I want to get married someday — it feels somehow icky to say that; my post-feminist fingers protest even typing such a sentence. But, it's true. In theory, it sounds awesome to find someone you love like crazy and are so absolutely, positively sure of that you'd stand in front of everyone and agree to be teammates for life. And, somehow they feel the exact same way about you? Yeah, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. It also feels about a million miles from where I am right now, which sometimes means I'm a million miles from my closest friends, even as they toss a bouquet in my face from four feet away.
Starting around 25, the first wave of engagements hits. It's a little jarring. Sitting at brunch with your childhood best friend, the one you once shared fake-gold friendship bracelets with, you suddenly realize you're splitting hash browns with a wife. Time marches on, relationships evolve, and, for some people, that means making it legal. The rest of us buy them mixing bowls.
That's not to say a wedding can't be a great time. A good friend of mine got married a few years ago, and I got my first shot as a bridesmaid. It was a blast: super-chill bride, sincere and simple ceremony, and a rollicking reception complete with Spice Girls repeats and apocalyptic champagne hangovers the next day. It was the most perfect party I'd ever attended. Yet, without fail, every hour or so, I'd look at the couple and think, Wait, WHAT are you doing?! Seriously? One partner, for life, forever and ever? How could you be so sure? And, what if it all falls apart? Maybe this is the divorce-kid in me, but a breakup after something like this sounded on par with a nuclear holocaust of the heart. Why risk it?
Those feelings faded in the three years since that wedding, but I still look at the rings on their fingers and think, Married! Like people in the movies are married! I'm 30 years old, by the way.
This summer, like every summer (and winter, fall, spring, etc.), I'm looking ahead to a handful of weddings. And, this time, I've decided to chill the hell out. Because, I may want to have a theoretical marriage myself one day, but, for now, I have an actual life to lead. And, I'd like to enjoy it.
We didn't all begin at the same starting gate. Not everyone had their first boyfriend at 16, progressed through a handful of post-college loves, then settled into a cramped-but-cozy first apartment together. I watched many of my peers take that path, but many others didn't. It took me a long time (erm, is taking me a long time) to realize that the marriage-path people aren't actually walking away from the rest of us. They didn't make better choices. They don't win. If that sounds like a mantra, that's because it is. This is Bridget Jones' world, we're just living in it. So, sometimes you need some common sense in your back pocket to repeat over and over while you're dropping a third of your paycheck on someone else's mixing bowls.
In all sincerity, what I most covet in my engaged and married friends' lives is that assuredness. When I watched my friends walk down the aisle and felt that momentary what-are-you-doing freakout, another part of me (a little quieter part, but it's there) realized how brave and proud and thrilled they were. They'd gone through enough years to commit to a few years more. They gone through phases of doubt and fear and stupid fighting, and yet, here they were: taking the big leap, fingers crossed. I'd give anything for that kind of faith in myself, and in the future.
But, I think I just reached a new milestone of my own. I now know that it's okay to not be ready. It's okay if "ready" isn't even on the agenda. I know that the barrier I see between me and my married friends is one I built myself. And, I know that thinking this way — racing toward marriage and practically puking with anxiety the whole way — is only hurting me. And, my boyfriend. And, most of all, my friendships.
It is so easy to chalk it up to platitude, but the truth is there is no race to win. Most of the time, we know that. Of course we do. We may live in Bridget Jones' world, but she's got Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, and fucking Katniss coming for her. We know that marriage isn't the brass ring, but when your fridge is covered in save the dates, we might believe it a little bit less. And, that's okay. We're not traitors to the cause and neither are our wedded friends. We're all just here for the cake, so why not enjoy the party?