What is it about the unmarrieds these days, and particularly unwed women pining for wedding-like fêtes of their own?
I ask this as a woman who's spouse-less for the foreseeable future and also loves the notion of a party thrown in her honor that involves cake. What I'm not understanding is a seemingly growing need among some singles to be cheered on in their singledom like newlyweds dashing toward a shaving cream-streaked car amid a shower of bird seed.
Having reached my late 20's, I can empathize with the exhaustion of the friends and family wedding circuit, schlepping gifts of blenders and karaoke machines hither, thither and yon. Personalized wedding websites tend to tickle my gag reflex, and the Facebook glut of updates and engagement outtakes counting down to that Very Special Day can be trying (although not as trying as the new parents who trade out profile pictures of themselves to ones of their admittedly adorable babies). And apparently, these nuptial blitzes drove Millie Kerr over at The Atlantic to such hair-pulling frustration that she made a public plea for single people weddings.
"While it's clear that some companies are capitalizing on increasingly single demographics, singletons wanting to feel celebrated will have to initiate festivities themselves."
I initiated such a festivity recently -- it was called my birthday.
I'm not trying to play snark police against Kerr's desire for a world in which "you're nobody till somebody loves you." It isn't so depressingly true in many ways. It's a valid demand, reminiscent of that made by childless-by-choice couples to not be eyed warily and scrutinized. But if the ultimate goal is to chip away at the wedding industrial complex that now goads the average couple into shelling out $27,000 to say "I do" and knock marriage off its institutional pedestal as the end-all ideal of what everyone should strive for, requesting a similar event -- Kerr offered a "destination birthday" that her parents helped fund as an example -- only feeds the same celebratory consumerism cycle (right-handed diamond rings, anyone?).
Yearning to have one's single relationship status formally validated in the manner of friends dressing up and buying you gifts (again, hello, birthdays) also hints at an underlying discomfort that perhaps we'll remain single forever. That maybe we're waiting so long to settle down these days that we're forgetting how to do it. That once our own wedding rolls around, it somehow won't matter as much because we're the last in the line to do so. Confession: as the only unmarried child left in my extended family with no sights set toward the aisle/courthouse/Bermudan beach/French chalet, such thoughts have crossed my mind. Then I talk to girlfriends who are already married or in the process of planning weddings and remember that there are pros and cons on both sides of the threshold. In more dire straits, I simply volunteer to babysit my wonderfully rambunctious nephews. These are also the same boys who once fretfully approached my sister with their concerns I'm well on the road to becoming "a cat lady," despite me not owning a single feline.
I suspect it's the social media-powered visibility of modern marriage that's largely attributing to singles wanting more "likes" for their life decisions. Case in point: Anna North over at Buzzfeed recently reported on writer Jenn Levya's Facebook project to publicly congratulate pals for going solo and thriving as a way to combat the empirically documented spikes of insecurity that come with scrolling through people's status updates. Moreover, Levya personally opposes the institution of marriage and also challenges the astronomical cultural value heaped on romance and relationships. North wrote:
Leyva would also like to see more challenges to "the ways in which marriage is related to adulthood" -- the idea that once you're married, "now you're a real adult." She sees a lavish 30th birthday as one way to commemorate adulthood outside of a relationship, and suggests that it could even include toasts. "When does anyone toast you outside of a wedding?"
Yet isn't toasting someone largely based on their relationship status, albeit single, nevertheless centering worth around romance? I'm all about ladies supporting ladies, but why the need for visible, Facebook-likeable singlehood affirmation? It reminds me of kids' sports teams handing out participation trophies to everyone, just to make sure nobody feels undervalued. I agree that marriage shouldn't be seen as the signpost of official adulthood, but I also believe that being a certified grownup comes with forging on with or without gold stars and pats on the back. It's ignoring peer pressure and following through fearlessly as though no one is watching and judging. And unfortunately, sometimes, it's blocking out the nagging questions from friends, co-workers and even 8-year-old nephews as to when you're going to get around finding that special somebody already.
Undoubtedly, we're in the midst of a major cultural shift that is upending the traditional, heteronormative path toward wedding bells and homemaking, which is a good thing. Even still, the 21st-century relationship landscape ranging from single-by-choice to polyamorous favors the bicycle-built-for-two marital structure for now. But fancy singlehood celebrations that only hearken what we're weary of aren't the great equalizers -- and besides, there are more than enough budget-breaking weddings to go around as it is.