In the movie “27 Dresses,” Katherine Heigl’s character, Jane, is the ultimate friend. She doesn’t blink at the god-awful bridesmaids dresses she’s asked to wear. She shells out hundreds of dollars for a cab to take her back and forth between two weddings on the same night. She lets her little sister steal her dream man.
We’re meant to feel bad for Jane, to look at her and think, “She’s such a nice girl; she deserves to be the bride!”
We’re not meant to think, “She needs to learn to set boundaries,” or “She should really speak up for herself.” No, that’s not the point.
The point is, it’s Jane’s turn to get married. Because that, society tells us, is the ultimate reward: to be seen for exactly who you are, loved for exactly who you are and then asked to join in a lifelong partnership with the person who sees and loves you for exactly who you are, ’til death do you part. End scene.
I’ve been to 34 weddings in the past 12 years. By the end of this year, that number will be 36. I’ve been an officiant, bridesmaid, maid of honor, attendant, hairstylist, guest with a plus-one, guest without a plus-one, friend of the bride and friend of the groom.
The year I attended 10 weddings I was actually invited to 13. I had to miss my cousin’s big day because I was a bridesmaid in an out-of-state ceremony. The other two no-shows were destination weddings that — surprise! — conflicted with local celebrations.
I think marriage is wonderful. I love everything it represents — love, loyalty, commitment, joy, choosing someone else’s needs above your own. What I think is off-kilter is how marriage is advertised as the end-all/be-all — the only option for a truly fulfilling life.
As a 30-year-old single woman in Minnesota, this message constantly buzzes around me. I come from a happy family with parents who will be married 39 years in September. I was maid of honor for my older sister’s wedding in April and bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding in June. I’m happy to participate in these celebrations and even happier that people I love have found people who love them.
I’m also happy to be single. Unattached. Not in a relationship or actively seeking a relationship.
One of my favorite things to do is travel, and I enjoy it best when I’m alone. Same goes for my living situation. When I returned from five months of solo travel through Europe in February 2017, I downsized my life and found a studio apartment that fits me, my bed, my books and not a whole lot more. I’ve lived alone since November 2010 — when my full-time salary was $25,000 per year, before taxes.
I’m independent in the truest sense of the word. And, while I love my friends and family, and have been in love before, I can honestly say that I equally love my single life.
Which is why it’s so frustrating to have people look at this life I’ve chosen — this life I spent more than a decade building — and deem my prime dating years wasted, my future doomed to spinsterhood.
Here in Minnesota, the average age of a bride is 26.9. It’s just not socially acceptable to be unmarried past age 28. People tell me this all the time, albeit never straight out (this is Minnesota, after all). Instead they hint at it, mentioning how my 30-year-old singleness wouldn’t be such a big deal if I lived elsewhere. It might be normal, acceptable, preferable even.
I’m pretty sure they mean it in a nice way, a way that’s supposed to make me feel understood and encouraged and supported.
“Look at you, so brave, going it solo. You’re so different.”
In other words: So not-Minnesotan.
This probably wouldn’t be a conversation in New York or Washington, D.C., where the average age of brides is 29 and 30, respectively. But here? In Minnesota? You’d better believe people glance at my left-hand ring finger and, seeing its nakedness, flash me a look of pity.
By the end of 2018, I will have married off the majority of my single friends. Those left are in long-term committed relationships: men and women who’ve spent years living together, co-parenting pets together, doing each other’s laundry, but haven’t yet taken that extra step to gain the legal and tax benefits that come with calling their relationships what they more or less are: marriages.
It’s an odd feeling to have blindly passed some unmarked milestone that separates me from my peers. And yet, I happily choose to continue living in Minnesota because this is my home. This is where my family and friends are. This is where my career and connections are. I’ve worked hard to build this life, and it’s a good one, husband or no.
At the end of “27 Dresses,” Jane gets her ultimate reward: an adoring husband and a row of women wearing the hideous bridesmaid dresses they once made her wear. We smile and sigh, satisfied to see the nice girl finally getting her big day.
But maybe it would be OK if Jane never got married. Because not everyone’s storybook ending looks the same, and marriage isn’t the one-size-fits-all finish line achievement that makes a woman a successful adult. It’s a great thing, a beautiful thing, but it isn’t everything.