======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
As a young woman on the wrong side of 25, I can speak authentically to the societal pressures and expectations surrounding marriage and offspring-production at this point in my life. I come from a small town in the south, born into a traditional family with high-school-sweetheart parents. As the eldest child and only daughter, it should come as no surprise that my community and family expect me to get locked down and knocked up, like…yesterday.
The unfortunate reality is that I am currently married to law school. I have neither the time nor the patience for serious dating, much to my mother and grandmother’s chagrin. The extent of my romantic social life involves calling up my old Bumble matches from the bench to get drinks when I’m feeling particularly attention-starved. To put it lightly: I am very, very single.
This is the reality for many of us. Work and various other responsibilities have to take priority sometimes.
Fortunately for my parents, I have two younger brothers. The older of which, recently made the hopeful and promising leap into holy matrimony. Here is where our story begins.
Last summer, I was holding down an unpaid internship in Miami, far from my Texas homeland. One afternoon, as I was sitting in my empty apartment, I received a text message from my mother. My brother had (finally) proposed to his girlfriend. After dating for seven years, he had dropped down on one knee and popped the question. I stared at the screen, reading and rereading the message. I laid back in my bed and locked my phone, staring at the ceiling in silence.
This news came during a very trying time in my life. I was going through a tough breakup and had just moved to Miami for the summer where I was living by myself. I already felt completely out of my element, and now, I had to come to terms with this new development. I was officially the single older sister. A cat-lady. A failure. At least, that’s what it felt like.
I immediately drove to the nearest gourmet Mexican restaurant and inhaled a few overpriced margaritas. On one hand, I was elated and excited that my kid brother had proposed. I sincerely love his now-wife and have considered her a part of our family for a very long time. On the other hand, I had gained a new title. I was now the “unmarried sibling.”
Almost immediately, I had old acquaintances and friends from home texting and calling me.
“Isn’t it weird that your baby brother is getting married before you?”
“Aren’t you mad?”
“That’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it?”
The hits kept coming.
As I sulked into my grilled-pineapple and jalapeno margarita, comfortably seated in my cozy booth, the rain poured down outside. It was a fitting atmosphere for my current mental state. I almost tearfully texted my brother a congratulation, and then continued my pity party.
In that moment, I was making it all about me. How would this marriage affect me? How would it make me look? One year later, my kid brother is now a married man. My family just celebrated this very happy and exciting event, and as it turns out – I didn’t die from it.
Marriage is not a “one size fits all” type of deal. There are all of these absurd expectations surrounding adult relationships, marriage, and eventually, children. I went to college with many women who were in serious relationships with their college or high school boyfriends. The phrase “ring before spring” was used frequently, and unironically. For many years, I thought that if I didn’t find love in college, I was destined to become a spinster. Once you graduate college and “start your life,” the pressure to find a spouse becomes intense. Conversations that would be considered inappropriate or intrusive in any other context, become commonplace.
Person I went to high school with and barely know: “So, are you seeing anyone?”
Older family member: “Casual dating. What does that mean, exactly?”
Other older family member who is technology-deficient: “Dating apps? Like, on your cell phone?”
Random acquaintance above the age of 35: “So…you go out with people on the internet?”
Woman in line with me at Walgreens: “You better not wait too long! It’s better if you start having kids early. When Frank and I met, I was already 27, and…”
It seemed that every interaction I had with older, married adults, surrounded my relationship status…or lack thereof. It felt like I was constantly playing defense. No one cared about my academic accomplishments or my career aspirations. I was branded. A single, unmarried woman. And that was bad.
When a younger sibling gets married before you, it almost feels like you’ve failed in some way. You’re older, after all. Wiser. More mature. A veteran unto life’s experiences. You should be leading the way in life-accomplishments. If anyone should have a grip on serious, meaningful relationships, it should be you!
And yet, that’s a bunch of bullshit.
I would be lying if I told you that over the course of the wedding weekend, I wasn’t asked about the existence of a “man in my life” approximately 500 times. I would also be lying if I told you that my mother saw me holding a friend’s baby and didn’t make an arguably passive-aggressive comment about me giving her some grandchildren, soon. Additionally, I would also be lying if I told you that my now-married brother and I weren’t caught by the wedding videographer, Juuling on the dance floor and dancing to “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. Those would all be lies.
Frankly, it’s no one else’s business who I’m dating, seeing, sleeping with, or stalking online. My younger brother’s relationship status does not affect my value as an individual or as a future partner. Initially, the news of his engagement was a devastating hit to my pride. It made me feel like I was a disappointment, in some way. Everyone had expected me to be first. By not living up to that expectation, I felt tainted and unaccomplished.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but millennials are killing everything. Chain restaurants. The radio. Cable television. The sanctity of marriage. Birth rates. We are all at fault. Climate change? Millennials did that. The invention of artificial intelligence that will eventually become self-aware and destroy the planet? Millennials did that, too. It’s almost as if we can get nothing right.
Our parents, their parents, and our grandparents’ parents, all lived in a very different era. Our disagreements with their generations do not make us wrong. We are simply responding and surviving in the new (and challenging) environment that we were born into.
Rent costs us thousands of dollars a month. Student loan payments hang around our shoulders like permanent shackles. And don’t forget the avocado toast and artisanal candles. Oh, and the Bikram yoga classes. We are all just out there grinding and trying to make it, without letting the cubicle-life steal what is left of our souls.
So what if you’re 25+ and single? So what if your younger sibling got hitched before you did? There are dozens of us, I tell you. Dozens!
There is nothing wrong with you, doing you. Despite popular opinion, you don’t turn 25 and receive your adult-card in the mail. No one sends you a list of guidelines or rules on how to do this right. Look around and you’ll see that no one truly knows what they’re doing, married with kids, or not.
Getting locked down into a serious relationship is not a race to the finish line, despite what your great aunt Janice says. I’d rather wait it out and do marriage right the first time, on my own time, than jump into it headfirst just for the sake of appealing to others’ expectations of my own life. That is, unless there’s a man out there who wants to take on my student debt. In that case, baby, where’s the altar? .