I'm Not Engaged. Please Send Love Anyway

Photo: Getty Images.
The other week, a friend of mine called off her wedding. Her engagement photos were so beautiful that I welled up upon seeing them late last year, filled with a complicated mix of joy, warmth, and sharp envy. I teared up again when I heard the latest update. It’s outrageous, unfair, shocking, inevitable, and for the best. Also, complicated.

Faced with the revelation that this news item that wasn't nearly as socially acceptable as her engagement announcement, it was much less clear how I could be a good friend to her. It wasn't the same as when she’d posted those photos. Life isn’t all stuff you can Like on Facebook, but the thumbs-up button sure did make applause and approval easy. (Let’s collectively agree not to acknowledge its new “Reaction” buttons, because, please.)

It all reminded me of another Facebook post, one my friend Kate Dietrick, a librarian in Minneapolis, recently wrote:

So, I'm getting married this fall. And I'm excited about it! I love Nate! But as I wade through the bullshit of the wedding industrial complex I can't help but wish that some of these "rituals" — giving of household necessities, making speeches on your character, giving letters of love and encouragement — were done at a point in my life when I actually needed these things. Like when I graduated college. And I was poor and afraid. […] Average wedding ages have changed and I'm 32 years old and I have stuff, and confidence, and love. I could've used all of this when I was 23, instead. Plus, I already own a salad spinner.

Kate’s one of four of my close buds getting married in a manic seven-week stretch in the fall. And I’m so happy for all four of them! I love love. I’m certainly not advocating that we dial down the enthusiasm to preserve my delicate, self-critical ego. I know that their upcoming nuptials have nothing to do with the fact that my only significant romantic relationship of the last decade ended earlier this spring, meaning any prospects of wedding planning are, at minimum, several years away.

Listen, this isn’t about single shame. In fact, browse the display tables at your local bookstore and you’ll notice singledom is having one hell of a good year. In April, Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own was a New York Times best seller. A month earlier, Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies came out to resounding praise. And we've all seen the thinkpieces and essays on how relationships, engagements, and weddings are, annoyingly, celebrated as the biggest accomplishments of women's lives. ("My engagement FB status got three times more likes than the post about my first book deal," etc.) Singledom is acceptable; women are not just partially formed humans floating around until they find their better halves. I’m not here to reiterate that, although it’s true and important.

Instead, I’m arguing for Kate’s point: People need that outpouring of love and social support the most when they're feeling the lack of a romantic partner, like when they're moving away from home and starting out a scary new adulthood. When they're approaching 30 single and stricken. When the marriage they had planned, the one everyone was cheering for, falls apart. It's ironic, really, that we heap the most social support on people only after they have found eternal social support in a partner, right?

People need that outpouring of love and social support the most when they're feeling the lack of a romantic partner.

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“I think about how much attention, affirmations of my awesomeness, and general love I'm getting just because of this wedding and I think, Where the eff were all of you when I was depressed and single in Brooklyn?! Kate told me, adding that she was surprised by the big response her FB post got. “Now, they all spout paragraphs about how I’m worthy of love. When I was single, it was always some off-hand bullshit about fish in the sea.”

So true. Fish in the sea and bullets dodged: That’s the language we have for the unloved. It brings to mind a friend’s essay on all the wrong things people say when you're trying to get pregnant — hey, there's another life situation in which you want something you don’t currently have and people are unspeakably awkward when things are rough, but goddamn jubilant when you finally have it. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but in an absurdly fucked-up way, I still feel a twinge of jealousy toward women who are stuck in that life stage, like, “Well, at least you found a partner and sailed past that first mile marker on Society’s Checklist For Being A Real Woman.” I’m still hanging around a few blocks away from the starting line, waiting for someone to bring me some tennis shoes. This likely makes me even worse at being an empathetic friend and saying the right things when my buds come to me with relationship, marital, or baby-making issues.

See what I mean? It’s complicated.

I’ll be seeing the recently un-engaged friend soon and we’ll both be without the social scripts and decorum that make best-of-times encounters so easy. Loneliness, self-doubt, insecurity — these are feelings defined by the lack of something, outlined in the negative. It's so much harder to wrap our arms around. But that’s my plan for when I see her or detect that anyone I love feels alone: a big hug and the soft reassurances that she’s whole, adored, and deserving of everything she really wants. Just like all my beloved brides-to-be. And you. And me.
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