Saturday, January 11, 2014

You're Next!

"You're next!"

These words were spoken to me more than once today when I attended a dear friend's wedding reception. It's a cheerful, hopeful prediction (or perhaps a portent of impending doom) pronounced at nearly every reception I go to and generally spoken by those who know me well and wish me well, although there have been times past where complete strangers have told me so, leaving me to wonder if someone stamped "Single" on my forehead, for why would you say that to a complete stranger whom you don't know might have been first?.

The bride and groom were radiant, as they ought to be, and I saw many friends I'd not seen in awhile. Weddings are always awesome for that; they are better than Facebook for reestablishing contact with people, and the happiness of a new marriage is often reflected in the countenances of those recently (within the past three years) wed and those who have been happily joined since time began. It is as if a wedding reminds people of how the world ought to run. I saw many people I met during the six years I (not always cheerfully) served as a stake single adult representative (and where I became friends with the bride). Some had, as the saying goes, "graduated from the program", and others like me who are not deliberately holding back, but simply haven't found their companion yet.

I chatted with each of my friends in turn. I filled a plate with nutritious snacks and then I got some cake. I took some pictures. I threatened the groom that I would hurt him if he hurt my friend (as I always do when it is a female friend I am attending the reception of) and received a promise that he would not hurt her and we both acknowledged that she would probably take him out herself so I would not need to. If the traditional garter flipping was performed, it happened before I arrived and I'm okay with that because it is a custom I've always disdained and generally succeed in making myself scarce for anyway.

And I was told more than once "You're next." It's a phrase which once annoyed me. Not because I have any sort of animus against such an event, but because it seems too often said in the spirit of judgement, as if I am not trying hard enough, or in the spirit of assurance and consolation, as if I came not for the purpose of sharing the happiness of a friend, as I supposed, but rather to wallow in the misery of what I do not have, a pastime I learned long ago I can enjoy from the comfort of my own home with a large bag of Cheetos. Somewhere along the line, I do not know where, I had a couple of epiphanies: first, that I myself am a better judge of what I am and am not doing to procure my eternal bliss; and second, the sympathy offered me at such times, though unwarranted, is not falsely nor insincerely given. Once I accepted those two truths, I was no longer frustrated by the words, only frustrated by what to say next, something to effectively end that particular thread of conversation. Today I tried, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm immune", meant tongue-in-cheek but only my closest friends grasp my brand of humor. It was met with responses like "You just need to know marriage is about choice and commitment, not whether you're immune or not" and "It takes time and that time is different for everyone." Both sentiments I fully agree with.

I especially agree with the time factor. I have long believed that "it takes as long as it takes", and the passage of time has only solidified that belief. For some people it takes five years, for others, five days, and I've known a couple for whom it seemingly took about five minutes. None is more "right" than the other. The five year people are not necessarily dragging their feet and the five day people are not necessarily rushing into it without proper thought. And I wish people would stop ascribing motivations to the actions of others when no one on the planet is as adept at mind and heart reading as they believe themselves to be. I've known the five-day people who are happily married thirty years later, and I've known five-year people who were divorced the following year. No intelligent person sets out to fail at marriage. No person honest with themselves leaps into marriage expecting perfection, and becoming quickly disabused of that notion fails to grasp that it's going to take a whole lot of work by both parties.

Yet I think we as singles too often allow the expectations and hopes of others for us, no matter how kindly they be, remain simply that: the hopes and expectations of others for us. We push aside our own expectations and beliefs, somehow believing they are invalid and we are somehow doing it all wrong, borne out by the fact that everyone else on the planet is married but us. Somehow I don't think our Heavenly Father wants us to equate marriage and misery. But we're willing to push aside our own wishes, desires, dreams and expectations for those who really have less insight into our lives than we do, and that itself leads to misery. Not even our hoped-for spouses should have that kind of power over our lives.

By that, I am most decidedly not saying we shouldn't make sacrifices for the one we love and hope to spend eternity with. We should. But those sacrifices should be for the edification of both parties, not at the expense of our true selves. I recently read a blog which told the story of a future father-in-law giving the counsel that "marriage isn't for you, it is for the other person." As we truly seek another's happiness and fulfillment, a natural byproduct of those selfless actions is a greater fulfillment of our own needs, often through the person we've just served.

Another way to look at it came from a young single adult fireside I went to many years ago. I haven't been a "young single" for two decades now, and it was no small number of years before that. But despite it being in my ancient past, I've not forgotten the concept, even if I don't remember the exact words. Our speaker drew two circles on the chalkboard, drew lines down the centers of each, and erased half the circle of each and asked us how many believed that marriage is two half people coming together to form a whole. I think he backed up that philosophy by reminding us we cannot achieve the highest degree of Celestial Glory without a companion. Many agreed, others including myself did not but weren't immediately able to say why we disagreed. A discussion ensued. The final verdict was a marriage is two people who are as whole as they can be by themselves, coming together and committing to stay together to complement one another; when one is only at half their true self then the other performs at one-and-a half to bring them back to wholeness again, and ideally, they complement one another the rest of their lives.

And that's what I saw today as I watched couples brand new, mostly new, and experienced veterans. I saw a whole lot of wholeness. Sometimes it's hard to remember what I believe, specifically that I believe "it takes as long as it takes", and it's the Lord's timetable and not my own I need to get in sync with, that I need to trust. Wholeness takes time and needs to be replenished often, individual wholeness as well as in a companionship. So I am thinking that "Wholeness" might be my theme for this year. Not being "Next", but being Whole.

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