An old one, but one of my favorites nonetheless. Obviously, I am no longer living with him, and I have completed my coursework for my MA. However, many of my sentiments remain the same. I hope you enjoy the humor of this...
A Few Questions from a Single Lady
Right about now, my roommates from college, high school sweetheart, and chums from elementary school playground are either changing diapers, coordinating with caterers and wedding DJ’s, or shopping for their new friends’ baby and/or bridal showers. I, on the other hand, spent the morning at the gym, paid some bills, and helped my grandparents with a gardening project. And now, I sit before my laptop writing one of my final papers for my master’s degree in English. As I look over my screen, I see my boyfriend sitting on the couch watching the unfolding events of the NFL season in which free agents are now up for grabs and on the market to be wooed with mansions and multi-million dollar signing bonuses. I often wonder what it would be like to be a prized athlete who was so good at what I did that dozens of teams and fans across the country wished and prayed that I would come and reside in their hometown. I wonder how it would feel to sign a contract, a simple piece of paper promising to support and inspire the team and surrounding community towards victory and a championship and be rewarded with gifts and huge amounts of money for keeping that promise. Would I be able to get along with my teammates for the entirety of my contract? What would happen if I got injured or suddenly decided I didn’t want to play there anymore? Would I succumb to the wooing and temptations of joining another team in a more favorable climate or interesting city or would I remain faithful and true to my home team?
I often feel that is how young adults are auctioned off today and the same questions exist in my budding feminist brain wondering what it would be like to have a piece of paper, a contract that comes with material benefits of a bridal shower and wedding gifts, tying me to another person for all of time, or at least as long as we can stand to have such an arbitrary symbol uniting us. I have been asked, many times by many different people when Jamie, my boyfriend and I will settle down and get married. We’ve been together over two years, “Shouldn’t you make it official by now?” they’ll ask us. We are constantly asked when we are going to give our parents grandchildren and my grandparents question out loud if they will be around long enough (hint hint, wink wink) to see another generation of youngsters running around the blossoming spring garden. My mother has a collection of knitted hats, socks and blankets waiting for my hoped-for offspring sitting in a chest in one of her guestrooms.
One particularly fond memory involves a dinner party at my employer’s home a few summers back. I stood in the kitchen with my white wine spritzer admiring a large, complicated machine of metal spouts, bells and whistles making up what I could only assume to be some sort of European espresso maker.
“Do you like it? Do you and Jamie drink espresso?” my boss’s wife asked me when I asked what it was. Naturally, I would not have survived many of my college years without such a staple as coffee and espresso and unequivocally answered “yes.”
“Well, consider it yours as soon as you’re married. Jon and I will buy you one for your engagement gift!”
She seemed so sure and enthused about the prospect of awarding, or rather, baiting us into nuptials with the spoils that comes along with it. Why couldn’t we have the espresso machine simply for being us – single and together who also happen to enjoy caffeinated beverages?
I dread hearing the news that yet another one of my friends or acquaintances will soon be either tying the knot or cutting the cord. I roll my eyes as I walk away from the obligatory hug or hand shake because inevitably I will be receiving some frilly pink, manly aquatic-blue or safety net green invitation beckoning me to enjoy crust-less-cucumber sandwiches and canned laughter when prompted with the unwrapping of a not-too-risqué piece of negligee purchased knowing the groom’s mother will be present. And what purpose exactly does that filmy piece of paper inside the invitation serve? Is it supposed to soften the blow of the announcement that there is yet another couple that we are about to be forced to shop for?
I can usually be found before sending in my RSVP, sitting and scrolling through their lists, angrier and more resentful by the minute clicking through the Target or Macy’s website provided by the happy couple. I silently simmer and balk at the price of gravy boats and throw pillows – two equally useless items that should not cost me the amount I made waiting tables last week. It frustrates me that stores have created a scanner for couples to use as they register for their upcoming wedding or squealing additional to their home. I can picture them now, holding hands and skipping gleefully through the store scanning Kitchenaid mixers, 1000-thread count Egyptian sheets, and a 24-piece copper cookware set that will end up costing more than the down payment on my car. I chose two items equaling the cost of the most expensive item thereby ensuring I do not look like a cheapskate and they will feel loved in their tempurpedic slippers, sipping wine from the stem-less glasses and playing the collection of board games surely added so they appear with this registered gift to promise future use and invitations to play from its purchaser.
I have yet to be invited to play.
Athletes have an even larger right to demand their wishes met and their great-great-grandchildren’s college education paid for because they inspire hundreds of thousands of people to join in the age-old tradition of cheering a team on. They entertain more than just the guests at a wedding for a few hours. They are showmen and women who are expected to perform at their very best daily. The glowing couple signs no contracts to us purchasers that they will produce a child who will someday cure cancer – so why should I supply its miniature hats and pacifiers? A newly wedded man and woman do not promise that they will return the games and linens I purchased should their bliss come to a catastrophic litigating end. They split the spoils between themselves and not with those that actually provided them.
I understand that this tradition is from days and centuries past. Women no longer come with dowries therefore someone must be left with the bill and who better their loving friends and coworkers? But I ask you, as a single girl untethered and unimpregnated, where is my gift for successfully surviving on my own as an independent adult in this tough economic time? My first apartment after moving out (and paid for) on my own was not furnished with things purchased and brought to a party with delicate finger foods and toasts of champagne. The couches belonged to a friend in college, the dishes and art hanging on the wall were purchased from Goodwill. Why was I not thrown a party for surviving the dating world and college and navigating the treacherous waters of hooking up my own utilities, arguing with landlords over a broken lock and fixing my own running toilet? I have emerged unscathed in the world of dating and have found a person that I enjoy living with for the time being. But because we refuse to resign ourselves into an archaic tradition that was created in a time when he and I would be dying in about ten years consequently lessening the commitment of “‘til death do us part,” we get no party. There will be no presents or well-wishers for us. We will be met only with blank faces, and cocked heads trying to spill over any other example they know of couples that didn’t jump on the matrimonial bandwagon after exiting school and entering the workforce. “Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins?” they’ll think, “But they’re weird, they’re actors, and didn’t they break up?” They sure did, and don’t you think they are quite pleased with themselves that they avoided the circus of lawyers and pre-nups and Susan going through the dreadful process of changing her name back to its original? And as for those prized football players – the free agents that are being wooed with millions and mansions, while their physical prowess and commitment to the game is impressive, why do they deserve such outlandish salaries and attention? I concur with Sven Birkerts in his essay “Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man” and his attempts to validate his position of political passivity and extend his argument to my own “shower-passivity”: “I have to deem what I do – think, read, write – to be a part of the overall struggle. Not, perhaps, of the immediate political struggle, but the larger one, which works to ensure the survival of spirit, free inquiry, humanness – value – in a world where these qualities are under threat.” I too believe that those of us who have taken the less “certain” route and chosen the careers of words, sentences, voices and forms that appear on a page are also fighting the good fight. No, we are not saving lives medically, arbitrating the fair work laws of the underrepresented, nor are we even doing so much as improving the condition of the roads upon which we drive. However, and at the very least, some of us are responsible for the catchy slogans and jingles for the stores in which the happy couples will skip towards with lists of merchandise with glee. We hope that we are expanding the minds and horizons of the students we teach and readers we write for. But where are the writers’ contracts – the fat paychecks for those that craft a sentence methodically and laboriously over the course of weeks and months? Why are authors and teachers not beckoned to various cities because of their mental dexterity and prowess instead of their ability to pass a football ninety yards and run a four-second forty-yard-dash in the incoming league’s turbine? There are new stories that can not only be written but lived, stories that end somewhere other than behind a white picket fence. We are fighting the invisible battle – the one against the presumption that young adults should still be caught in the interminable cycle of dating then marriage then babies then whatever version of Desperate Housewives is most appropriate. But I digress…
It is unfair that because I choose to maintain a flat stomach (mostly) and not use it as an incubator and producer of small sticky things needing constant care and attention (not to mention finances), I do not get gifts or any type of reward. I get no tax break or financial recompense for continuing to work and because I claim only myself, I pay the most taxes than most other demographics out there. I will not need three months to two years off of work to nurture and create a connection between mother and child, or scarier yet, leave the work force completely to ensure the small part of the next generation that I have created doesn’t end up being the next Unabomber.
I do not ask for much.
In fact, I guarantee that the pair of shoes or new laptop or even monthly stipend at Starbucks that would satisfy this single, “barren” woman would amount to much less than the circus-themed changing tables, silver Tiffany’s engraved rattler’s (that you know the child will never use but be kept somewhere on a shelf as only another thing to dust), or warehouses of diapers that are bought and given to expectant mothers every day.
Harsh though I may sound, I do not criticize or rail against those that look forward to and embrace this phase in life involving change and weddings and lace-trimmed basinets. Athletes have become a sort of class of celebrity that is celebrated for their abilities and victories and will probably forever out-earn the best of all possible educators and authors. I understand that the tendency to want to unite oneself with another person (or team) is a strong and common one and the need to procreate is not only psychological but a biological urge as well. I feel many pangs of guilt knowing that there is the possibility that my mother’s chest of miniature knitted clothing may go untouched. However, the next time you sit in an obligatory circle ooo’ing and ahh’ing the “adorable” bibs and footies, or click on the overpriced dish towels and silver cutlery from the website of their registry of choice, ask yourself: “What makes them so deserving of this shower?” They are no athlete who has spent every waking minute training their bodies and minds to perform on a team searching for victory. They did not sacrifice themselves to the physical and mental punishment to become the best possible player they can be. They simply fell in love. They decided to create a bundle of joy to occupy their time and fill their home with giggles and abstract finger paintings hung on the refrigerator. But that takes no great skill. Couples have been getting married and children have been kept alive and happy with parents for centuries without the assurance that someone else will supply the spit-rags and espresso machines. So why must we feel obligated to do the buying and supplying for them?