On a dreary Monday in December, my friend Hannah and I encountered the first avalanche: pictures of our peers’ bedazzled ring fingers spliced together with images of men on bended knee, posted with some version of So lucky to marry my best friend...
The backgrounds of the proposals themselves? Exotic, remote mountaintops. Neon “Marry Me?” shrines illuminated Times Square (somehow amidst stopped traffic). It was not uncommon to see an Eiffel Tower or seven. Perhaps Facebook was playing with our emotions (hint: it was!) by turning our News Feeds, at best, into up-to-the-minute reports on everyone we forgot about from our graduating class, and, at worst, into a digital rom-com pukefest with us as the punch line.
Or, maybe we were just behind on entering the next life stage.
“Did everyone get engaged this weekend? Did we miss the memo to find true love and blast it out to the masses for Likes?” Hannah wrote on gchat.
“Yes. Apparently while we were busy spending our money on cab fare and cheese platters, everyone else has been coupling off.”
It wasn’t that Hannah and I didn’t have our shit together. She had a steady boyfriend and booming professional success as a comedy writer. And even though I still considered boxed mac and cheese to be actual cooking, I was steadily employed, doing laundry fairly often, and not horrifically deformed. All in all not so bad for two 26-year old gals!
But when I saw my News Feed, it hit me that I hadn’t seriously dated anyone in over a year. Before this, I’d had a number of long-term boyfriends. I wondered if from here on out I was doomed to date stereotypes from a New York male compendium: the perma-bachelor ibanker (age 25-55), the Brooklyn computer nerd who loves whiskey and has recently begun to flirt with misogyny now that he can flex financial prowess, the social media “influencer,” the unemployed musician, the unemployed painter, the unemployed freelance anything with a penchant for Nietzsche and a boner for Fellini, etc.
I hadn’t uttered the word “boyfriend” in a long time, and though no one said it, I knew other people were noticing. Namely, my parents.
The feeling grew like a barnacle dressed in poufy white. Hannah and I had to respond before we were swamped in cultural gunk.
A few hours later, Hannah sent me an email entitled “Our Wedding.” Lo and behold, mywedding.com now sported a robust marriage profile detailing our engagement, replete with jokes about New Jersey, anti-vegetarian sentiments, and this opening statement: “Welcome to our horrifying wedding website. Thanks so much for caring about us enough to click on this link to a webpage where an automated system helps us celebrate our love by forcing you to buy shit for us off of Dillards.com. We hope that you'll stay for snacks! There's warm Faygo and a few day-old deviled eggs in the conference room if anyone's hungry.”
I promptly tweeted it out to the masses, as one does when a dear friend fake gay proposes to you with a fake gay wedding website.
Things were going fine several months into my post-non-marital bliss. People continued to announce their weddings while I continued on my career path of becoming the number one boxed mac and cheese consumer in the Western hemisphere, and began casually dating an Italian filmmaker. To my friends, I told the basics. To my parents, I said nothing.
My parents and I are close. I tell them the gist of what goes on in my life, sparing them the noxious details about the amount of street food I actually eat, weird art shows I attend in Lower East Side basements that require you to show up in a leather togas, and the exorbitant amount I spend on insta-rip clothes from Forever 21.
But most especially, I don’t share details about my love life unless someone becomes a serious part of my life. In the past, I had a lot to share with my parents since I’d always had boyfriends. Now I was single, and the situation did not warrant it. And all of this was fine, until my parents decided I was gay.
The phone call went as follows. I conveniently teed my mom up for it by saying something conspicuously hetero: “Hannah and I went to Gay Pride with our lesbian friends this weekend, then broke off from the group to get some wine alone, y’know, just the two of us.” The conversation continued after a pause:
Mom: I need to ask you an uncomfortable question.
Mom: Your father was catching up on the twitter, and he came across a tweet you sent a bit ago that said you and Hannah got married.
Me: What are you asking me?
Mom: I’ll just get to the point. Are you gay, and are you and Hannah married?
Me: ….WHAT?! That was a joke! Did Dad even click on the link? It says we’re registered at Dillards and the dress code is “barefoot beach burger joint chic”!!!
Mom: Well, that’s what I told him, but he wasn’t sure!
Me: Oh my God. Okay. I haven’t had a boyfriend in awhile because I’m too old to continue dating idiots and morons, and I keep meeting exclusively idiots and morons! Do you want me to report to you on every meaningless hook up and bad date that I have?
Mom: You sound like me when I was your age! Ha ha ha! Anyway, I hope you’d tell us if you are gay. Really. We love you no matter what.
Me: IT WAS A JOKE! It says the wedding is in Jersey!!!
It’s kind of sweet that my parents found a gay wedding website, missed the parody entirely, and wanted to let me know that regardless of my sexual orientation, I’d be loved.
Somehow, though, it put me on the defensive: I have no problems being mistaken for gay (although I’d ostensibly like my parents to know my sexual orientation). But because of a mix between a joke site and, most importantly, I suspected, my “long-term” singledom, my sexuality was now up for discussion.
I told my friends the story and most of them laughed. But one friend said, “Well, can you blame them for thinking you’re gay? When’s the last time you had a boyfriend? When’s the last time met someone you thought you’d marry?”
It was only the one woman who said it, but it vocalized the tremors I’d felt among my female peers since the first Facebook proposal arrived.
“Who said I want to be married right now?” I replied.
“Please. You wouldn’t be joking about marriage if you weren’t thinking about marriage yourself.”
The problem isn’t that my friend came to the conclusion that I must want marriage. It’s not that my parents thought I was gay from a wedding website and general silence surrounding my love life. It isn’t even the onslaught of Facebook wedding announcements. The problem is the amalgamation with pop culture and media and history that all women must climb through.
Think of it this way: Someone else’s finger rubs a small circle in your palm, over and over, until the spot reddens and rises up in blister. The problem is not the motion, but the repetition, and in the end the blister is yours to carry.
What I witnessed through my fake gay wedding website is the wake of our cultural benchmarks. The mywedding.com site was for fun, but I know now that even among the most liberal sects of society, feminine sexuality and viability is often valued when it’s publicly proven, when men and marriage are shouted from the rooftops rather than joked about, or worse, kept private. The antithesis of the Like and Share.
Because a woman’s life in many ways is still, still tethered to all those underwater chains, old irons wrought from “marriage” and “children” and “sex” -- nouns that can be surrendered to rather than chosen.