This week we’re talking about the spaces in between, which seems perfect in this week where we start to transition from summer to fall. If wedding planning and early marriage are about one thing, I’d say they’re about transition. They’re about learning to inhabit that in-between space. So I suppose it makes sense, as someone who finds joy in running this site, that all of the posts this week speak to my soul in beautiful and complex ways. This morning’s post by Kathleen (who recently wrote about how wedding planning isn’t project management) is about the space between single and married, and it’s about the balance between valuing marriage as a central relationship of one’s life, while still equally valuing being single. I’m in love.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the comments on this piece since it came out, and not just because I’m a cusp-y Gen Xer still in love with Jordan Catalano. Rather, it was the discussion of privilege and of non-melty relationships, and the space where those two ideas intersect that I can’t shake.
The simple truth is that I’m soon to be engaged, and I’m thinking about where my single self will go.
My people, meaning my family and friends, believe in marriage. And by that I mean they BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE. My parents have been married for over thirty years, and they both believe and communicate regularly that their marriage is the most important part of their lives. I’m the youngest of four, and growing up it was clear that my parents’ relationship was the central space of the family, not that between parent and child. All three of my siblings have married, and followed suit—chosen people and jobs and lifestyles that place marriage as the central value. My people are sure that their marriages are the most important thing they have and the thing that both helps and enriches their lives the most.
Within this world, I’ve been single. In some ways, really single—until recently I’d never been in a relationship that I thought would culminate in marriage. And seriously, being a part of a family that not only values marriage but credits it with their individual levels of happiness and success, being single is a lonely place.
The story that illustrates this the best is of Christmas five years ago. With all my siblings married (and childless), we marched down the stairs Christmas morning with me, the youngest, in front. We opened our “big” presents one at a time. My siblings and their spouses opened these magical, perfect gifts—a new camera, a trip to Mexico, a spa weekend, a cruise, my sister’s spouse had written her a love song. When it was my turn, I opened a gift from my parents, as I didn’t have a partner to purchase me a big gift. After the extraordinary parade of amazing gifts that had proceeded, I opened my present: a jar of pickled asparagus.
I won’t say that I’ve experienced the cultural privilege of marriage in its fullest, most isolating form, but I do think that it might feel a little like the moment after opening a jar of pickled asparagus.
The real reason I keep thinking about this and want to pin it down and document its every effect is that I’m soon to pass over to that space. I’ve found an extraordinary, very non-melty man and relationship. And now we’re talking rings and homes and bank accounts and futures, and soon I’ll leave solo and single and asparagus behind.
Being in a family that loves marriage while being single meant that I had to display and prove and show show show that I was capable and happy and successful alone. And guys, I totally did. I moved to a city where I knew no one. I bought a house. I ran a successful nonprofit. I traveled to fancy beaches. And even more—I did all these things while navigating Multiple Sclerosis, and its many demands, all on my own. I was the most skilled-at-being-single lady I knew. So much so that many friends told me I’d be “the best single mom ever,” as if my single lady capacities meant that I should probably just leverage those skills into single mom-dom. Which, I will be honest, prior to my current relationship was something I figured would happen.
And while I’ve found a guy who loves me for my capabilities and independence and the very things that made me super at being single, I’m also a little worried about where that girl is going to go. I want a marriage that looks like my parents’—that is both something to work on, but also the best part of my life. And I want to get a special, thoughtful present on Christmas, but I also don’t know what that will look and feel like after fighting to be happy and successful without those things.
How did you manage the space between single and married? I always thought I’d be mourning the fun of single life—of dates and drinks and the spontaneity that being alone affords—but I think it’s actually the hard stuff, the fighting to take care of myself that I might miss.
Photo of Kathleen by Stacey Bode Photography