A 30-something year old friend of mine was married this past weekend. It was a good-sized affair, with nearly 200 in attendance. The ceremony was outdoors at the Columbia Winery. After they tied the knot, we milled around the tasting room before we were ushered into the dining area with roughly twenty round tables, each holding eight guests.
Once nestled into our seats at Table 16, Big Papa and I were relieved to be sitting next to a couple we know and like. We always have a good laugh together and feel at ease, plus they are in the loop on the details of our lives such as when we got married, where we live, and our pending adoption.
Otherwise, truth be told, Big Papa and I find events like this uncomfortable. That awkward moment when you’re seated next to strangers or standing at the buffet line. We know we’re connected to each other by a few degrees of separation, yet it can be dicey getting conversation started.
At weddings, I find that people generally ask a trifecta of questions: ‘How do you know the bride/groom?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Do you have kids?’
In the many years I spent as the perennial single girl in so-so jobs, gatherings like this were excruciatingly painful. I felt like I had a scarlet ‘S,’ for single, plastered on my dress. As my solo years stretched into my forties, I was all too aware that I was the which-one-isn’t-like-the-others at most bridal and baby showers.
When people ask, ‘Are you married?’ or ‘Do you have kids?’ I understand they’re not trying to be judgmental, but rather searching for a common bond, and a launching off point to share their own story. Still, I feel challenged not to feel “less than” when I can’t respond in kind.
For me, the sadness I would feel as I drove myself home was that I wanted to be able to talk about my loving husband, share pictures of my dimply-faced child and talk proudly about my career accomplishments. Each time, as I mulled over my post-revelry depression, I’d remind myself I need to come up with a cheery elevator story for the next event.
It’s not that I have no appreciation for the grand diversity of life circumstance and the path that is uniquely ours to claim. Life isn’t a competition. Our stories unfold in their own time and at their own pace. Marriage, jobs and kids aren’t like Girl Scout badges of honor. Not having one or any of the three doesn’t signify lack of ability, motivation or character.
I’ve certainly seen enough marriages implode and parent-child relationships that struggle mightily. I know that what you hear in cocktail conversation doesn’t always match up to what’s going on behind closed doors. Still, I admit that I struggle with not feeling like a member of the club when I attend celebrations like weddings, baby showers and class reunions.
These days, my life looks quite different than it did just a few years ago. I walked in to this wedding on Big Papa’s arm. We’re in the midst of adopting a child. We live in a cute, little house. I spend a good percentage of my time writing, which truly satisfies my soul. So, you’d think I could upgrade my outlook to match where I’ve transitioned to in life.
In part, I think my brain is so used to being the odd gal out that it’s hard to make the switch to glass half full. And, I’m sure, like many folks, I’m influenced by the messages our society spreads on what’s “normal.” Marriage at 48, adoptive parenthood at 50 and stepping off the career carousel is a bit out of the box. There are plenty of people who say “That’s great!” when I tell them we’re adopting, but I’ve also experienced my share of raised eyebrows and “Wow, you’re taking this on at 50?”
We left the din of the wedding to walk to our car. I took Big Papa’s hand and gave it a tight squeeze. I am deeply grateful for the love in my life, the roof over my head and the baby waiting in the wings, in Armenia. My life may have taken the longer, winding road, but I’m by far the wiser and infinitely happier with where it’s led me.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.