Mamaw was afraid I would die an old maid.
Her words, not mine. And she expressed this fear quite frequently. At least once during each of my visits or phone calls, and never in an unkind or rude way, but in a gentle, I-am-genuinely-concerned-about-your-well-being kind of way. When I graduated college in December of 2013, she told me how proud she was of me first, followed by expressing her greatest wish of seeing me married before she died.
I had laughed and promised to do my best, though she in turn would have to promise to stick around for at least another decade as it would no doubt take that long to find a suitor.
She died four weeks later.
Granted I wasn’t left with a whole lot of time to fulfill her dying wish (I hadn’t known at the time it was a dying one, but if I had I don’t know that that would’ve made a difference anyway), but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d disappointed her. Of all her grandchildren I was the only one unattached, so to speak. At 23 years old I had a college degree, a good job, and no boyfriend, and since I was her only granddaughter, that truly concerned her. The amount of failed marriages among other members of our family did not. I’m not trying to offend any of my family here. None of us is perfect, least of all me; I’m just trying to be real. I’m also sensible enough to accept Mamaw’s concerns for what they were – a desire to see her only granddaughter happy. To her, that meant being married.
The idea that marriage and happiness go hand in hand is common for folks in her generation. Back then you got married; it’s just what you did. I find it harder to excuse the generations after that though for posing the same questions about my singleness. The generation of my parents who boasted free love and used that as a permissible reason to have sex with anyone willing; the generation of baby-boomers who, according to shared statistics, have at least one failed marriage under their belt; the generation of women who publicly burned their bras and declared to the world that they didn’t need a man.
Or my own generation which is perhaps even worse. The generation that believes every detail of your daily life should be public domain and posted on the internet; the generation that doesn’t consider a relationship official until it’s “Facebook” official; the generation that has reduced our lives to a social media popularity contest by posting for all to see reasons why their husband is better than yours, or wife more thoughtful, or kids more successful. Look, here’s a picture of my perfect family being better than yours. It’s a game of disingenuous fluff that more often than not leaves me questioning what society has come to as it’s no longer enough to simply experience something, we must document it for likes and comments.
There’s a good chance I’m overthinking all of this. Maybe people are just genuinely curious about personal aspects of their Facebook friends’ lives; and maybe others just want me to find the kind of contentment they found with their 2nd or 3rd spouse. It’s entirely possible that the problem is just with me.
I don’t consider myself a feminist. I believe in marriage and someday, God willing, would like to find a husband to be my partner and best friend for the rest of my life. And most days, I’m okay with the waiting game. Most days I go to work where I’m blessed to have tolerable colleagues, come home to the best roommates in the world (you can’t beat the rent rate at my parents’), and spend a few hours outside drafting my novel. I like this routine. It may seem awfully boring to most, but it suits me. So most days, I’m okay. Content.
But not always. There are other days, of course, where the nagging notion that something is wrong with me sneaks back into my mind. Days when work is so dull that I can actually feel myself getting stupider, and evenings when my Muse is silent, replaced by the voice of Mamaw and her ever present concerns. Or other voices from equally well-wishing friends and family members saying more or less the same things. You’ve probably heard them yourself: Are you seeing anyone? But why not, you’re so pretty? When are you going to give your folks some grandkids? You’re not getting any younger. Or my personal favorite: You’re just too picky.
The funny thing is, I’m not picky in the slightest. Girls will normally start off with a list of qualities they want in a husband, but all those things are usually forgotten with their first crush. I’m not sure if it’s the same for boys, but for some reason I’m hoping not. So yeah, at 15 I had a pretty long list of criteria for my future mate. Ten years and countless first dates later, that list is nonexistent. I really only have two deal breakers: if a man isn’t a Christian, I won’t waste my time; and if I’m taller than him, I won’t waste his time.
If that’s picky then I guess I really am hopelessly screwed.
I think a lot of people assume that I have this grandiose idea of love in my head because I’ve never been in a relationship. Which is true, I haven’t really. But I have been in love. I lived at the mercy of this creature of love for most of my high school and college careers. And a not-so-small part of me sometimes worries that this is where the crux of my problem lies. I see people switching out their relationship status on social media as often as their profile picture. I hear of unexpected divorces between people I’m acquainted with, only to discover them three, four, five months later happily in love with someone new. And not just trading out one placeholder for the next, but genuinely in love with that new person.
And I cannot understand this, try as I might.
Sometimes I’m worried that the love I felt was so wrong that it damaged what was left of my heart beyond repair. I know this sounds hyperbolic and silly, trust me. I also know how I feel, better than any reader of this page. I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to feel like that again. I’m not discounting anyone else’s experience of heartbreak; I’m sure we’ve all been there before – that point where you just don’t see how you could ever be unbroken again.
It’s a horrible feeling, maybe even the worst. Just when you’re sure that the rest of your days will always begin with the heartbreak as your first waking thought, it suddenly becomes the second. Then the third. And so on and so forth until without even realizing it was happening, you’ve healed. At least that’s how it was for me.
I did heal, and though I’m thankful every day that the pain is long gone, I don’t know that I could ever consider myself entirely whole again. My friends think I’m joking when I say that I just don’t have those feelings anymore, that my heart is frozen. And for the most part I am joking, but to quote the great Stephen King, “most humor is anger with its make up on.”
You see, I am angry. Angry that I can’t answer why I’m still single; angry that there doesn’t seem to be any tall men left in the world; angry that most assume that I’m unhappy because I don’t have a boyfriend; even angrier when I do feel sorry for myself for not having one! Angry that I can’t figure out why it seems so easy for others to fall in and out love.
I’m angry for being angry, confusing as that may sound.
But mostly my anger is directed at the 15 year old version of myself who was stupid enough to fall hard for the one guy who would never love her back, who could never love her back (I don’t even blame him for this anymore, I’ve come a long way in that respect). I’m angry because she stayed in that state for seven years, feeling too much for far too long. Because when it was all over and she was forced to come out on the other side alone (but really she’d been alone all along), she was changed.
I was 23 years old when I realized that I may never have anything of my heart to offer again. Next month I will be 27, and the thought is still with me.
I hope that this isn’t true. I pray that love finds me unexpectedly again, however far in the future that may be. I don’t intend on rushing anything.
But for those of you out there who think it means nothing to voice your curiosity about anyone’s relationship status, please stop and think before you do. I know that most of you, like Mamaw, honestly mean well. That nothing hurtful should be taken from your words. I’m just telling you that it might be hurtful to someone. Because you should never assume that the questions you have don’t hold weight; that they aren’t the same ones we’ve heard over and over again since we were old enough to date; or that we aren’t sometimes unable to sleep at night because of these very same, politely intended questions.
So I’ll go ahead and offer up a few answers while we’re here:
Why aren’t you married? -No one’s asked.
When are you going to have kids? –Since I am not married, not engaged, and not currently dating anyone, I can’t say that that is something I’m actively planning.
Why are you so picky? -Because it’s my effing right to be picky! And, really, I just want to be able to wear high heels to dinner without towering over my date.