What does a 31-year-old single woman with a complicated romantic history do when she realizes, “Hey, maybe it’s me”?
When my grandmother turned eighty-five I asked her, Bakka (that’s what we called her) were you excited to get married?
Honestly, she said, Looking back, I really got married because everyone around me was getting married. It seemed like the thing to do. But now, understanding myself, marriage wasn’t for me.
From that very moment, I wondered the same. If marriage wasn’t for my grandmother, was it possible this non-marriage gene had been handed down and marriage wasn’t for me either? I didn’t even consider marriage until my first girlfriend got married at twenty-four. Don’t get me wrong, I had been in love and was in love, but marriage was never on my radar. So, I didn’t dream about wearing a beautiful white dress and declaring my love for another human before all my family and friends — until I witnessed the beauty of marriage as my aunts and cousins bravely embarked on love stories of their own.
I grew up in a house full of women. At first, it was three: my mother, grandmother, and myself. Fifteen years my senior, my brother was soon off to college and rarely came home. When he did, he maintained a very separate space. Then, my aunt, her husband, and their two daughters moved in. They’d lost their business and needed a place to land. It wasn’t long before my uncle left town. So, there we were, a village of six women.
Between the six of us, there was an overflow of estrogen. Daytime soaps were a big deal, we saw everyone off to their school dances, and your first big girl gift was The Period Book — a book on the joys of menstruation. In the absence of a male head of household, the mothers took on every responsibility. They were breadwinners and caretakers. They were engineers and entrepreneurs, all while taking us to and from school, packing lunches, and attending extracurricular functions. I didn’t realize it until much later, but they were superwomen.
They were superwomen who rarely talked about their relationships with men.
My grandmother never mentioned my grandfather. My mother mentioned my father when it was time for our visits. She mentioned my brother’s father, well, when he died. I can’t recall my aunt mentioning my uncle, beyond the brief time he stayed with us. Each of their love stories was complicated.
To be clear, my grandmother, mother, and aunt, always encouraged my cousins, my brother and I to have relationships with our fathers. The notion that ‘jilted women bad mouth old partners’ isn’t absurd — but certainly wasn’t true for our family. My mom and aunt would gush about their own dad. I never got the chance to meet him, but by their accounts, he was perfect. My dad lived a mile away with his wife and my mom encouraged me to see him whenever I wanted. And my cousins’ boundless love for their father was nurtured by their mother.
The question was never about the position these men held in our lives as fathers — but rather as partners, husbands, and soul mates — a phrase I’m confident wasn’t used in the Turner household. My grandmother was married and divorced once. My mother was married and divorced once (though not to my dad). My aunt has been married and divorced and married … she’s the closest related romantic I know. I admire her.
My own romantic history is pretty simple. I fell in love with a boy my freshman year of college– we’d go on to have a fourteen-year saga. Our love story can be summarized by this poem by Nayyirah Waheed:
Return to each
This is how water
Then, 5,110 days into our love story, we dried up. We ran out of ink, or pages, or whatever, and suddenly were in two different books. I, the furthest thing from a romantic, was ready for the next step — the white dress and the declaration of love! But it’s funny, as quickly as I’d given power to the notion of the festivities, I realized none of the pomp and circumstance mattered.
In love, the diamond ring doesn’t matter. The white dress doesn’t matter. Your two-hundred friends and family don’t matter. The only thing that matters is your person meeting you where you are. Mine didn’t.
When mourning a relationship, once you let go of the hurt, the should-haves, and the what-ifs, you eventually come to the big question, the question that will hopefully open you up and prepare you for your person: How have my own beliefs and behavior informed my relationships and how can I keep the good and drop the bad? And when you’re in this place, memories begin to surface. The first memory that came to mind, a brunch with my then long-term boyfriend and my cousin. Her response after spending time with him: He’s attractive. A little strange, quiet even, but that makes sense, because you’re hard.
Hard like a parmesan or like a cheddar, I asked.
What’s harder than parmesan, she asked, deadly serious.
While this was the first time I’d been compared to cheese, it wasn’t my first time being considered, let’s say ‘less than spreadable’ when it came to men. In fact, many years prior, that same cousin invited me to lunch with a male friend of hers. When the tortilla chips and margaritas were done for, the bill had been split, and we’d said our goodbyes to her dear friend (who I haven’t seen or heard mention of since) she’d asked,
Why were you so mean?
I literally had zero clue what she meant. As far as I was concerned, I’d been quite lovely, even charming! I was by no means interested in this man, but I thought I’d been super-amazingly-treat-him-how-I’d-like-to-be-treated the entire time. From her perspective, that wasn’t the case. And it seemed my treatment of men wasn’t exactly isolated. Years later, I found myself discussing marriage with that very same cousin and she’d made a decision,
When I get married, I’m not telling anyone in the family. I’m just going to do it. We’re too negative about men and marriage.
After all of this I began to wonder… How was I interacting with the men in my life and why? Did it have to do with my estrogen-heavy upbringing? Did I inherit more of my grandmother’s “Marriage Not for Me” genes, than my aunt’s “Romantics Are Rewarded”?
Now, 31 and single, living in Los Angeles – -a city where you often have to import partners — with a complicated romantic history of my own, I find myself in search of my partner while simultaneously unpacking my own assumptions. Perhaps if I unpack carefully and thoroughly enough, I’ll make room for my man. This column is an invitation to my journey as I go IN SEARCH OF. In Search Of: The Rules, In Search Of: Serendipity, In Search Of: Myself, and In Search Of: My Soul Mate. Maybe we’ll learn together, hopefully you’ll be entertained, and God willing, I will find what I’m looking for.