Last month I received a wedding invitation.
It looked innocent enough, given that it’s difficult for a sheaf of papers covered with curlicues and cute patterns to look overtly threatening, but unfortunately it was delivered hot on the heels of a parade of Facebooked engagement announcements and baby photos from a seemingly endless string of old university friends and distant high school acquaintances, and the mere sight of it set off alarm bells in my head and a sense of something unpleasant – the sharp taste of panic, perhaps – rising in my throat.
It’s not that I don’t like weddings. I do like them, mostly – or, at least, I like scrolling through photo after photo of the impossibly perfect, magazine-quality weddings that fill up Pinterest and Tumblr and nearly every other corner of the internet, which is basically the same thing as actually liking weddings. It’s just that I feel a little touchy about the subject, given that I’m in my mid-twenties, very single, and am watching as the world around me settles into a life of wedded bliss.
It’s not that I’m pining away for the diamond ring, the white picket fence, the two-car garage and the two children – because I’m not. At all. Children terrify me, I consider the two-car garage to be the ultimate symbol of all the so-called evils of suburbia, and the white picket fence brings to mind confinement, not contentment. And while I’ll admit that I wouldn’t mind a diamond ring, I’m not particularly concerned at the moment about which finger it would go on.
I know what I want: Travel, a wildly fulfilling and incredibly interesting career, a life lived in fascinating places scattered around the globe, good friends, good food, a sprinkling of adventure. All of these things can be achieved just as easily with or without a husband in tow.
But here’s the problem: I’m also a little bit of a hopeless romantic. Okay, a lot of a hopeless romantic. And even when you acknowledge that the life you want is fully attainable without a man by your side, it’s still difficult to be the single girl drowning in a sea of happy couples. I’m the girl who grins stupidly through an entire romantic comedy and then tears up at the predictable, clichéd ending; who has imagined in vivid detail a series of increasingly elaborate and cinematic scenarios in which I’ll meet my future husband; and who knows that as much as I really do like being alone, I’d be even better with an accomplice who just happens to be my soulmate.
Sometimes I worry that all the good men have been snatched up already. Sometimes I’m sure of it. And sometimes, when I review the list of men that I’ve dated briefly and then discarded (there is, after all, a checklist, and they all left some critical boxes unchecked in one way or another) I wonder whether I’m being too picky, too demanding, too specific.
But then there are evenings like tonight, where I curl up on my couch in what must be a perfectly clichéd representation of the single girl everywhere (pyjamas on, chocolate set out on the coffee table, glass of red wine within arm’s reach), where I’m immersed in designing a website or studying Italian or planning for my big move, and I realize this: I’m happy. Really happy. And right now, at this moment and for a complicated but comprehensible set of reasons, I’m supposed to be single.