…but you’re so pretty?

True story, y’all.

A few weeks ago I stopped by the drug store to pick up a few things on my way home.  I ran into one of my middle school teachers [for her sake, we’ll call her Mrs. Teacher] in line picking up a prescription.

Two things you need to know here.  First: I was the teenage equivalent of a sea lion in middle school.  People liked me because I was nice, cute, and harmless, but I was pretty thick around the middle and if you only caught a glimpse in your periphery, you might mistake me for a thumb.  [It’s okay, really, I figured out makeup and clothes in my late twenties and I haven’t needed therapy yet.]  Second: Mrs. Teacher was known for being hard and kinda mean, but even though she scared me, I always liked her because she was smart and didn’t put up with crap.  Long after I graduated, I found out she went on to become principal of a high school in town.

Mrs. Teacher and I did a few double-takes before we spoke.  I was giving myself time to decide if I actually wanted to speak, she was probably trying to figure out if she actually knew me.  Luckily for her, I happened to be sporting my name tag from work [which is super awesome fun on a Friday night when you’re at the grocery store buying cat litter and boxed wine] and as soon as she realized who I was, as everyone does, she asked about my brother.  As soon as I finished the standard “he’s a successful engineer, married to a successful professor, living in a big house in Birmingham with their two perfect kids” speech [I love him, I really do], she tilted her head…

omg yes, the head tilt.  [refer to previous blog post for reference]

I thought she was going to say something about my dad [Tuscaloosa is pretty small and I also happened to attend church with Mrs. Teacher when I was younger], but instead she flicked my name tag and said, “…same last name? So you’re not married?”

“Well, no ma’am…”

Her head tilted further!  Like an owl studying something it was about to eat!  With a confused and slightly accusatory tone she exclaimed, “…but you’re so pretty?!

I, of course, got defensive and every fiber of my being was yelling to wave my feminist flag in her face with a nice long rant, but instead, I replied with a trite “…then I guess I’m just too smart to get married.”  So take. that.  Hmph.

Her face twisted up like I had insulted her, the baby Jesus (whom I love, to be clear), the constitution, and her dog in one fell swoop.  The conversation ended quickly and we parted ways.

I can still hear those words, “…but you’re so pretty” reverberating in my head.  This is the woman who, considering she is/was a high school principal, has at least one advanced degree.  She’s spent decades teaching young adults scholarly and life lessons and she still made a comment that implies pretty women should be married women.  Please let that sink in, because I can’t stop thinking about it.  I realize that society, blah blah blah, imparts on us its ideals that women should be married and popping out kids by a certain age and sometimes it’s hard to believe that you aren’t a failure if you haven’t checked those boxes.

I don’t want this blog post to be about how times are a-changing.  You can read plenty of scholarly or pop culture articles about that on your own.  What I do want is for each of you to be mindful and responsible for the messages you send to your friends, your daughters, your blog followers, your sisters.  There is no certain age by which you have to be married to be considered a success.  [Please don’t rush into marriage, you have a lifetime ahead of you.  There are far worse things in life than being single; being in an unnecessary, unhappy marriage is certainly one of them.]  You are no less of a woman if you never have a child.  Your contribution to society is not measured by your outward appearance.  You absolutely can be a whole and happy person in whatever circumstances you find yourself a part of – because you find happiness.  You choose it.  You make it work.

Last but not least, someone important [I don’t know who said it and I don’t trust google so just go with it] said “comparison is the thief of all joy.”  I personally think that the thing that makes life most difficult, is using other people’s lives as a measuring stick for our own.  Sure, it’s impossible not to look at someone else and think “what if” but if you’re only using that comparison to wish away your life rather than to set [attainable] goals for yourself, you’re wasting valuable time.  Don’t think that what someone else has or does will make you happy, find your own happiness!

Do not make me tilt my head at you!


Sorrow and Joy

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve been through a “rough patch” of life lately. I call it a rough patch because we all have them; mine are no worse or better than yours. They come and they go and they never happen at an ideal time.

To make a long and sad story shorter and less difficult for you to read and me to write, I lost two very important people in my life in the same week last week. My dad’s mom, who fought a long and graceful battle with both cancer and Alzheimer’s, is finally at peace in a new and healthy body. [As an aside: I find Alzheimer’s to be an awful and bittersweet disease when it comes so late in life as it did with my grandmother. I have started to sincerely question how aware I want to be of my body and mind’s deterioration as it comes to me in my sunset years.] Her passing was not a surprise, so while it is never easy to lose someone who has been such an important influence in your life, grieving for the loss of my grandmother had been going on for quite some time already. However, my mother’s father is a different story. Since I’ve never had much of a father figure in my own life, Poppy (as we knew him) was the default. He was sarcastic, charming, a leader, and had lived many, happy chapters of life. He was a veteran, an engineer, a father, the best Poppy, a farmer, a raconteur, a church Deacon, and a simple man. He was the best man. The end of his life came swiftly, unexpectedly (to me, anyway – perhaps it was denial), and it still hits me like a knuckle-punch to the temple.

I have lost plenty of people before. Close ones. My dad died when I was 22 years old. Here Maria Popova summarizes Joan Didion’s view on grief: Joan Didion on Grief. Never have I read anything more spot-on in the description of loss, or at least how it feels to me. One minute you’re as collected as a museum, but the next you find yourself thinking “I’ll be sure to tell Poppy about that when…” and suddenly curled up in the fetal position, vomiting tears, mad at yourself for forgetting, again, and wondering if it will ever not hurt anymore, knowing it won’t, and thinking that if you don’t pull yourself together right this second you never will. Waves of this. Then fewer waves. Sorrow is hard. But it’s life.

Then I was watching TV, because I do a lot of that lately, and some scripted wedding something or other came on. The vows made mention of something like “…two shall be one, sorrow shall be halved, and joy shall be doubled.” Rewind. Sorrow shall be halved. Rewind. Joy shall be doubled. Rewind. Sorrow. Shall. Be. Halved.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis. He’s my jam. He talks a lot about love. The man does not sugar coat it. I couldn’t agree with him more. After all, I’m writing this blog as a misadventured spinster, no? It’s never been that I don’t have faith in love; I do. I simply don’t buy into the “falling” part. The part where you sell someone a bill of goods. The part where you act like someone you’re not, and they do the same, and then suddenly you’re married and you hate each other because you’ve married a stranger. [I’ve never been married but I see it all. the. time.] I want to skip that part and get to the meat. I like the meat. I love the meat. [Now I want steak.] I love the part where you love each other for who you are, not who you pretend you are. All of that digression was simply to say that I avoid dating [like the plague], because of the bill of goods. And C.S. Lewis nailed it when he said this about love in Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably was never was or ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

So the point of this is to say that for so long I’ve carried my own burdens, because I’ve been happy to. Happy to be a spinster. Happy to be single. I still am. But, the idea of half the sorrow and double the joy is enough to consider the alternative, the quieter love, even if it means having to be “in love” first.