What you already knew about other people’s weddings.

“How do you feel at weddings? Because I feel pretty fucking awful at them.”

Oliver was hungover and sitting in a Midwest airport, a few days after his 30-something birthday and the morning after a close friend’s wedding. He continued before I could answer, drawing a comparison to being 30 and single at a friend’s wedding to being 80 at a friend’s funeral. Suddenly you’re aware that you’re the one left behind — the loneliness is palpable.

“I love weddings. And I love flying solo at them,” I chirped in when he done with his melodramatic imagery. But then again, I had accepted the possibility of a life lived sans co-pilot. He was a chronic monogamist, who for as long as we had been friends (now more than a decade) was always pining for a wife.

Our conversation brought up a few memories…

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It’s really easy to be that kid at someone else’s wedding. Really easy.

Memory 1: When my best girl got engaged, I was terrified about how I would feel at her wedding. I expected to feel a mixture of sadness and jealously — both selfish responses to your best friend finding a happily ever after. I was present when she met her now husband, and as we all joke, I get to take some credit for their meeting (it was my idea to go to that bar, after all.) But there’s another way to tell the story: two girls walk into a bar. One walks out with a husband, the other with a hangover. I never think of it this way, but I was afraid that come her wedding day, I would. I was the only unattached bridesmaid, and wasn’t offered a plus-1. Would I feel all alone?

When the day arrived, I was relieved that all I felt was happiness — happy that I was there, happy that I got to be a part of the day, and happy that the friend who was like a sister to me was happy. (If I was starting to feel low, it helped that one of the groomsmen asked if he could take me to dinner one day…even if he was nearly 20 years older than me, and was rocking a soul patch… soul patches are unforgivable facial hair decisions.)

Memory 2: It was the middle of October and I was milling about the first floor of one of Amsterdam’s most luxurious department stores, stocking up on Christmas cards with yuletide greetings written in Dutch (because, of course.) A text message came through — my Ex with a capital E wanted to know what I was doing on Saturday.

Kat: Flying home from Amsterdam.

Ex: What time will you be back?

Kat: Why, what’s up?

Ex: I wanted to know if you were free to be my plus-1 at my sister’s wedding.

Kat: That’s rather short notice! Suddenly feel like you need moral support?

Ex: Don’t need moral support. Just want someone at my side who I would want at my side at these kind of important things…

I didn’t make it back in time to be his plus-1, but if he had asked me sooner, I would have been willing to book an earlier flight. Not because I wanted to fall back into the role of girlfriend, but because I understood.

When you’re single, other people’s weddings trigger complex emotions. We get a front seat in a real-life fairy tale, and that can inspire in us everything from hope to despair, happiness to loneliness. We can revel joyfully in the moment of the party, or wander aimlessly down memory lane, reliving all the relationships that could have made it to the alter. The ones that got away are specters that hang behind centerpieces and under place cards. For some singletons, all they need to weather that whirlwind of feels is a strong drink (or an open bar) and the right song to dance to (all hail the Wedding Singer!) Others meanwhile need a companion. My Ex and Oliver are of the latter. I’m in the group that hands them a drink and makes them join me in the macarena/hokey-pokey/electric slide. At least, that’s where I am for now.

 

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When It’s Time to Ask Yourself: Do I want to Try to “Have it All”

About a month ago, my closest male friend from college married the woman that became his better half. They’re a lovely couple, best friends really. They’re also both smart, funny, and driven career people. I admire them.

Marriage is an interesting thing. It changes everything. About a week ago, my friend’s new wife launched a call for help on facebook:

“To my ladies: do you think it is possible to have it all, amazing career and family life? Cause I really don’t see how one or both won’t suffer. Send some tips my way if u have any.”

We’re all her contemporaries, women in our late 20s, so most shrugged but praised their own mothers for somehow managing both a career and motherhood. Someone shared the famously talked about article in the Atlantic. Appropriate. I shared some advice I had heard a few days earlier from the keynote speaker at a luncheon…

Cut to the buffet spread in an upper crust Westchester suburban yacht club. Enter Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Judge Judy had some advice for the young women in the room about “having it all”

Yea, that’s right. THE Judge Judy.

I was at the Her Honor Mentoring 2012 kick-off luncheon. I had just re-met my mentee, a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for all things art and aspirations to travel in adulthood. My fellow Mentors were the county’s leading businesswomen and government leaders. What was I doing there?

No matter. On to the speech:

“You may hear that you can’t have it all – a career and a family. But I’m living proof that you can have it all… if you learn how to negotiate…

In my day, you only left the house in either a white dress or a pine box. But I’m telling you that you don’t have to get married as a high school senior. Or as a freshman. Or as a sophomore or junior. Maybe, by the time you’re a senior you can start to look around to see if there’s anyone you find appealing. But just remember: you may have your act together when you’re 22, but they, well, they may not have their act together at 55.

So have your career. Set the bar for your career high and go out and achieve it. And then, and then start to look to have that family.”

It was a message I was surprised Judge Judy would share with a room full of college seniors yet to make their way and professional women who had all pursued unique paths in their lifetime. On the subject of “having it all,” it was surprisingly pragmatic. As I chuckled and applauded (I was the soul “ain’t that the truth, sister!” shouter in the room), it occurred to me that I was the youngest mentor.

I’m just starting in my career. Sometimes I feel like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes…

Unlike the other “dynamic,” successful career women in the room, I was really just starting out.

My mother married my father when she was 17 and he was 21. Two weeks ago they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. If you do the math, that means they were married some 24 years before I was born. Over that quarter century, my mother made a career for herself, allowing her to retire as a top banking executive when I was starting high school.

Since the Atlantic article came out, there seems to have been another resurgence of feminist talk — or maybe it’s more of another re-evaluation of feminism.

Did you catch this Sunday NYTime’s Opinion piece by Alissa Quart? The one about women hiding their pregnancies in the professional world?

What about the brief speech by a new character on the Good Wife?

What about that other op-ed piece about the “Myth of Masculine Decline” in the work place?

I guess I never questioned the idea of “having it all.” I grew up with Judge Judy’s advice as my own game plan because it was a successful path I had watched unfold.

But then my own life began to happen.

I don’t have an answer for my Californian friend. Or for any young woman in our position. Frankly, no one really does.

Here’s what I can say…

The women of our generation are lucky because we have choices. We can choose to be career women. We can choose to be career mothers. We can choose to be both careerwomen and mothers. None of the above paths are easy — none are achieved without sacrificing or without negotiations.

As for me, well, the question of “having it all” isn’t as relevant now as it will be later. But I will say Nicole Sheindlin’s words from that luncheon have stayed with me.

A career is a woman’s insurance policy for independence and self-confidence.

True that, sister.

Ask not what your relationship can do for you…

shopping for labels? shopping for love?

When it comes to finding a mate, we all have long shopping lists. We have lists of superficial things we prefer (ex. he should be tall and work at Goldman), of values we want matched (he should like children and vote Democrat), and of qualities we think we need (he should be financially sound and be able to make me laugh).

But let’s not forget what we’re really after when we set out to find love everlasting…

What we really want is a travel companion or biking-buddy, fellow Trekkie or like minded museum-junkie, congenial Scrabble adversary or able party co-host. In short, what we’re really looking for is a teammate.

Everyone knows the cliche “there’s no ‘I’ in TEAM,” and anyone whose played a sport or watched a professional franchise win a championship knows what makes a team successful: synergy.  One person makes up for the short-comings of the other, while both foster and bolster each others’ talents. Yes, a successful team is whole that is greater that the sum of its parts, and love-based relationships are no different.

That being said, when it comes to finding the Misty May Treanor to your Kerri Walsh, or the Jorge Posada to your Mariano Rivera,  it’s important to have a grasp not only on what they bring to the relationship, but also on what you can or can’t provide in this partnership. I’m not necessarily prescribing a selfless “ask not what your relationship can do for you, ask what you can do for your relationship” approach to a new flame — that’s extremely dangerous territory in which to tread. But I do think it a worthwhile exercise to evaluate, as objectively as possible, your strengths and weaknesses as 1/2 of a couple.

I suppose, if I prescribe, I should take the first does:

My greatest strength as both a friend and lover is my loyalty. I’m an excellent and sincere cheerleader who will always be there on the sidelines ready to help you up after a bad game.

My greatest weakness? I want to me my own person. To some (read: a select few), my independent, stand on my own feet, “this is who I am, this is what I want and I’m going to get it”  attitude is attractive. But it’s often my biggest relationship roadblock. I have no doubt that my athletic aspirations and career goals have dead-ended several potentially awesome romances. For a long time, I simply wasn’t available enough to be someone’s girlfriend. Yet, while I may have more time in my schedule for dates and weekend getaways, I still refuse to subjugate my ambitions to those of someone else. Sorry, but I want Glen Lowry’s job, and I’m not going to get it if I have to move to Oklahoma with you.

In coming to terms with my relationship shortcoming, it seems I’ve found the critical, must-have quality on my significant-other shopping list: allows me to be independent.

I guess I don’t sound like too much of a team player, do I? That’s not entirely fair. Compromises will be made by both me and my mister, because at the end of the day, if I get to be my own person, so does he. The challenge is finding someone whose goals happen to be compatible with mine…and I don’t just mean retiring early to a villa in Tuscany.

The Further Education of a T.W.i.T (Trophy Wife in Training)

Not so long ago, John Paul told me that to be a proper Trophy Wife I needed to tote around a yoga mat and have a nice ass.

In the last week, I’ve been to 3 yoga classes. Yesterday, I subscribed to Yoga Today on iTunes. Before the end of the Memorial Day weekend, I will have sweated, downward-facing-dogged, and Omed my way through 2 more hatha classes. I have a mat and I carry it to and from class. Thanks to a decade as a competitive fencer, I have a “perfect” Warrior II pose. There is a semblance of legitimacy in my demeanor.

But as for my ass, well, I can’t be a fair judge — in that respect, I’m a typical female who is very good at finding cellulite that may or may not actually be there.

Tight ass or not, the main thing, ladies and gentlemen, is that this T.W.i.T is a girl with a mission: to master the Fire-Fly Pose.

My recent obsession with yoga has little to do with John Paul’s advice or my Trophy Wife “aspirations.” Since January, I’ve been a full-time athlete. The travel, the competitions, and 6-day a week training/cross-training regiment have taken its toll on my joints and well-being. So far, Yoga has done a better job of keeping my knees functional than my physiotherapist.

It seems that I’ve been spending a lot of time in classes these days. 8 weeks ago, I started taking German at NYU. I have two classes left and then I can translate newspapers for you and tell potential employers that in addition to French, I “have” German.

So the yoga classes are supposed to bring me one step closer to both incredible flexibility and a tight ass (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) while the German classes are supposed to help me land a coveted curatorial gig at a mega-NYC museum.

Watch out Stepford — there’ a new girl in town… and she speaks German while holding a picture-perfect Chaturanga Dandasana (sort of).

Give a girl an education…

“Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”

— Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Once upon a time, we members of the fair sex could content ourselves with a surface knowledge of history, geography, romance languages, and poetry. We were amusing, nay, enchanting, if in addition to a knack for sketching, we also had a good command of the pianoforte and a hefty repertoire of sing-along ditties. A penchant for witticisms were a plus, but not requisite.

In short, dear ladies, had we lived in the age of Auntie Jane, we would have earned the esteemed and coveted epithet of “accomplished” by the age of 13. But as women of the 21st century, we know the Austen-ian accomplished just doesn’t cut it any more.

If you want to be accomplished in this day and age, you need a Pulitzer.

The T.W.I.T proudly points to her MA thesis title on Commencement day

In May 2009, I attended my second Columbia commencement ceremony. This time I was graduating with a master’s degree in Art History. For several months before starting my MA, I felt the need to apologize when I told people what I was studying as a graduate student. “I majored in Economics in college” was the footnote added to most conversations about my future academic plans. Eventually, to combat the tilted heads, puzzled stares, and “whatcha gonna do with that?” I tried self-effacing humour: “I’m going back to school to become a trophy wife.” A book about women painter-etchers of the late 19th-century wasn’t going to get me a Nobel Prize nomination, that was for certain, nor was it likely to earn me much of an income. But people found my declared T.W.I.T status (Trophy Wife in Training) both amusing and acceptable. It was fine that I wanted to write about obscure American artists, if doing so meant I would be a good adviser/cocktail party hostess to my art-collecting mogul husband.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman, in possession of a good education, must be in want of a husband.

Apparently, “settling well..without further expense to anybody” still doesn’t mean settling on my own bank account.

A week ago, I ran into Amanda, a woman who has known me since I was 14 and who thinks of me as existing in a constant state of studentdom. She asked me if I had finally graduated. Yes, I told her. A year ago, with my masters.

“Oh, no! You poor thing!” she exclaimed. “You’ll never find a husband. Half the men in the world will think you’re too smart for them and won’t want you. And the other half… well, they’re just smart enough for you.”

I told her things were only going to get rougher for me — I plan to get a doctorate.

I may not win a Nobel, but goddammit, I want a Pulitzer.

Maybe then I’ll be able to settle well on my book deal, without further expense to anybody.