“What is real? How do you define real?” - Morpheus, The Matrix, 1999
I’ve had the “summer of six weddings.” The “spring of seven baby showers.” The “year with nine bachelorette weekends” — not parties, but whole weekends for some reason. And while I could tell tales of the financial strain imposed when a single person celebrates other people for their entire adulthood — and I do serve that tea boiling — instead I want to talk about feelings.
Celebrating other people as a single adult is one of the most conflicting emotional states I believe I’m capable of. On one hand, I’m overjoyed. Someone I love just got engaged, married, pregnant, or whatever. These are joyous occasions! I might write like I’m Oscar the Grouch but I have a Big Bird heart. I love when people I love are happy. And as you can tell by the current volume of invitations under magnets on your fridge, engagements and weddings and babies make people happy, otherwise why celebrate these moments? It’s a lot, but I’m genuinely happy and full of gratitude that my friends and family are experiencing these things.
On the other hand, I’m deeply sad. I don’t have that happiness. And for a very, very long time, I’ve been trying to find it, to no avail. All I can do is watch other people get it, no matter what I do, how hard I try, or what I change. There’s no greater reminder that you’re single and unsuccessfully trying not to be than watching a couple’s first dance as wife and husband. I’m sorry, but that is a fucking trigger. And I keep living that trigger, over and over and over again.
People love to talk about how to “survive” dating, but can someone give me a download on making it through a bridal shower?
On the other hand, even though that makes three hands, I’m exhausted. Jesus, another one? How many friends do I even have?! The emotional fortification I’ve had to build up and exert around other people’s life celebrations is a goddamn drain, quite honestly. To say nothing of the actual travel that involves working twice as hard before and after these trips just to prepare to be away from my desk. People love to talk about how to “survive” dating, but can someone give me a download on making it through a bridal shower? How about seven bridal showers? The world pushes me to keep trying (and trying, and trying) to date, no matter how bad it gets, but nobody wants to tell me how to smile and make small talk with someone’s aunt for three hours at one of these events. I’m tired, is what I’m saying.
Sometimes I listen to myself at these events, as I cautiously approach conversations with people and beg the universe to prevent them from asking me, “So...are you seeing anybody?” at an actual goddamned wedding because I honestly have a breaking point. I hear myself discussing my life in its most positive light possible, shoving my career to the forefront. Sometimes I wonder if I have the professional drive that I do because it’s the one area of my life where I’ve seen effort match outcome. I’m not actually trying to inform people of what’s going on with me during these moments, I’m just trying to make myself feel less like shit.
Because the table is already, quite literally, set. Single women at weddings, how sad, how desperate. Don’t believe me? Watch any bouquet toss scene in any film made since 1995. I’m walking into the life celebrations of others at an assumed deficit. While that deficit has massively been reduced in my own mind through a lot of self reflection and work, that doesn’t change how I’m perceived and even addressed by others. Year, after year, after year.
I think we’ve made weddings and babies over-celebrated affairs. There, I said it.
I wonder if I would feel less sadness and exhaustion, and be capable of even greater levels of joy, if there were epic celebrations for single women, too. Let’s be real: There are no celebrations to congratulate single women for their life accomplishments. I didn’t throw a massive weekend event and invite 100 people I know when I crossed the “Single For Ten Years” milestone. I didn’t have a weekend in Nashville with eight of my best girlfriends when I achieved my greatest salary and professional role to-date. Would anyone have shown up for either? Taken either one seriously?
I think we’ve made weddings and babies over-celebrated affairs. There, I said it. The engagement, the engagement party, the bridal shower, the bachelorette weekend, the actual wedding weekend including a rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, some kind of group event like kickball, the goodbye brunch, and the gifts. The pregnancy announcement, the gender reveal, the baby shower, the pregnancy photo shoot, the birth photo shoot, the post-birth photo shoot, the sip-n-see. And every “this is how many months I am” photo thereafter. I’m thinking about posting a photo once a month under the theme “this many months since I deleted my dating apps” while holding a giant numeral from CB2.
Go ahead and paint me with the biggest bitter brush you’ve got. I’m not afraid of telling the truth, because I know other single women are feeling the truth, too. We don’t celebrate the lives of single women the way we celebrate the lives of couples. That’s point-blank true. There are no accomplishments, occasions, or rituals universally considered to be worthy of no-questions-asked travel, hotels, gifts, and coordinated outfits. Yes, I had a beautiful 30th birthday party. It was dinner outdoors at a long communal table with 20 people I loved. My mom flew in. It was generous of my friends and I’m grateful that I had people in my life who loved me that much. But it was dinner. And married people get birthday parties, too.
I don’t think I can celebrate other people anymore. Not until life starts celebrating single women the same way. The story in this series that people contact me about most often is the one about my coffee table. And the more it stands out to single women as an accomplishment, the angrier I get that I didn’t demand presents. The Sephora registry I would have come up with, good heavens! But I didn’t. I didn’t ask people to celebrate me the way that partnered people ask people to celebrate them. Because there is no widely accepted societal structure around celebrating single.
I’m not demanding that people generate less joy. Quite the opposite. Get married, have the babies. Register at Bloomies. All I am is left out. My life is left out of the list of viable celebrations. And 11 years of being left out while simultaneously being repeatedly asked to celebrate the life accomplishments of others is too much. It is just too much. In younger days I skipped weddings because I couldn’t financially afford them. Now I skip them because I can’t emotionally afford them.
Everything I’ve done to improve my self worth and make myself feel not feel less-than because I’m single is so that I can simply feel as good and right in my personal accomplishments as couples do. I know it will take society longer to follow me, but it’s work I’m doing so that I can feel better about myself, and hopefully make other single women feel better, too. But the constant celebrating of life events that are quite frankly, pretty damn entitled, is due for a bit of rebellion.
My life is no less deserving of celebration than someone else’s.
What is my wedding? What is my bridal shower? Can I send out formal invitations complete with a registry when I move into my new apartment? Can I expect people to fly in for that? It might sound preposterous, but to me it’s no more ridiculous than asking people to spend at least $1K to fly and stay somewhere to celebrate something that statistically has a 50/50 shot. People might not want to hear that, but I can’t even count the things I’ve heard in the last 11 years that I didn’t want to hear, either. My life is no less deserving of celebration than someone else’s. And until society comes around to my way of thinking — and my reasons for celebrating — I think I’m done.