I know five couples who were engaged or married in December 2012. It’s officially that time in our lives. The pressure is on. Or not really. I’m not seriously dating anyone. I’m also seriously not dating anyone. At all. So whatever self-created pressure there is to be married before 30 is laughable because it’s simply not going to happen. Most days, I’m absolutely content with this reality. However, last week one of my students made me a little less content with my present relationship status.
“Would we have been friends in high school?” she asked. I smiled to myself. A little flattered that she wants to be my friend. A little proud of my protege, that she doesn’t just see me as an educator. A little curious of how she imagined I was more than a decade ago.
“Sure.” I said.
“Really?” She didn’t buy it. I’m not as good of a liar as I used to be.
Then I giggled. “No. We wouldn’t have been friends.”
“What were you like?” she asked. “What kinds of things did you do?”
“I was one of the smart kids. Not the smartest, but almost all of my friends were nerds.”
“I knew it! Me and my friends make fun of the kids like you.”
“My friends and I.” I said. As soon as I said it, I knew she’d roll her eyes. I started again. “My friends and I had math parties on Friday nights. We did our math homework together, went to see a movie, grabbed pizza from the place next door. We watched Lifetime Movie Marathon on Sundays. Most of us met through the International Club at school. It may not sound like fun to you, but I loved us. And we weren’t just nerds. I was in theater, concert band, marching band, student government. I’m not making myself sound any cooler am I?”
“How could you tell?” she asked.
“Well, we wouldn’t have been friends but don’t think for one second that “nerds” want to be friends with the girls like you. The dislike goes both ways, you know. It shouldn’t. In high school, you’re all more alike than you’d care to know” I said.
“It doesn’t matter. When I’m 20, I’ll be friends with you,” she replied.
“In four years, I’ll be married with a family. I doubt I’ll have time for any new friendships.”
“No you won’t.” she said. “You’ll still be single. You’ll have plenty of time for friends.”
I stared into her smiling face. She’s good. Clever with insults. We’re more alike than I care to know. I rested my forehead in the palm of my right hand and digested the next four years of singledom. Of course, I’d thought about it. Not just four years from now, but forty years from now.
I think about how I’ll feel when I attend yet another wedding and watch one of my closest friends walk down the aisle and commit herself to someone for all eternity. I think about what it’ll feel like when the next one jumps over the broom. Who I’ll dance with when the last one ties the knot. It’s not just about the weddings. I think about how the friendships will change as they mature into wives and mothers and have less time for hour long conversations becaue children need bathing and dinners need cooking and bathrooms need mopping because toddlers keep puking and never seem to aim right inside the toilet bowl.
Any hour long conversations will undoubtedly be reserved for their husbands because between working 90+ hours during the week and tending to their homes and children and aging parents, they can’t find any time to meet the others emotional needs. It’s hard. Marriage is incredibly hard and I say that as someone who has never been married which means I haven’t the faintest clue regarding just how hard it is.
Being single is hard, too. A different kind of hard. Even if you’re happy and single. Even if you’re happy to be single. The hardest part is convincing yourself after a lifetime of Disney Princess movies seared into the medulla amgyldala of your brain, that you actually can have a reasonably altered version of “happily ever after” that doesn’t involve a Prince or a man. At some point, we young women realize that:
- We don’t need to be rescued, OR
- We can rescue ourselves and it’s actually better for the final chapter of our story if we do, OR
- He’s not coming, OR
- If he does, he damn sure ain’t no prince, OR
- We will no live happily ever after. He can give us three good months.
If I sound cynical, know that I’m not. Evidenced by the fact that at some point I actually do want to get married and I hope our quiver of children doesn’t destroy our marriage in the same way that I hope we don’t have unreasonably high expectations that the other person can’t meet without supernatural powers. Marriage isn’t something to be romanticized and I wish we’d stop idealizing it and start talking about it the way it actually is: Ceaseless work that depends on two egos shared commitment to be selfless, respectful, honest, and caring. It sounds even more impossible when you add the cherries on top: overworked, underpaid, stressed the flip out, unappreciated, emotionally neglected and sleep deprived from wailing infants and nightmares about not being able to pay the mortgage .
This story hasn’t blockbustered in Hollywood because we’d all really rather hope our brains out that there’s a perfect match for us who doesn’t need their ego stroked, takes out the trash without being asked, and fulfills our emotional and sexual needs perfectly and consistently. (Also without being asked.)
If I am single four years from now, it’s not because I’ll be waiting for the perfect man who doesn’t exist. None of what I’m doing now is waiting. I’m growing into the middle-aged person who is yet to be, working on myself and nurturing the friendships with the people I love most. I don’t think the perfect man is out there, but certainly there’s someone out there for me and he’s probably working on himself, too. In fact, he’s probably taking out the trash at this very moment and I’m so glad I didn’t have to tell him to do it. Yes, there will be days when I wake up and feel utterly alone. Namely days like Valentine’s Day or when I have food poisoning and there’s no one around at 3 o’clock in the morning to drive me to the emergency room. That”s when I’ll remember that it’s up to me in the end, to be my own knight in shining armor, singled or married.
“Hey, Jule. Let’s be friends in four years. What else is there?”