Most little girls grow up with fairy tales. Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, they all end up with the epitome of happiness in the end . . . The man, the marriage, and the “happily ever after.” There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Mirror Has Two Faces, that addresses just this thing (https://youtu.be/EcuhMYVjY_Q). The point of it is, they never tell you the “after.”
I was once in a long-term relationship that lasted over a decade. Seven years of which, we lived together. There was never a proposal, and rarely a word or conversation about going down to the courthouse and filing those important papers; let alone, anything culminating in a grand display of his “love and devotion” to me. Somehow, the absence of this grandiose celebration rendered my long-term relationship invalid in the eyes of almost everyone. It didn’t matter that we functioned as a married couple. It didn’t matter that, when we parted ways, we had to divide things and suffer the emptiness left behind from the other. It didn’t matter that we were more devoted to one another than most joyous young couples who are currently planning to walk down the aisle. None of it mattered, because I didn’t have that ring around my finger. He never “loved me enough” to “seal the deal.” It’s always amazed me that, in order for others to take a relationship seriously, a couple has to plunge themselves into enormous debt and unimaginable amounts of stress, in order for anyone to consider their coupledom worth, well, considering.I recently had the honor of attending the nuptials of my cousin’s daughter They had a gorgeous wedding, it was a great party, and they deserve every happiness that the world affords them. The family could not be happier for them, and has been happy for them for their entire journey. Those same family members didn’t seem to be able to muster the same happiness for my sister, who became engaged for the first time at 51 years old. The whispers of “desperation” floated through the air, as the judgement on her fiancé bounced alongside of them. People just couldn’t find the same happiness for her that they had bestowed upon my cousin’s daughter.
All of this begs the question . . . Where is the line? When does the view of joy turn to a view of disdain? When does the happiness turn sour? When does elation turn to pity? Is it in your thirties? Maybe so. Somewhere around 32 or 33, I think. That notion that, if you were worth “getting,” you would’ve been “gotten.”
The storm cloud that hovers over the unmarried-and-childless-over-35 woman is that no one “wanted her.” No one found her “good enough.” And it prevails in everything from career to personal life to family life. Everywhere. These are sometimes accompanied by the whispers of lesbianism, but ultimately, the onlooker’s conclusion is that this woman must be so defective that, even the lowest of the low, didn’t find her worthy.
The irony is that the same is not true for men. Unmarried and childless men are heralded as “players,” “don juans,” and “confirmed bachelors.” Men are never branded with something as heinous as, “spinster.” They are high-fived and congratulated for “dodging bullets,” and not making “bad choices.” For not succumbing to the wiles of an unworthy woman. No company or professional organization would even think to consider a man’s personal life, when they are being considered for a job or promotion. They would never weigh the absence of marriage and children, as a commentary on their value. No one would even make the connection. However, for women, if that part is missing, there must be something horribly wrong with their makeup, their character, their person. Was it their looks? Their constitution? Their personality? Why would anyone take the chance?
This is not to imply that women should never marry. I do think that marriage should be a mutual agreement, or pact, of working together to survive this world. A partnership that means you always have someone on your side, someone in your corner. I never aimed to be unmarried or childless. It’s just what life offered me. I wouldn’t compromise. I didn’t want to marry for the sake of marrying. I just never received the memo telling me that the world would hold such condemnation of me in doing so. I honestly thought that people would consider me wise, and of good judgement. I thought that I would be applauded for knowing myself. My wonderful sister should be commended for waiting until she found someone she considered the perfect match for her, and not taking any lesser offers. Alas, people think she is just jumping on the first life boat in the shipwreck of age and spinsterhood.
I would like to note that, women who are divorced, are exempt from all of the notions carried by unmarried women. Divorced women get a societal “pass,” because they were “chosen” by someone at some point in time. Someone found them “worthy,” it just didn’t work out. Someone found them “good enough” to bestow a ring upon their delicate finger, it just unraveled later.
Most women live their lives dreaming of their wedding day. The end-all-be-all of existence, when a man has declared his love for you, and rendered your existence valid. I was honestly no different. Growing up, I had the magazine clippings from Bride magazine, and the daydreams of what a reception would look like, who would be in my wedding party. After all, nothing, and I mean nothing, is as important as getting married (so society told us). You could have a PhD in Physics, but you are “broken,” if you are not married. You could be the President of the United States, but it wouldn’t matter. It’s sad, and terribly unfortunate. Even in today’s world, women are valued and judged by the salutation before their name, and the jewelry on their hands.