US VERSUS THEM.
"I'm good. Just working and trying to get a ring on this finger."
I clicked out of Facebook. Really? I hadn't spoken to this dear college friend in years, and of all of the updates in the world this beautiful, elegant, supremely well-educated cosmopolitan young woman could write me, it was that she was actively working towards a diamond. In the moment, reading that was like opening a two-tablet pack of depression and dumping it into my morning coffee.
What was this "trying" of which she spoke? The concept felt familiar (we are twenty-first century American women, after all), yet somehow just as foreign. Was I missing something?
Getting married has always been something I saw in my future--but not as a "goal", per se. I haven't aspired to marriage, certainly not in the same way I've pressed towards professional success. But the more I thought about my old friend's comment, the more I wondered if there was something wrong with her...or if there was something wrong with me? With her and legions of other girls "trying", what does it mean not to? I thought of a Gandhi quote I love that reads, "satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment--full effort is full victory." I apply this to my career all the time. But what about the flip side, one's personal life? What if there is no effort?
If I'm not trying to get married, then what exactly am I trying to do?
I really enjoy being single, perhaps to an unnatural extent. I was born into a very nuclear home where my parents modeled a fun, supportive, healthy marriage during my formative years, and consequently I do find a lot attractive about the notion of partnership. But, perhaps as a result of being an only child, I also love freedom and crave solitude. I like being able to disappear and not having to report my comings and goings to anybody. I'm independent and self-reliant, a hardened shell I'm not in a rush to shed.
As more of my friends marry (even and especially some of the most unusual suspects), I find myself approaching the conversation around romantic relationships from an increasingly defensive posture, having to champion my personal choices not to explore certain relationships or make certain concessions, without really wanting to. Because I'm not the girl who's anti-marriage; in fact, my closest friends' wedding days have been some of the happiest days of my life. But I don’t date often because it's genuinely not that high up on my present priority list. Perhaps it should be, but until I'm comfortable in my career skin--which speaks to my purpose and calling--I've personally found it extraordinarily difficult to focus on such matters. Friends who used to support my position have married and not only expect me to as well but in some cases desperately desire that I "find" a husband. Women who used to hang tough in the resolve to get where we were going in life have abandoned the fight, gotten married and pregnant and settled into a comfortable plateau that's markedly far away from the goals they set out to achieve.
I don't begrudge them this remarkable joy, but I find that they often begrudge mine. I don't poo-poo the notion that someone could come in and snap me out of my one-track mind without cheating me out of my dreams, and I would welcome the person who is so spectacular and amazing that I could safely place him above my primary concerns. He just hasn't met me yet. But don't tell girls who have already taken the plunge that. There's a pervasive belief that a 33 year-old unattached woman is simply subversive--overly picky and making bad life decisions that will stick with her for years. Friendships change with age already, but as any unattached woman knows, when you're single among a bunch of marrieds, there is an inherent vilification that occurs. You become less of who you are and more "that girl": the rebel, the interloper, and finally, the threat.
This us-versus-them female culture is something new to me. No one mentions this phenomenon when you're younger because everyone assumes you'll be married by 29. And when you're not, weird things start to happen. Older relatives who never hopped in your business before open conversations with marriage questions. Parents, specifically, approach the dating topic with a tone usually reserved for telling you something is wrong with a grandparent. My father, who is the most nonchalant of men, actually asked me recently to tell him about some "prospects". As though I were purchasing real estate or waiting to hear back about a job.
And your friends. They inquire about anyone you're seeing with a faux-indifference so insincere that you can almost smell the hope on their breath. If you are seeing someone, there are a million questions about him, most of which are so intrusive and personal that you have zero answers. If you're not seeing someone, they say something patronizing like "it's so about to happen!" or tell you you're pretty. Um, duh.
So it's when I consider this vastly uncomfortable position that I find the empathy for my old friend's concentrated efforts to cop her fourth-finger-left-hand's sparkly lifetime ensemble. Perhaps it isn't about the promise of a wedding or the security or even the procreation.
I realized she probably just wants her friends back.