A month or so ago, I was chatting with my eldest niece on the way to work. She was making applesauce using her KitchenAid mixer. She said “you have one, right?” and I said, matter-of-factly “No. That’s a wedding gift, and I haven’t had a wedding.” It’s a truth as universally acknowledged as any Jane Austen ever wrote about.
She said “They’re great, and with all the baking you do…”
I said “yeah, but in my experience, a bowl and wooden spoon works fine, and if I don’t spend $350 on a mixer, I can take trips. Travel is always going to trump a stand mixer, in my book. I don’t even really use my hand mixer, most of the time.”
This weekend, I opened my birthday/Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law (her parents) and her family and (I think) her brother’s family.
Of course, I could have done without it. The wooden spoon and bowl does actually work fine, and I can wax eloquent about learning the feel of a batter with the best of them. It’s something I never would have asked for, for anything short of a wedding (though I’m not going to lie, one was for sure going to be on my wedding registry— I haven’t seen a wedding registry without one in so long, and if the mixer is a mark of a married girl, by God, I was getting one.) But I can’t tell you what it meant to me to get this gift as a single woman.
There are certain things I waited for, for a long time, thinking that I could have them once I got married. I didn’t get a dog, for example, until last year, because I thought it would make more sense to have one when I was married. There were so many things I put off— trips I could take and adventures I could have, telling myself that I could have them once I got married.
Little by little, I’ve realized that’s a stupid and invalidating way to live. I bought a house, and now I’ve sold it and bought another one. If this isn’t my real life, it’s a pretty convincing forgery. And nobody’s guaranteeing that I get tomorrow or this afternoon, let alone 50 years with a dream man.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to get married. I still very much think that could happen for me. But because I didn’t get married right out of college, like I always thought I would, that meant that I did without things for years. The things I did without weren’t probably needs, they were nice-to-haves. I waited to buy grown-up furniture for years, because it was just something I’d end up replacing when I got married. I waited to have serving pieces, even though I love to entertain, because that’s the kind of thing my mom got as a wedding present. Like I wasn’t really living my life. Like my life was somehow less real and less valid, because I haven’t yet married. Less real and less valid than the lives of people whose marriages were toxic and dysfunctional and unsustainable, as much as people whose marriages were wisely made and carefully tended.
A few years ago, I went out with a guy (who am I kidding— a series of bad first dates) where my having never been married was kind of an issue. I think the particular guy in question had been married and divorced multiple times, and the superiority he felt to me started to irk me. I finally said, “it’s not that I haven’t dated and even fallen in love with the wrong people, I just didn’t marry all of my mistakes.” If you say it matter-of-factly, with a genuine smile on your face, it’s kind of disarming. He laughed and said it was a fair point. The date went better after that point (and I think there were subsequent dates), though it didn’t turn into anything. And it’s true. I humbly submit that it’s not that hard to get married. But socially speaking, no matter what happens after the wedding day, there’s this sense, especially if you’re a woman, that you haven’t failed at your life because at least you got to that point. And it’s only in the last few years that I realized that I haven’t failed at my life because I haven’t gotten to that point.
To get this as a gift somehow (ridiculously) validated the life I live. To get it from my family suggests that they don’t think so either.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to my mom and said something about feeling like an unpopped kernel of popcorn at the bottom of the bag. I spun it the best way I knew how, but the basic gist was “I hope you’re not disappointed because my life has not (yet) led me to marriage and kids, like we all hoped/assumed that it would.” I think it was after we were talking about a male friend of mine and why he and I never seriously dated, though we’d make such a good couple. It was about the fifth time she’d said “I don’t know why you all don’t just…” and I blew up and said “listen, I’ve opened the door to a relationship with him, and though he’s danced around it, for whatever reason, he’s never stepped up. Trust me, if I wanted to bully some poor unsuspecting sucker into marrying me, it wouldn’t have taken me this long to come up with the idea. That’s not what I want for myself.”
She came to me later and said “Listen, you need to know that I don’t think of you like an unpopped kernel of popcorn. I’m not disappointed in who you are or the life you lead in the least.” And she’s never brought that guy up as a romantic prospect again.
I can’t tell you what an act of generosity that conversation was to me. I had some peace about my singleness before that conversation, but I had so much more after it. And though expensive gifts are not necessary to make me feel okay about my life, what I heard when I was setting up my lovely new KitchenAid mixer this weekend was that the life I lead is enough for the important people in my life. My worthiness, to them, is not dependent on an engagement or a wedding that hasn’t yet happened for me.
I am very, very blessed by this understanding.