Because there is an awful lot of single shaming that exists within our culture, we try to include positive representations of singlehood on APW whenever we can. (This decision may or may not be colored by the fact that the staff, on the whole, really enjoyed their single years and wouldn’t give them back for anything.) But the thing is, I know that there are just as many of us out there who decidedly do not enjoy being single and are coming to terms with that as well. And that voice needs representing too. So here is Carolyn, doing just that.
I was as obnoxious as any eighteen-year-old can be. When my friends and I graduated high school none of us had ever been on a date. I was certain that a wedding would be very soon in my future, though. I had been trained to be a wife. By that I mean that I grew up in a religious community that had very strict gender lines. I didn’t interact much with men, but I was led to believe that they liked women who knew how to iron a man’s shirt in three minutes and who would be demure and quietly respectful.
I thought that I was somehow more qualified than my high school friends to take this position of wife. And I thought that men would be quickly able to see how qualified I was with my wife résumé.
That’s not how life went. Surprise, surprise, I had a lot of learning to do. And at thirty years old, I’m single and I’ve never been married. (Engaged once, and that was a huge mistake. The relationship was terrible and I rushed it because of wanting the wedding.)
For years now I have listened to the messages of society about how a woman’s worth is directly tied up in her marital status. I try not to believe it, but it’s hard not to. It’s everywhere I turn. From the Huffington Post publishing an article claiming that if you’re not married by thirty the reason is you must be a bitch, to my mom’s friends gossiping about why someone is still single. “She cared about her career too much.” “She shouldn’t have wasted time with that man who wasn’t going to commit.” Everyone has an opinion about what a girl has done wrong to end up thirty and unmarried.
All that pressure and emotion is extremely present when going to friends’ weddings. I adore my friends, I’m delighted for them when they get engaged and married. That doesn’t make it easy for me, though. When I watch a particular wedding show about difficult brides (and I do, because hey, whether I’m engaged or not, I love weddings. There’s a reason I’m here at this site!), one of the things that surprises me is when the brides are upset with their bridesmaids for not becoming perfect robot wedding helpers without their own lives. The brides become outraged at their friends for being in the hospital or having a relative die. I think brides need to remember that their friends are not going to behave perfectly. They’re going to be themselves.
But more than that, they are going to be dealing with some very strong emotions of their own during this magical day of yours. It’s not because they are selfish, it’s just what weddings bring up for some of us.
When my closest friend from home called me to tell me she was engaged, I felt two things at once. Very happy for her and devastated that her new husband was “stealing” her from me. I mourned the loss of being the closest person in her life. I felt like her wedding was a ceremony to replace me. In a lot of ways, it was.
A friend and I who grew very close in college had a friendly competition about our guys, guessing which one would propose first. My guy and I split up soon after college, hers proposed some years later. She was marrying the first man she ever kissed and it was such a romantic notion that I couldn’t help but be struck by my own failure. I would not marry the first man I kissed. I had not chosen well. She was getting the fairy tale that I wanted for myself. I didn’t begrudge her having it, but it didn’t make it any easier to suppress my own longing and disappointment.
I’ve been to many, many weddings. At most of them I know at least a few people are gossiping about me, wondering why I didn’t bring a date or when I’ll follow suit. I want them to be proud of me, to see me as a success, but no matter what I do, without a wedding I’ll always be tainted by failure. Some people just think that way. And I get to see them every time there’s a wedding.
I know that this day is about you and your beloved, about the love that you share and celebrating that love. I am loving seeing you happy. I’m doing my best to support you through the stress and the fears and the big changes. At the same time I’m battling my own inner war. I can’t make that go away. As much as I love weddings, they are always going to remind me of what I’m missing, of what I wanted for myself that I’ve not been able to get (when everything else I want is something I work toward and achieve). They fill me with jealousy, love, well wishes, remorse, frustration, appreciation, and disappointment.
You want your guests to have a good time, but that isn’t entirely in your control. You can throw a great, fun party, but you can’t change the inner turmoil that some people will be experiencing. I still love celebrating my friends’ weddings with them, no matter what painful feelings might poke at me during the experience.
I don’t want to bring you down or make you feel bad. I just want to say that your responsibility is to enjoy your wedding and to celebrate how much you love your spouse. Your friends will be experiencing different things than you are, but it’s not your job to fix that. Yours is to just be happy so that we can feel relieved knowing that real love is possible in this world.
Photo by Leah and Mark (APW Sponsor)