Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ms. Independent

Yesterday was the first time I've ever personally heard my mother be disingenuous about my having never married.

We were in the waiting room at her cardiologist's office in Louisville when she struck up a conversation with the wife of another patient. It turned out that they were from Smalltownland- we knew them, of course, but had not seen them in many years. They used to live next door to Dad's original medical partner, and the wife once drove an unfortunately-hued brown Mercedes that was quite the object of derision for a while. Society matrons tended to drive vehicles of the following colors: silver, banker's grey, pale metallic beige, black, navy blue, or maroon then, and the fashion-forward medium brown Mercedes was not well-regarded.

My mother and this lady had never been friends or moved in the same social circles, so the conversation was understandably confined to neutral topics, such as the sudden and tragic death of my father's best friend back at Christmas and my beloved childhood dentist's increasing dementia. In the course of the conversation, the lady asked my mother about my sister and whether she was married. The topic turned to the other doctor's daughter, who, like me, has never married and is very career-oriented. My mother said, lightly, "Oh, she's a lot like AiredaleGirl; too independent to even consider it, I think."

If you're unfamiliar with Southern conversational mores, that was shorthand for, "I know you're planning to go clucking to everyone you know about how my daughter never could find a husband, so I'm just going to cut you off at the pass." Mom had already mentioned my full professorship earlier in the conversation, but the fact that she felt the urge to qualify both mine and Michelle's (she's an MD in Manhattan, by the way) unmarried state really floored me. In some ways, it was a shot at the woman to whom she was speaking, who had a college education but had never aspired to more than being her husband's secretary and trophy wife, but the other edge of the sword was her obvious belief that I'm too flawed to find a husband.

My anxiety over this was serious enough that I had nightmares about it. I've been engaged twice; the first one wanted me to give up college to start having babies for him at nineteen. The second one was, shall we say, rather liberal with his attentions...and the day that I was confronted with the unequivocal truth of it, I clocked him in the head with a hundred-dollar Mason-Pearson hairbrush at twenty paces- and that's ten years of my life that I'll never get back. I was so far in denial that I should've applied for Egyptian citizenship, but his was the engagement ring I was sporting in the Smalltownland Pizza Hut on a certain fateful December night...I'd "made my bed, and had to lie in it". (I was not, however, prepared to share it; thus the end of the engagement.)

It's not the The Boyfriend doesn't want to marry me- in fact, he's more anxious to get married than I am. I just don't like uncertainty, and there's just a little too much of that floating around these days for my taste. It's not that I can't, or won't, get married- I've had a couple of bad experiences and I just haven't. Of course, at my sister's wedding reception, it was a tableful of my father's colleagues and their wives who came to my defense when Dad announced, "Thank God I'll never have to do this again," meaning 'participate in a wedding'. First, the orthopedic surgeon said, "You have another daughter," and then when Dad repeated himself for emphasis, his best friend added, "Who is standing directly behind you." My father probably doesn't remember it, but I certainly do.

A lot of my friends are married or have been married, past tense. That suits them perfectly fine, and I'm happy for them. I just wish my mother hadn't decided that at this late date that she needs to make excuses for why I'm not married.

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