Lou says he’ll buy me a Cadillac if I have his baby.
“That’s ridiculous!” I say. “A Cadillac is so not my style!”
“That’s the rule! You have an Italian baby, you drive a Cadillac,” he says, flashing that killer smile.
We’re joking. We’re not even seriously dating. But there is truth in every joke.
The truth is that I like that Lou has a lot of rules. His life is governed by a lot of tradition: He’s old-school Italian American with a big family rich with food customs (seafood pasta at Christmas, a magnum of rosé always in the fridge). There are rules about about marriage (no living together beforehand, divorce only in cases of abuse), babies (always named after a relative), women (never without their nails done, zero interest in casual sex), and religion (most of the men I date go to therapy and AA meetings, Lou goes to mass).
My life is mostly without rules: As a single mom, I head a non-traditional family. As a self-employed writer, I have a non-traditional career (worse: as a blogger, I’m a non-traditional self-employed writer!). I live far from my hometown and most of my family and all of the traditions with which I was raised. Each holiday becomes an exercise in cooking up new ritual out of thin air. In my professional life, I’m trying to single-handedly reinvent the entire institution of marriage, for crying out loud!
People need ritual and they need tradition. Children thrive on this structure, as do the people who raise them. Childrearing is riddled with questions and challenges, and many days I crave a guidebook to tell me how to discipline, what to cook for Easter, or what to instruct my children to say in the quiet moments before bedtime. We need models for how we structure our relationships and create family that works with how we live today. I join the majority of adults in this country for whom the dated Ozzie-and-Harriet family model did not work. I’m doing my damnedest to bring awareness to our dire need to change the marriage paradigm with my 10-Year Marriage Contract, which is a start. In the meantime, life without adherence to established tradition requires an inner resolve that I find tough to maintain day-in and day-out.
And so, despite our differences, I find myself drawn to Lou. There is a peaceful strength that comes with a life lived within the comfort of tradition that has guided your ancestors for generations. For me, I am seeking peace by living outside of tradition that I know is not right for me. Yet I feel I’m constantly reinventing the wheel of life, which can be overwhelming, tedious.
“I always liked those mosaics,” I say, pointing to the Ukrainian Catholic Church as Lou and I drove around my neighborhood on his Harley.
“What religion are you?” he asks.
“I don’t have one,” I say, leaning my head against his back.
“What about your kids?
“They don’t have one, either.”
“But what happens when they get married?” he asks. “What will their wedding look like?”
“They’ll have to figure that out themselves,” I say. And when I do, I accept that as a likely truth. I also feel a little sad.
Other stories in this project:
- Marriage is dead
- One spouse is not enough
- Let’s stop celebrating wedding anniversaries
- What if your failed marriage was really a success?
Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.
The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.
Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.
Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.