Finding the Art in Everything

22 March, 2008


My sister just got married a week ago, and she is three years younger than me and the third-oldest daughter. Neither my sister nor I, the two oldest siblings, attended, which has prompted a small set of annoying questions about why we weren't there and when we would be getting married.

Rarely do I spend a minute of my day concerned about this, but my demographics, unfortunately, keep it at the forefront of my consciousness. I have taken to
absurdly self-diagnosing my apparently unsuitable status, but it doesn't really fend off the question-posers.

Then I came across this response to The Question on
McSweeny's which I just find brilliant:

Imagine a large painted canvas. Two observers ask the artist questions:

OBSERVER NO. 1: I've never painted landscapes. Where exactly do you start with one?
OBSERVER NO. 2: Why'd you hang this on the wall? Was it too heavy for the refrigerator magnets?

The first is a question; the second is a judgment that rented interrogative punctuation. And that's what "How come you've never been married?" is. Don't forget that. Respectful grownups will not ask a blind person "Who stole your eyes?" and will not ask you why you're not married. I'm not suggesting that people who ask you that are on a mission to wound you (necessarily), but I do think they hope to elevate themselves at your expense. Maybe they just can't imagine someone approaching life milestones at a pace different from their own, or maybe eliciting bitterness from you restores, in their minds, a molecule of cachet to their own frail marriages—they want you to covet what they're stuck with. Whatever the case, it's a question more about them than about you. It's a question posed with zero empathy, so what else could it be?

OK, OK, but what about your response? Outright bitchiness might not be a good idea. It's a megadose of the negativity they want and, as a bonus, makes you seem like the aggressor. But if it's a casual acquaintance asking you the question, I say you're entitled to your own passive-aggressive retort, something like "Well, I hope to soon, but the worst thing to do would be to, you know, settle," or "All the best gambling addicts seem to be taken,"* depending on that person's particular circumstances. More congenially, "I just haven't found the right fella" might be enough to end the exchange quickly. But be warned that anyone impertinent enough to ask you why you've never been married will probably move swiftly to fix you up with a nephew with preternatural sweat issues.

Of course, no one frets more about matrimonial status than parents. They love you, but now their friends' children have babies and strangers at the mall have babies and chimpanzees on the Discovery Channel have babies, and your uterus needs to step up. Your singleness may also raise questions in your folks' minds about your upbringing. Did they set you up for spinsterhood? Should they have forced a Ken doll on you instead of giving in and getting you Barbie's Dream Cats? But you have the right to tell your parents that the question bothers you, that it actually makes you want to talk to them less. They can ask all they want, but they should know that you simply won't be around as often to hear it. It's their choice.
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* If you don't think that's passive-aggressive, you haven't heard my aggressive.

friend of mine hypothesized that McSweeny's might be reading people's brains and posting the contents--at least reading her brain (which is one we frequently share). This material of theirs serves as anything but evidence to the contrary.

1 comment:

and so it is... said...

oh man jess!!!
you don't even know how much i miss you!!! after reading this, i feel ready to jump on a plane to florida... tonight.... if finances permitted, you better believe i would:)
why do you live so far away???
can we chat soon??? it really has been too long.