It was the dream I had last night -- the candlelit affair of tulle, crepe bows and the allure of a silk train snaking up a set of white stone stairs -- that threw me into a full-blown, self-induced panic attack for the majority of last week. I remember touching the soft edge of the train and realizing it was attached to my dress, my custom-made eggshell white dress. I swirled the throat of a crystal champagne flute inside of my hand and watched as a pair of rainbows danced along the creases of my wrist. Was I happy? I couldn't remember how I felt. Maybe I was just as confused as I was now, trying to recollect dream fragments. I pushed my hands against a set of cast-iron doors and stood frozen as the scene unfolded in front of me. There were rows upon rows of blurred faces and pinched satin ribbons. Ivy vines and clusters of flower petals lined the margins of the walkway. Something glowed at the end of my path. I didn't want to lift my head at first. I knew it was him, standing at attention in a bow tie and smiling at me. He gestured for me to come closer. I took another sip from my peach-colored flute and the next thing I knew it was dawn on a Saturday morning and I was laying panic stricken buried underneath a pile of quilted pillows.
My wedding-infused vision was not far from reality. I was dating the man of my dreams and certain that I may become a "wife" in the near future, or really, in my imaginary and overthought future. Upon sharing this revelation during a frantic call to my mother, she too had distinct thoughts, all of which were far too relaxed for the magnitude of the situation. With a crinkle of newspapers thundering in the background and the faintest sip of tea echoing through the receiver, she swallowed and said, "When you know, you know. It's a knee jerk reaction. It's as uncontrollable as the weather, and it's not something that comes with a set of instructions." I, being the realist that I am, thought this was much like her "other" stories about the tooth fairy and Santa's flight tracker. Needless to say, I was skeptical.
This skepticism followed me all the way through the doors of Barnes and Noble on 86th and Lexington and pushed me down cluttered aisles on relationships, female empowerment, sexuality, personality disorders, men, and various books that convinced me I hadn't a clue what I was really searching for. None of the customer assistance staff did either. Where was the self-help section for the "he wants to marry me but I love my single-self" crisis? My question received blank stares. Hadn't this genre been created in the past few years in light of celebrity weddings and bridal obsessions? More shoulder shrugs and one finger point in the wrong direction, I think towards the exit.
Even more alarming was the holy grail of things I would no longer be able to do in secret upon hypothetically accepting this title. This list of idiosyncrasies fell underneath the acronym of "SSB", Secret Single Behavior, a universal code between women used to identify their most coveted and weird behaviors behind closed doors, all of which flew out the window in exchange for a plus-one status. My favorites, occurring like clockwork after an especially long week, took place on Friday nights inside of my shoebox-sized apartment: pants-less dance parties, eating Oreos in bed and falling asleep on crumby sheets, tweezing things that should never be tweezed, lip-syncing Bill Withers "Use Me" in front of my movie star bathroom mirror lights and jogging past a handsome neighbor's door around midnight in see-through negligee. Would these too become extinct along with the "Miss" placed in front of my name?
I contemplated how I might preserve me, all of the quirks and weirdness and DNA that were able to come out when no one else was around. I foresaw many "retreats" to places without certain cell phone coverage to defend this sense of self. Would my excursions require a discussion on why I would be going to Thailand without my plus-one? Would these discussions include having to ask permission to go? I conjured up images of joint bank accounts and the dreaded adult words "budget," "bills," and "commitment." It was as if I were 16 again, justifying an extension of my curfew or an increase in allowance.
I imagined thumbing through rolled socks and folded underwear during the afternoons while he was at work and I was on a break from writing, my fingers sliding over one of his watches gifted to him on his 40th birthday. What was his medical history? Would I need to be concerned about becoming a widow no sooner than I had become a wife? I asked my mother and other female relatives about death, their sudden immigration to the United States from Portugal, being poor, being uneducated, what they thought about infidelity and religion and dating much older men, but never once had I asked them what it was like to become a wife. Had anyone else ever bothered to ask this question, or was every woman blindsided by familial obligations and wedding cakes and foreign rings on her fingers? Maybe Julia Child wrote an offbeat manual completely by accident when she became a wife and interpreted cooking to be a "must" inside of this silent contract -- cooking of which she feared she couldn't do and of which she knew would gnaw away at any sense of self left of "Julia" if she had not at least attempted to try it. But look at how that turned out: My Life in France, a cooking show, an enterprise, a legend, and all from the consequence of becoming a wife. Perhaps this had its surprising benefits, one can only pray, and of which I suddenly found myself doing more of during the past few months. If Julia's key to success had been integrating a husband into her life, then this had to be part of the answer to the larger question. Was it really this simple?
If the idea of becoming a wife had found its way to me without any effort on my part -- no hunting, no coaxing, no vexing, and no pleading -- could I offer this answer to the next girl wandering around the bookstore looking for the same missing shelf? It was a case of "choose your own ending," not self-help, and while I was certain I would be anything but a traditional wife, I was also certain that this was exactly why he had pitched the idea to me in the first place. Perhaps the real milestone that occurred when becoming a wife was the idea of saying yes to a better version of you. In sum, my advice to the fiercely independent women reading this post is simple: preserve you, integrate him, and avoid the self-help section.