was beginning to want a family, badly, and was feeling that time was short.
For my 38th birthday, I took myself ice camping in Idaho: two weeks in the Tetons, in February, on skis, thinking about my options. We were a group of people in transitional phases: a laid-off dot-commer, a recovering alcoholic. We skied up hills, and down them, through the woods, pulling our belongings on sleds, like dogs. And at the end of each day, when we were starving and whipped, we had to dig a hole in the snow and put up a tent before dinner. I hoarded Snickers bars and learned to sleep with my wet mittens and socks on my belly to dry them out. For a “treat” at the end of the trip, we built igloos, roomier than the tents and, when lit by candles, magical, if they weren’t so freaking freezing cold.
I imagined that the ice would reveal a hard core inside me, but instead I discovered something soft. In my igloo, I dreamed of Charlie, the man whom I had recently met. I Ioved his face, which is like an American daguerreotype, and his physical quiet, and the chivalric way he stood up from the table to say hello. But I loved, especially, that he was his own guy, a life-hacker before it was a thing. While the résumé boys had been acquiring their MBAs in climate-controlled libraries, Charlie had been traveling Thailand and Malaysia, Vietnam and India, staying in hostels, and perfecting a method of washing socks in the sink. His cave-like apartment in Brooklyn was a DIY showcase. He slept in a bed he built from plumbing pipes; his houseplants were gigantic and flourishing despite the dark; and the books were everywhere, lining the walls on industrial metal racks he bought at the kitchen supply store. The overflow volumes he kept in the oven. Do you see my point? Charlie didn’t need to purchase a comfortable life. He’d make it himself. And that comforted me.
We went to Oaxaca, and to Rome. We had a baby who slept in our closet. But soon enough, something terrible happened. Living in Park Slope during the Obama years, the houses on the block where we bought our flat began to sell for $5 million, cash. And the pressures of living this responsible life, for which I’d yearned, made me feel, well, pressured. And I began to wonder what it would be to feel the ease of the more conventional arrangement, which I had in full consciousness opted against: a life with more material carelessness, more leisure. Occasionally I found myself wishing, just a smidge, that I’d given those bankers a harder look. I mean, all things being equal, what would be the harm of having a spouse who picked up the phone and called the repairman? Who bought air tickets on impulse? Who didn’t spend all Saturday making beef jerky?
Security is illusory. Since the election, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. It’s important to know what makes you feel safe. For some people it’s guns, for others it’s money, and for others it’s having a basement store of food. For me, it’s the certainty that whatever the problem, Charlie and I will, like Indian scouts, fix it with some ingenuity and the materials at hand. Our daughter, I know, feels similarly because she and her father frequently discuss their strategies for surviving the zombie apocalypse, which include covering themselves in zombie goo, then sneaking up to Vermont, where they’ll climb trees and hurl firecrackers into the woods to throw the zombies off their scent. Our daughter likes to know that there is a plan, and that if she sticks with her dad, she’ll be okay. It turns out I feel the very same way. My husband is the man who installs the dishwasher himself. Who says to me, “Honey, if you just leave the house for four hours, I’ll take care of it.” And then, when I come home, there it is, whisper-quiet and efficiently whooshing and we have $600 in our pockets that we didn’t spend on the dishwasher guy, and both of us have bragging rights. He installed the dishwasher after watching the freaking tutorial on YouTube, and I married the man who did.
Not long after the election, we were standing on our roof, Charlie and me, looking at our city. It looked the same as it always had — bejeweled, shining, glorious — but the view felt clouded, under threat. And because I like to make a joke of my anxiety, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Do you think we’ll need sheets of corrugated metal?”
“For what?” he asked, meeting the joke head on.
“For building shacks in the park in the apocalypse.”
“We won’t be able to live in the park,” he answered.
I panicked. Truly I did. Was this an obstacle he could not clear? “Why not?”
“Because we’ll need the park for farming.” And suddenly I was contented again. In the apocalypse, my husband will figure out how to make electricity. He’ll keep a stash of antibiotics under a baseboard. He’ll build a bike. And if we have to farm, my husband will know how to grow things, too.