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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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.

Sorry, I can’t date you. You’re the kind of girl I want to take home to Mother

“The problem with you,” a mother of a guy friend once told me in conversation, “is that you’re not the type of girl guys want to date. you’re the kind of girl they want to marry.”

the glass of champagne in my hand tipped sideways, and a few precious drops fell to the floor before i chug-a-lugged the remaining contents in an attempt to mitigate her revelation. I didn’t really know how to respond. Had she just uncovered the source of all my men “trouble”? Certainly, she had just dealt me a new out for the question “why aren’t you seeing anyone?” She meant her comment to be complimentary — I’m a nice girl, who “deserves to be treated well,” she explained when she saw my jaw drop. Guys my age, despite their other shortcomings, are at least sensible enough to realize that they’re not ready to be in a “grown-up” relationship with a girl “who has her act together.” They don’t want to make girls like me cry.

By the time I got home, I had decided it wasn’t important if I was “one of those girls.” The more important question was: Do guys under 35 really approach women so sensibly? Do they really separate girls they want to sleep with from girls they want to have children with? I was skeptical. Maybe, I’m not giving the opposite sex enough credit.

Indeed, maybe I’m not. Recently, I read an advice column that claimed to shed light on “What it Means if He Doesn’t Call You Back.” It corroborated my friend’s mother’s observation — sometimes guys “go poof” because they meet a girl that deserves more commitment than they’re willing to give. It’s not that the fellas are commitment-phobic; it’s that the girl is the kind of girl they marry, not date.

I then recalled a conversation with Generically-Named-Male-Friend. He told me that within the first 5 minutes of meeting a girl, he  shuffles her into one of 4 categories: one night stand, short-term dating, long-term dating, friend. The “one night stand” category wasn’t a surprise. However, the 2 dating categories, short- versus long- term, were.

But despite these assessments/confessions, my questions remain. Is Generically-Named-Male-Friend an anomaly? Was that column really written by a woman whose girlfriends all tell her that every time her date goes AWOL? Was my friend’s mother’s comment based on a story her son wove when she asked him why he and I weren’t dating? Or, when it comes to girls, do guys use more of their northern brain than we give them credit for?

Fellas, enlighten us. Please.

woops! I’m behind schedule… way

When I was 13,  I had my palm read. “You will have many boyfriends,” the psychic told me, “but there will always be one great love, one soulmate for you.” That started the wheels turning. By the time I got home, I had my life-plan all mapped out.  I was going to be married at 25 to that soulmate — ideally, someone I had met at college, hopefully an ivy league college — and towing behind me as I walked down the aisle would be a slew of broken-hearted former lovers.

I hit the 24-mile mark about a month ago and while I was blowing out candles, someone I knew in high school announced her engagement to a guy she met in college. So what about me? What about my schedule… was I engaged at 24, as my life-plan implied? Was there a trail of broken hearts behind me?

Yea…no. Life-plan major Fail.

Why is it that psychics are always so vague? “Boyfriend” and “boy friend”  are homonyms with very different meanings. “Boyfriend” is a term that implies dates, physical and emotional intimacy, lingerie, red roses and the glint of diamonds. “Boy friend” connotes sports bars, sports bras, ball busting, ballgames and platonic nights out. If she had been clearer with her meaning, I would have been better equipped to deal with the next ten years…

I went through college with a 3:1 ratio of male friends to female friends. I spent more time at neighborhood sports bars than I did at Manhattan’s trendy night clubs. By my senior year,  Friday night outings and  foggy Sunday brunches were passed with a group of about 5-7 guys. Girls’ Night Out didn’t exist on my social calendar. The reasons for this were manifold — most of my female friends had boyfriends and were too busy being girlfriends to be friends; it was more fun hanging out with guys because my guy friends and I talked about everything and anything except “boys.”  We’d talk about relationships, if there were ones to talk about, but never was there the ridiculous sharing and analysis of the minute details of a brief conversation with a crush. Guy friends felt safe — they weren’t going to steal my boyfriend.

Yet, while I had a slew of men around me, I managed to make my way through college and most of grad school never having a serious boyfriend. No broken-hearted exes to carry on the train of a white gown. And so, I had to shelf the plan an over-ambitious 13 year old me conjured. The psychic may have been onto something, but I sure would have appreciated it if she had given me a better idea of when this soulmate fella was going to show up.