I went to my parents’ for the weekend, mostly because this afternoon, a friend from high school was having a baby shower. Keri is exactly 4 days younger than me, has been married for three or four years, and is expecting her first child in four and a half weeks. I’m very excited for her and her husband, and it was so good to see her. I also saw a lot of people that I haven’t seen in months or even years. On trips home, I mostly just see my family or a few family friends, so when I walked into the church building this afternoon, I was pretty thrilled to see so many ladies who were very important to me before I moved away: my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rast; elderly ladies whom I visited with Mama Kat when I was young; even high school classmates whom I haven’t kept in touch with very well.
Of course, I got lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. Many of them haven’t seen me since I was diagnosed with diabetes and subsequently lost 70 pounds, so a few claimed to not even been able to recognize me. People asked where I lived, if I’m still working at the library, what I’m doing for grad school. Just your generic, small-town small-talk. I enjoyed it, and to be honest, my pride always gets a little inflated when I return to my small town and get to talk about my plans to get a Ph.D. and teach college English. Ph.Ds are rare in a town filled with blue-collar workers.
I’m almost 24, though, and the question that people really want to ask is Are you dating anybody? While I was only technically asked the question three or four times today, other ladies seemed to hint in that direction but never asked when I didn’t take the bait. That’s to be expected: of the numerous friends my age who were there today, only one hasn’t been married for several years…and she’s getting married in July.
It’s a pattern in a small town: graduate high school, go to a tech school or (if you’re ambitious) get a bachelor’s degree, find a job, move back home, get married. Obviously, I started on that course, but quickly veered off.
Twice, when I was asked that question, I merely smiled and shook my head. Once, the conversation changed course, and another time, the elderly lady merely hugged me and told me that in time, I would find the right one. Her grandson (who also graduated with me) did, after all, so why wouldn’t I? 🙂
The first time I got that question, though, it went a little differently. I was talking to a girl named Morgan, a girl whom I once considered my best friend before I knew what that term could actually imply. Although we did everything together–yearbook co-editors, president and VP of the senior class, prom planners, etc.–our friendship was always shaky and bordering on mere acquaintanceship. I haven’t bothered to keep up with her since we graduated high school, and this is only the third or fourth time I’ve seen her in those six years. She was always one of those girls who peaks in high school–whose life seems to be completely fulfilled at 18. She commuted to school, married a man she met there, and now teaches high school English, but doesn’t really like it.
She stood there, asking me about living in Greenville, working in a library, why I decided to pursue a master’s in teaching instead of library science, when suddenly she slipped in a question that still has me angry:
So, still no boyfriend?
For the record, that is not the same questions as Are you dating anyone? I hated her in that moment. But more so, I hated my response:
No, I’m still single. But, you know, I have lots of friends.
LAME! Now, she is sure to infer from that answer the truth: that all these years later, I still haven’t dated anyone, or even been on a date for that matter. And what is up with my answer? Do I really need to validate to her my vacant love life by telling her how many friends I have?
I wish I were a quick thinker and could have made up some awesome boyfriend on the spot. But I’m a terrible liar, so that never would have worked. More than that, though, I wish that her question hadn’t hurt so much. I wish I didn’t want so badly to prove to people who don’t even matter that I’m better than they think I am–that I’ve changed significantly since those terrible high school years, that I don’t need a boyfriend to make me complete. [There’s the raging feminist in me. 🙂 ] But I still find myself trying to fit into that small-town mold. I feel that these people–Morgan specifically, but maybe others–are asking themselves what’s so wrong about me that, at 24, having seemingly shed that overweight-nerdy-girl reputation, I still can’t get a boyfriend.
I had a two-and-a-half-hour drive back up here this afternoon, and I spent most of that trip stewing over this question, wondering why it affected me so much. Probably because that question seemed to irritate all those insecurities that lie dormant much of the time. I was born in a small-town, and graduated from a small, Christian college, so for the first 22 years of my life, I lived in environments where I was expected to marry young and live happily ever after. Now, I’m adjusting to the mindset that it’s fine to be single at this point in my life. Granted, I’d like to be in a relationship, but I love my life. I love my friends (and you’re not lame, I promise), and I like being independent. I’m in no hurry to get married.
But, of course, there’s always the scared girl inside me who’s trying so hard to be better than just a small-town girl. And she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s not doing a great job. She doesn’t want to let anyone down or make them think that she’s inferior. She wants to feel like she’s not missing out on life–even when she knows there’s so much more than that.