I SO don't want this to be yet another screed on being single and the value thereof and defining roles and all that bullshit. I really don't. But I feel the need to try and purge some of the frustration I feel about how society subconsciously believes that you've only succeeded in life if you get married.
I'm the only single person in my family, including cousins. I'm in my 40s, have never been in a relationship, and it seems unlikely to change anytime soon. I'm an introvert who is happiest when working a regular job every day, socializing with friends and family... and then going home to be alone and recharge.
I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, and grew up believing that no matter what else might come to me, that marriage and children would be inevitable and desirable. What I didn't consider was the fact that some minor childhood traumas and fears might make me avoid dating and building relationships with men, as much as I desperately wanted to be in love and be loved in return.
I had no illusions about who I might end up with; I knew I wasn't pretty or popular or fun enough to be sought by anyone handsome and popular and fun. The best I hoped for was a Mr. Bhaer or a guy who wasn't a Looker but was funny and smart. None of that materialized, because I wouldn't let it. Anyone who seemed interested was immediately rebuffed by me, to my own dismay. I couldn't help it. It wasn't latent lesbianism; having carefully contemplated both paths, I knew where my sexual inclinations most definitely lay.
But that is not the point of this, although it is it's own boulder of baggage that I still struggle with - avoidance through fear. Years passed, and I lived with roommates and then alone, and for the most part have been happy, barring those 5% of situations when I longed for a mate. And when I reached my 40s and knew that even if I married, I'd probably be unable to have children, I began to contemplate what my future might look like as a permanent old maid.
Society is not kind to the single, even as it occasionally envies it's freedoms. It completely forgets you, more often than not. You are automatically left out of Family-themed events, or Couples events, or vacationing groups. You might be included in a gender-specific weekend or vacation if you have built those kinds of relationships with others or belonged to a fraternity in college. You're not invited to dinner parties when everyone else is in a couple; you throw off the numbers around the table. At work, you must compensate for those with family emergencies or sick children or spouses, because you are free of such constraints.
And you are definitely not going to be encouraged to socialize with the opposite sex after a certain point. Close friendships between men and women are fraught with potential misinterpretation by others. I thrive in the company of men. I bloom. I used to love to go to lunch with my male colleagues and college guy friends (back when I saw them daily). This past spring I was temporarily transferred to the Tenor section of my church choir, and I have never enjoyed myself more in a choral setting. I gave myself the title of Lady Tenoress. I'm still mourning being moved back to the Alto section this past fall.
But I digress. My point is, society wants everyone to be tidily paired off. But it just doesn't work out that way. And when you can't march nicely into Noah's Ark with your mate, it would much rather pretend you don't exist, or reserve you for situations where it doesn't interfere with the flow.
Smashcut to this past Wednesday night, and another choir practice. A friend in the soprano section in her late 30s has just become engaged, and everyone is over-the-moon happy for her. She's the most deserving, sweet and worthwhile person who ever wanted to be married who got her wish. And yet... and yet... the subconscious relief that everyone feels that another stray member of the pack has been neatly paired off with a mate was almost palpable in the room, as folks talked about how they had found one another so much later than everyone else (how miraculous!), and that people had been praying for her to find someone, and how blissfully happy they were (she wasn't at practice that night so we were free to discuss to our heart's content). And I thought about the Bridal Shower I'd attended some weeks back, and how happy everyone was for her to be married and there were Bible verses and poetry and we were asked to write down wishes and prayers for the happy couple to be put into a box and read later... and I wanted to go out in the hall and fling my music folder against the wall and destroy it. I wanted to scream.
Because as much as I want a mate sometimes... and as much as I want to be left alone sometimes... I knew in that moment that she had been elevated to the status of a Completed Person. Validated. And that I was not, and would not be, until I was married. It's a validation that no longer is necessary in our Western society; women are no longer chattel, they own homes and cars and are able to live alone in relative safety and peace. But by God, we cannot seem to let go of it yet. My sisters and cousins are all married/have been married, and I could be the most wonderful sister, aunt, daughter, cousin... but I don't really count in quite the same way as them.
In just over a week she will be married, and I will move on in my mind to other besetting concerns like whether I should get hardwood floors (and how much trouble it will be to shift furniture during the process) or whether to put up a Christmas tree this year (what might the cats do to it?). But in the back of my subconscious I will still regard myself, like the rest of society, as not quite the thing.