Hitched: On Prenups

When I first read what folks are calling Amelia Earhart’s “prenup,” I was sure it was too good to be true: here is, in 1931 or thereabouts, a woman telling her fiancé in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t necessarily intend to be faithful to him, that her career comes first and that she intends to keep a place where she can be alone, “now and then.”

But no, there it is at the Purdue University Library in a collection of the aviatrix’s papers.

Would that we all sent these letters to our partners before walking down the aisle. How much heartache could be avoided if people laid their hopes and intentions out plain for each other instead of assuming that a preacher and a piece of paper and an open bar would magically align life goals, personal preferences and financial habits? The answer is: a lot of heartache could be avoided.

While we didn’t type each other tender but honest letters about our shared future together, Patrick and I did have some meaningful conversations about the future before we got married (without, if you can believe it, the help of a religious counselor foisted upon us by the great state of Texas). We agreed that we weren’t interested in having children, that we shared roughly the same geographical interests when it came to the many places we hoped to live and vacation, and that we were both willing to relocate for the sake of the other person’s career if a great opportunity presented itself. We had no serious debt and wanted to keep our finances separate. Neither of us were interested in an open marriage or any monogamish-ness.

So there you have it: the basics of our future as husband and wife. No babies. No shared bank accounts. No moving to Idaho. Yes travel, yes two careers, yes fidelity. I don’t expect that my life with Patrick will always be easy or that our path will always be clear, but I’m reassured by these building blocks for the future. They seem like a warm and welcoming place from which we’ve agreed to start, together.

But what I love most about Earhart’s letter to her future husband George P. Putnam, more than her honesty, is her admitted apprehension. Lifetime commitments are exciting, but they’re also scary and intimidating. This is no small decision, even if it’s a common one. Earhart refused Putnam’s proposals multiple times. In the prenup letter, she writes, in part: “You must know again my reluctance to marry,” and asks Putnam to let her go, “in a year if we find no happiness together.” She worries about the effect marriage will have on her career and her identity as an individual human being, craving “some place where I can go to be myself, now and then.”

The last thing I ever want to do is fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but I think I get where Earhart is coming from. Just this last weekend I told Patrick how I’d been struggling with independence. I found myself growing frustrated with answering, constantly, the ever present question: “How will doing X, Y, Z, affect Patrick’s wants, needs, schedule?”

I mean this in the most pedestrian way; I mean that sometimes I want to get up on a Saturday morning and fry an egg in the microwave and read historical fiction for three hours and not inform anyone of my plans. Earhart worried that she mightn’t make history because of George P. Putnam; I worry that I mightn’t ever get to change my mind about brunch from tacos to ramen at the last minute and not have to explain myself.

It wasn’t so long ago — a few weeks, in fact — that I was writing about how weird it was, during our first extended time being physically separated from each other since Patrick and I began dating, to try to reimagine what I did to entertain and sustain myself as a single woman all those years. And yet I found myself wishing for less co-planning and more me-time.

I also wished for a better alternative to the horrible phrase “me-time,” but there it is, with a glass of White Zin, listening to Celine Dion and lighting a lavender scented candle. That’s not the me-time that I’m talking about, and I don’t think it’s the me-time Amelia Earhart was talking about. Yes, a hot bath and wine sounds lovely, but I need more than a 45-minute soak to feel like a whole person. I need to spend hours wherein I’m not in near-constant communication or dialogue with another living human, no matter how much I love them.

Patrick and I are both only children and I think we both crave this thing I’m talking about. When I told Patrick, this past Saturday: “I need to not make a joint decision about brunch this morning,” he didn’t sulk or argue. He got me. Immediately. He knew it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t about him or us. It was just about me, and it was only for a little while.

Now as I write this column, four days after being tired of making decisions about brunch, I’m sitting alone in a hotel bed in Maryland. I’ve been on a work trip for three days, and I’m exhausted and lonely from being inside my own head. I’ve had my “place where I can go to be myself,” and that place is a DoubleTree, and I am tired of it and its warm, delicious chocolate chip cookies and single-service Wolfgang Puck coffee maker.

Since I was thinking about prenuptial promises and my own fickle emotions in past days, I asked Patrick to send me a copy of his vows; I am now, of course, crying in the stupid DoubleTree with my stupid warm cookie and stupid cup of Wolfgang Stupid Puck coffee.

Patrick and I didn’t write our vows together; they were a surprise. But they turned out to be quite similar. I told him: “I promise to never stop learning and laughing with you. I will always be on your side.” And him to me: “My purpose will be making the life we share meaningful, wide-ranging and fun beyond your dreams.”

We even made the same joke, about what is perhaps the singular issue on which we disagree in this life: whether to take the scenic route or the shortcut.

Patrick promised me: “I promise to try and avoid taking the long way when you’re riding in the car.”

I promised Patrick: “I will follow you into the fire swamp. And then I will find the most direct route for us out of the fire swamp.”

I love to read our vows side by side, though it’s agony to read them tonight when I’m stuck here with only Storage Wars and bleachy-smelling sheets instead of our usual shared nighttime tangle of cats and iPads and crossword puzzles.

Well, I do have one particular thought to keep me company: I wonder what George P. Putnam wrote back to Earhart? Besides, one presumes, “Sounds good.”

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