The date was marked in my Google calendar. A friend had sent the invite. I was supposed to get married this weekend.
If you’re wondering where your invitation is, well, it’s not happening.
In 2008, I moved back to the US from China. My goals were grad school and going back abroad. I had this suspicion that romance might derail those plans since I’d observed men did not give up their careers or goals and move for their women but the other way around. When I tell people I didn’t go on a single date the four years between returning to America and moving back abroad in 2012 they think I’m crazy. I considered it protecting my future. I ended up going to my first choice grad school program and got my dream job abroad right after. I’d avoided the Thing That Jeopardizes Your Dream: men.
When I came back to the States however, ⅓ of my motivation was a desire to marry. It wasn’t that I wanted to get married urgently, but that I thought I might like to marry eventually. Being a black woman in Asia was practically begging to die single. The white men I encountered in Asia always had a thing for Asian women. The Asian men—whether expats from other parts of Asia or local—also preferred Asian women. And finally, the only group I feel I might have had any real chance of success with however small—black men—were nowhere to be seen. This could not be the place I put down roots, another ⅓ of my motivation, if I ever wanted to get married. So, I returned.
On May 15 I will have been back for four years. This wedding was to be what would keep me here despite my body’s internal clock feeling the pull back to adventure abroad. Reflecting on this a year ago with a friend, I told her I had no real reason to stay. Work prospects weren’t compelling, I’d placed myself in an environment where my “odds” of finding a partner were only marginally improved over living in Asia, what ever would keep me here? My friend said, “Well, we just have to get you married before May 15th to keep you from leaving.” With May 15 just days away, it seems unlikely I’ll be able to pull that off. (I do have a couple dresses in my closet that might do the trick…)
There are times when nostalgia strikes and I want to go back. I miss speaking another language daily for work, the excitement of learning a new place and culture, getting clothes tailored, easy access to good food all the time, adventure upon adventure. I’m also no closer to realizing what I came back for: it’s been hard to make real progress paying off my school loans the past two years, roots are elusive when your city is transient and your work unstable, and marriage, if it happens at all, is far in the distance—which is fine by me.
At some point since moving to DC my desire to get married has dulled. Or maybe my desire for other things has overtaken it. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t welcome marriage if the right opportunity presented itself but it’s just not something I actively pursue or think about nor is my singleness something I feel sad about. Praise God for that.
The last time I was home, one of my uncles took me aside and said that he and my other uncles were worried about me. I have, for all my life, had the luxury of not having family members nag or question me about my timeline for marriage. When my girlfriends complain about their mothers pressuring them, I’m grateful that has not been my experience. It doesn’t come up during holidays unless I bring it up and no one has made me feel like I’m not where I should be. Until this time. It was even more puzzling because I have 5 aunts and uncles and none of them are married. But perhaps this is precisely why the warning.
I guess I could understand his concern. He was worried I’d get to the end of life and look back with regret that I hadn’t had companionship. To be honest, the thought had crossed my mind once. When my grandmother died two years ago, I emailed friends confessing, “The first thing that brought tears to my eyes about my grandmother’s death was that my grandpa sat by her bed leading up to it…I wondered if I would die alone with no one by my side.”
Some people might see being 34 and having been single for all but six months of that as something to pity but, in all honesty, not really knowing what I’m missing has made it easier and has maybe even been a gift. But it also doesn’t feel like I’m missing anything either. I don’t know how you could possibly make my life more full. If life were a plate of food, I feel like I’ve licked mine clean.
My uncle worried that when I got old, my friends, my church friends and what I’ve done for the church won’t be there for me the way a companion would and that in hindsight, they may matter less then than I think they do now. In that moment, I wondered: How had he experienced friendships that this could be true? How had he experienced Christian community? How had he experienced God? Did he know the joy of intimacy with him or serving him?
The only reference I have for what it looks like to grow old “alone” is the past 34 years of growing older. But not a day of it has been alone. I don’t see friends, or the love and presence of God, or ministry as consolation prizes. And I don’t see marriage as an upgrade but as a lateral move. I told my uncle I was fine and he didn’t need to worry about me and asked if he’d prefer I make myself miserable about something I don’t have or make the best of what I do.
In response to the email about my grandmother, several friends wrote back with words of reassurance. One said, “I know that will not be true for you. Knowing you, you are more likely to die surrounded by a village of people than alone.” I think the thing that would be really sad to me, is to look back at this fertile season of singleness at 60 either still single or married, and to feel that I’d squandered it in the single-minded pursuit of marriage rather than ministry or complained my way through it revealing a flawed understanding of God and His value. If it’s not my portion it’s not my portion. I don’t see it as lack.
So if marriage isn’t keeping me in the US now what is?
This village. The great roots experiment. The chance to love and learn a city well. Figuring out what long-term, face-to-face friendships look like. Being known across seasons. Eagerly serving my church. So for this wedding, I could take it or leave it. If it comes it comes. But it won’t find me idle.