09.15.12 Truth & Wisdom
BY Mandy Hale
I have a confession to make.
Until a few weeks ago…I thought hanging out with my married friends, and really all married couples in general, was a real snoozefest.
Yes, it’s true. Give me the option to hang out with a group of all married couples or watch paint dry and I would’ve happily chosen watching paint dry, every time. Before you judge me too harshly for my attitude, though, I ask you to first review the evidence supporting my lack of enthusiasm about being a single, hangin’ with the takens.
1. It’s almost impossible to not feel like a fifth wheel. Or a third wheel. Or a seventh wheel. As a single person amongst all married folks, you tend to stick out like a sore thumb…or, as the case may be, a left-hand ring finger without the bling. The worst is when you’re with an especially PDA-friendly couple, because no matter how many times they swear to you that they won’t spent the evening groping one another, by the end of the evening, you’re almost always begging them to get a room.
2. There never seems to be a lot to talk about. The common ground between marrieds and singles seems to shrink smaller and smaller with every year the couple is together. And if you add a baby into the mix, that common ground becomes an island. Call me crazy, but hearing about the size and consistency of your baby’s first poop in exact, precise detail isn’t exactly my idea of a swingin’ Saturday night.
3. This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve about married couples in general. There’s always the married female friend who thinks you’re after her husband. Yes, you can walk up to a married man and strike up an innocent conversation, and ten seconds later, his wife will swoop in out of nowhere to attach herself to his side just so there’s not ANY confusion that this hunka hunka burnin’ love is spoken for. He can be balding and have a belly that sticks out so far he hasn’t seen his shoes in years and yet his wife will wear adult diapers to dinner so as to avoid leaving the two of you alone long enough to go to the restroom. This phenomenon is both frustrating and insulting, because it perpetuates the stigma of the “desperate single man-eating woman who has no boundaries or standards and will sink her claws into the first man who comes along, married or single, all so as not to wind up alone.” Sigh.
4. And finally…there’s the famous Pity Party that married people like to throw for single people, even when we don’t RSVP. The looks of sympathy over dinner. The patronizing patting you on the head. The “Don’t worry! You’ll find someone soon!” and, “It’s not like you’re an old maid or anything. (Yet.)” comments. The glancing at one another knowingly when you dare to protest and tell them you’re happy, just as you are. And the attempts to set you up with their co-worker’s sister’s boyfriend’s friend even though you have nothing whatsoever in common except your relationship status.
Yes, the whole hanging out with married couples thing just wasn’t really my cup of tea.
Until about three weeks ago, when my friend Rebecca invited me to join her and her husband Sid on Saint Simons Island, Georgia for the weekend. It was a spur-of-the moment, spontaneous trip and fit with my new schedule perfectly, as I recently transitioned out of my 9-5 job into writing full time and being my own boss. The idea of taking advantage of my new freedom was very appealing to me, so I quickly said yes. The thing I noticed right from the get-go was that Rebecca and Sid are not your ordinary married couple that you could just cram into one of the stereotypes I listed above. First of all, Rebecca was already on the island with her family, so I would be riding down with Sid by myself. In a car. For ten+ hours…a single woman, a married man traveling together…and Rebecca had absolutely no problem with it whatsoever. This was so refreshing to me, because it showed how markedly different they were, both as people and as a couple. Rebecca clearly has enough trust and security in her marriage to not be threatened by something that a lot of married women would have no part of. In this day and age, that type of unwavering trust and deep-rooted, unshakeable confidence is getting harder and harder to come by. And as the single woman who has been treated as a threat in the past, simply because I’m not married, this trust meant the world to me.
Once we were all assembled in Saint Simons, I figured out that our social agenda for the weekend was going to consist largely of myself and all married couples. Being as that Rebecca already has friends and family on the island, and her social circle is pretty much all married, that’s just the way the cookie crumbled. Now, had I been at home, choosing for myself how to spend my weekend, I might have begged off or not gone, out of fear of being the odd woman out. But I wasn’t. I’m so thankful now that I wasn’t, because the time I spent on Saint Simons Island shined a whole new light on my perspective and helped me realize, perhaps for the first time, that the chasm between married and single isn’t quite as wide as I thought.
The first night we went out to dinner, it was me, Rebecca and Sid and another married couple. Normally I would have felt a little conspicuous and out of place sitting at Bonefish Grill with two couples, but not this night. No. They included me in every conversation, they never once made me feel like an outsider and I laughed harder than I have in years. And even more refreshing: though Rebecca’s friends have children and we spent time discussing their children, the entire conversation didn’t center around talk of diapers and pre-schools. No, this couple had a rich, vibrant life that included their children, but didn’t revolve around their children. They were funny, engaging and warm…and it was honestly one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. It was sitting there giggling with those four people that my mindset slowly began to shift. But, it was the next night that all my preconceived notions and stereotypes about married couples were downright blown out of the water.
The next night, it was again myself, Rebecca and Sid and a different married couple from the night before. After a delightful dinner at home, once again filled with laughter and great conversation, the gang decided I needed to see some of the historic landmarks on Saint Simons Island. “Historic landmarks” meaning a creepy old church and graveyard complete with Georgia’s signature hanging moss and shadowy statues. After parking the car as silently as we could to avoid getting arrested for trespassing, (it was already about 10:00pm by this time and everyone on St. Simons is in bed by around 9:00, no joke) we made our way through the graveyard, running and giggling, the thick night air around us, the Spanish moss swaying, and the guys, of course, jumping out at the girls to scare us repeatedly.
The silly abandon of it all felt like I was back in high school, sneaking out with my friends. Only I was a grown woman, with two married couples, having possibly more fun with them than I’ve ever had with my single friends.
A couple of hours later, we found ourselves at a beautiful boatyard surrounded by water, sand dunes and the night sky. The guys were lost in their own conversation, leaving us girls to lie on the dock and gaze up at the stars. So bright and so close, it felt like we could touch them. It was so clear that night, we could see the Milky Way. As we made wishes on stars, confessed our dreams for the future and Rebecca whispered a prayer to the heavens for all of us, it hit me.
I had judged THEM for being married, just like people judge ME for being single. I had stereotyped THEM. I had placed a stigma on THEM, not so different from the stigma placed on single women that I battle against, every single day. And at the end of the day, married or single or coupled up or dating or divorced or whatever the case may be, we’re not that different. We all wish and dream and hope and plan…and maybe we’re wishing and dreaming and hoping and planning for different things…but we are all in this thing together. The other two girls were wishing for babies. I was wishing for love. Two very different wishes…two very different places in our lives…one common denominator: We’re all reaching for something bigger. We all hurt. We all face disappointments. We all have great tragedy, and equal triumph. We all want to make our mark on the universe, whether it be by falling in love or by extending that love through bringing a new life into the world.
So it was there, on an island in Georgia, that I finally found the bridge between single and married.
I say all this to urge you to reach for understanding, patience and empathy when it comes to the other side of the fence. If you’re married, instead of distrusting your single friends, put a little faith in them. Instead of reaching for pity, reach for compassion. They’re traveling a road that’s harder and rockier and more lonely than you might remember. And if you’re single, instead of scoffing at your married friends when they post 17 pictures in a row on Instagram of their toddler, show them a little understanding. Realize that they’re traveling a new and often scary road that doesn’t come with a map, and some days they’re probably doing their level best just to muddle their way through.
That night on that dock, as all made wishes on stars, it reminded me that if the stars can co-exist in the sky, I’m certain us single and married folks can find a way to co-exist together here on earth. And maybe just share a few laughs along the way.