Like a game of telephone, my message got garbled somewhere between its publication with The Atlantic and reactions posted around the web.
I was surprised to see readers literally interpreting my article's tongue-in-cheek title, "Single People Should Get to Have Weddings, Too." They were as quick to conjure an image of me marrying my cat as they were to ignore the three-letter word at its close: Too.
The issue is not whether you get married or decide to lead a single life. Nor is it the type of wedding you plan -- a grand affair or a casual gathering of your nearest and dearest. The conversation I intended to kick off boils down to the following question: Why does society celebrate family units more avidly than individuals? As originally stated, "When will barometers of celebration reflect the growing number of singletons?"
Although your relationship status naturally affects whether and when your family unit changes, the underlying question -- the one that asks why we neglect to celebrate individuals -- has nothing to do with your romantic choices. Whether you're married, single, gay, straight, female or male, you have moments in your life that warrant commemoration. These fêtes might pertain to coming of age, anniversaries, weight loss and other health milestones, or professional developments. Of course, some people prefer to breeze past or quietly celebrate these achievements. Our calendars and bank accounts thank the humble stoics of the world. But some of us benefit from high-fives, toasts and gatherings of friends -- external forces that help us internalize life changes -- and that doesn't make us narcissists.
We often wonder whether a falling tree makes a sound when it drops to the floor of the forest. Isn't it the same with significant developments that only occur in our private lives? In the last month, I have: celebrated a friend's promotion; clinked glasses to another's engagement; attended a thirtieth birthday party bash like the one I described in my article; and relished new photos of my friends' children. Does this mean that I marvel at every Facebook post? Of course not. I'm no more interested in the banal moments experienced by others than I am in my own day-to-day existence. But when my friend gives birth or moves cities or joins or exits a relationship, I'd like to know.
I don't think anyone wants to draw the lines between normal and noteworthy, and I have no desire to become an arbiter of merrymaking. And although I don't long for a world in which every achievement warrants a gold star, I'd like to promote inclusive, rather than exclusive, rituals.
At first, the defensive and angry responses to my article left me feeling befuddled, but it soon dawned on me that by promoting new traditions, I inadvertently criticized existing ones. Like many of you, I'd like to see rites (and rights -- gay marriage, for one) extended to individuals who have been precluded from taking part in our longstanding conventions, but I intentionally left legal and cultural assessments of the larger institution aside when analyzing whether we possess corollary traditions for unmarried men and women.
Instead of asking that we change or dismantle existing festivities, I hoped to extend the way we conceive of certain activities and milestones. Naysayers twisted my words, making me out to be a self-centered attention glutton.
In truth, we're all guilty of making parties about the individuals being celebrated, despite the fact that gatherings can be as meaningful for guests as they are for hosts. We carry on these traditions for a slew of reasons. As we express our support for the honored individuals, we also benefit from the excitement and camaraderie enjoyed at weddings. Besides births, funerals and graduations, they stand out as some of the only life events in which far-flung friends and relatives assemble.
Perhaps one day, my friends and family members will convene to celebrate my own wedding; perhaps not. Either way, I plan to foster traditions that honor individual advancements and achievements, big and small.