Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? ~ Chimamanda Adichie
I rarely mention the fact that I have a wedding dress, because why would I? I am not about to get married, I have never been married, and (as several people have enjoyed pointing out to me at various times) I have no real idea if anyone has ever truly wanted to marry me. Nonetheless, I have a dress. It is a gorgeous dress. A one-of-a-kind couture design of bias cut ivory silk and silk tulle by a New York design duo, two brothers who go by their family name, Manolo. It is a dress that I could have never afforded, even if I had wanted to, but I have this dress.
I have this dress because once upon a time I was going to get married. I thought I had met my Prince Charming. I mean, he had some pretty serious red flags flying in his wake, but I was the right age to be getting married and for every flaw he had, I could find a compensatory (or better) quality to make up for any deficiency. Or an excuse. His family hated me? No problem, my family was willing to embrace him. He was an alcoholic? NBD, I had lots of practice with this. He was going to prison? Come on, that could be romantic in some contexts. [I mean, look at RDJ. Love him.]
I was aspiring to marriage. Among other things.
So I had to get a dress when he decided I was worth marrying – for my genetic material if nothing else. I got a dress. It was alright. Very late 90’s and princess-y. I think it had some sparkles and maybe some blue. I never took it out of the shop in LA because I would be having the alterations and stuff done there.
Then he went to prison, I cheated on him, and we broke up. I got to take all my stuff – except for anything he had given me – and all the blame. Meanwhile the dress sat in the shop.
A couple of years later I finally got the nerve to call the shop and find out what I should do about the dress. The proprietress, Cocoe Voci, remembered me and was so glad I had called. She had been trying to reach me for a year because she was closing her salon to launch her own line. She had been liquidating all of her inventory and had sold the dress. Unsure what to do, Cocoe made all the decisions for me: come down to LA she said, we will figure something out.
The next week, my mom and I went down and Cocoe showed us all the remaining dresses. She showed me the Manolo. It was stunning. Something out of a movie I have still never seen. We all stared when I put it on. The dress cost a ridiculous amount, particularly for someone who was not even getting married. For reasons I will never understand, Cocoe made the decision to practically give us the dress. We hugged and left with the dress.
So that is why I have a this dress.
I had not thought about the dress in a long time, in spite of the fact that it hangs in my closet in its own protective armor. But the other day, I took it out. I looked at it. It is as beautiful as it ever was. I tried it on. It still makes me feel like I belong in a black and white film, in a ballroom I have never seen. Looking at myself in that dress was weird though. (I mean weird beyond the fact of being a middle-aged, single woman, standing in her living room in a wedding dress on a Saturday afternoon.) It was weird because when I let my brain consider the meaning of the dress, I could not imagine ever wearing it for its intended purpose. There was no amount of stretching that could get my (generally very active) imagination there.
As I took the dress off and carefully returned it to its protective sheath, I looked around at my tiny apartment. At my two cats. At my books. At my wall of artwork from no fewer than seven countries. At the quiet sense of order in the clean space. And at that moment it dawned on me exactly how completely content I am in my life at this exact moment.
Sitting down, I thought about it more. How I wake up in the morning and am free. I can do anything I want to do. At the pace I want to. And I do.
I do not have to listen to people telling me how I should be doing something else. I don’t have anyone judging me for letting a cat sleep on the pillow. Or because I want to listen to reggae music. I don’t have anyone telling me I spend too much time reading. Or too much time writing. Or that the way I portray myself on-line is somehow “wrong”. I can go to yoga three times a day if I want to. I can sit and read on my sofa all day. Or, if I want to stay up until 1 am working, I can do that too.
Of course, I will never have some things that most people I know have, like children, and the joy they will bring. Although last week when I was getting on my seniors’ for being lazy about leaving crap on my floor and said, I don’t have kids – I should not have to pick up after them! one of my senior boys said, “Naw, you have us – you got thousands of kids,” which I thought was sort of cute. But in a way he is right, these kids are good for me.
And my life is so full. I have wonderful friends who really like me. I am in a City surrounded by cool stuff to do all the time. I have great colleagues at a good job that I am pretty good at. I love going to work and I love to come home to my cats, (without qualification.) Lately I find more and more that I really do need to have my own space and my own time in it. [Maybe I am turning into and introvert... I mean if Facebook quizzes are to be trusted then: " Others may perceive you as overly emotional, and you may even have a reputation for being a bit sensitive or touchy, but you actually just have an incredibly high emotional intelligence. You can be a bit melancholy at times, and you need time and space to recharge your emotional energies."]
I am not convinced that all of these observations preclude life changes that could lead to wedding dress wearing types of events, and I do believe in love at first sight, and all the silliness it has always led me to. But I am just not sure that these things always happen to everyone. And that is totally okay.
It could just be me: I’ve been told I’m too loud, I like the wrong sports, I shouldn’t drink beer, I shouldn’t drink tequila, I’m too pushy, I’m too standoffish, my arms are too big, my teeth are too crooked, I like the wrong music, I like the wrong kind of people, I am too sporty, I am too competitive, that I am not the marrying kind, I work too much, I don’t do enough, I plan too much, I am too spontaneous, I am too independent, I am too needy… and on and on and on.
But I don’t think that’s it.
I aspire to something better than all of that. I aspire to just be me.
Oh, and some sort of party, someday, in an amazing place, where I can wear a breathtaking ivory silk dress.