The right idea…
In the South, we marry young, often because we have kids even younger. There are a number of reasons for this trend, but to name a few…
One: you can buy a decent house here for well under $100,000, so a couple of 18-year-old kids can actually afford to care for themselves.
Two: our parents did it and still effectively force smiles for the family photo.
Three: if you have sex before marriage, you will get syphilis of the broken heart and Jesus will personally punch you in the head (or so say our middle school “sex education” classes).
Four: country music said it was romantic
Mostly, we just make bad decisions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some of these marriages that work, against all odds. Mine, however, was not one of them. Married at 19 (for an astounding number of terrible reasons), I divorced at 23 and can name at least 10 people in my graduating class who also want to start a club. One issue with marrying so young remains consistent regardless of location or motivation. When you marry at 19, you miss out on a ridiculous number of milestones and experiences that everyone else your age is having; or, in my hometown, that half of the people your age are having while the other half prepare for their inevitable divorces right along with you.
After high school has ended, we have the chance to go to parties and find other people our age who like the same weird crap we do and introduce each other to new things. We date and realize how and where to meet people, express an interest in them, recognize their interest in ourselves. We discover a personal style and catch up on any of the things we didn’t learn in high school, like how to flirt and dress up for a night out without looking too slutty. We discover what’s attractive on some and what works and doesn’t work for us. We learn how to let someone down easy or bounce back from a brush off. Maybe we even begin doing things alone and becoming comfortable with who we are. As I said, we have the chance. We also have the chance to throw it all away for a white dress that would’ve fit 10 years later and a whole lot of screaming.
Soooo… fast forward five years later. The divorce from the first boy you ever kissed is finalized. The crying and drunken phone calls have ended. You’re moving on. It’s healthy. And you have no idea what the fuck you are doing.
Divorce is bad enough on its own. You’re humiliated and you feel like you have to explain the story to everyone who hears the D word, so they’ll understand you’re not just careless with the sacred institution of marriage. Only, if you do, you’re that crazy woman who just told someone her life story for no apparent reason. You feel like a failure and if you’re religious, you feel like you pissed all over the Bible. Everyone acts like they knew it was coming from day one and you’re angry because they never told you. Logically, you know you wouldn’t have listened, but you’re furious at them for letting you get married and yourself for being stupid enough to do it in the first place. Everyone assumes you want them to badmouth the ex, but then you feel like an idiot for ever seeing anything in them. You have moments of such intense anger and hatred, you feel like no good and decent person could possibly think such thoughts. These are standard divorce feelings, from what I’ve heard, regardless of age.
A 23-year-old divorcée, however, has these and a whole host of excitingly unique problems. While everyone else was growing and adapting to the previously mentioned scenarios, I had stalemated as a person. Emotionally, I was still 19. Before my ex-husband, I’d never dated. At all. So upon my divorce at 23, I still had the dating skills of the 12-year-old who used to watch and rewatch the same episode of Roswell, desperately wishing she’d magically wake up Liz Parker. I had never changed a tire or filed my taxes or fried an egg. If you think growing up and learning how to be a big girl is embarrassing at 14, try doing it at 24.
Living day to day as a single adult is a completely foreign concept when you’ve been with someone else since you were a child. Waking up in the middle of the night and knowing that you’re the only one to care for you is terrifying. The first time you get sick and no one is there to give a crap, you openly hope it’s Ebola and that all of this will be over soon. Knowing, without a doubt, that you are the only one paying the bills or cooking dinner or hanging photos or getting the oil changed or making the big decisions will cause you to hyperventilate. It’s half the reason you stayed married so long. Even buying your first vibrator is an admittance that you are all alone and caring for yourself entirely. That is scary as shit to someone who has at least been able to pretend someone else was carrying their share of the weight their entire adult life. These are just basic day to day functions, like learning to cook because that was the one thing he would do. However, while you’re fumbling to act like a grown up, you also get to face looking like one.
Bow chicka wow wow…
When you’re struggling to put food on the table and finish college, sex appeal just isn’t a priority. I had to learn, at 23, that hair can do something other than ponytails and braided pigtails. My best friend and a damned Youtube video taught me to apply eyeliner. Multiple times I have stood weeping in a dressing room because I don’t know how to be grown up. One month, I decided I needed a more attractive walk. In my defense, I based this on an interview seminar where the speaker demonstrated the importance of standing up straight. But the forced sway, was all my addition. I thought my usual clumsy stumbling must make me look immature. Only after seeing one of my guy friends imitate said walk, did I realize I looked like someone trying to balance on stilts without stilts. This was nothing compared to the actual interview that involved heels so high, I hobbled in and fell over, praying the manager didn’t see and ran out barefoot with similar aspirations. Figuring out that dresses are a thing, however, is hardly the most terrifying aspect of being suddenly single, though. If trying to master acting and looking like a grown up, simultaneously, when everyone else is years ahead of you, wasn’t daunting enough, there’s dating.
A common issue for even us young divorcées, is that we wonder if we have time to meet anyone else. In the South, we truly are rushed to meet, marry, and procreate as soon as possible. Your 20s don’t really exist. The people who didn’t get married the year you graduated high school are mostly married just five years later. So, not only are you single after the divorce, you are the only single person ever, making dating even less appealing.In my case, I seemed to have polar opposite reactions to men. I either thought they looked at me and internally mooed or they were desperately clutching locks of my hair at night. My first blunder in this area was with a dear friend, who helped me through my divorce. I was on the rebound, terrified of the future, feeling lonely. Chad was kind and supportive and kept me company through my constant texting. Our mutual friends always made jokes about us being in love. I suppose these things naturally led to my conclusion that Chad, indeed, had feelings for me. He did not. The awkwardness between us passed and we are great friends to this day, despite the time I tried to kiss him because I figured it would finally set things straight. (Don’t do that.) But even now, a year and a half after the papers were signed, I’m still screwing up my signals.
Online dating was an obvious first choice. I still consider this a valid option. Many people do it and the percentage of them that are nuts is the same as in a local club. Only they don’t usually let you know this by grabbing your ass and saying you owe them for it, so you should come back to their place. The first time around, I wasn’t ready and stopped talking to the guy after he asked to meet me. The second time around, about a year after the divorce, I talked to a new guy for far too long, before meeting him, because he was overseas. He was mostly a nice guy, though too old for me at 30. I felt nothing and purposefully left my phone and purse at the table when I went to the restroom so I wouldn’t talk myself into bolting. Once he informed me that there was no way my divorce was as bad as his, I regretted this decision and ended the date with “I’ll text you.” He never heard from me again.
In hindsight, I regret the way I treated Combat Brian. I should have informed him I felt nothing instead of ignoring him. But this goes along with all of the things everyone else knows how to do at 24. I had no idea how to tell the guy I wasn’t feeling it and figured he’d get the point when he never heard from me again. He may think I’m dead. While Combat Brian did deserve a bit more respect, despite calling my marriage (about which he knew nothing) a bouncy castle, The Air Traffic Controller who told me he ran over a cat on his bike and was pissed that it may have broken his wheel, did not. He had weirdly placed ears, swore too much, didn’t tip the waitress, and told me I was in idiot if I paid less than $2,000 for a bicycle. He texted constantly, even when I didn’t answer. (What the hell? Who does that? Someone with a vagina, that’s who.) So, again, I employed my trademark finesse and just stopped speaking to him. I’m not sorry. However, in the moment he texted me when he saw me at Chick Fil A, I was indeed a bit remorseful… in my pick of restaurants. I smoothly told him I was busy with finals and not deceased. Having more dating experience than I, he took this for what it was, me blowing him off.
Every now and then, I’ll think I’m getting better at this whole thing. I can put on my eyeliner in under a minute. I’ve only found myself stuck in a dress in a department store, near tears, once in the last month. I love living alone and can make Hamburger Helper. I pay my bills and handle rejection from a man I meet online with just enough grace. I feel like I’ve got it all under control. That’s when I do something completely fucking insane.
Bartender was a boy I knew in high school and, something I discovered only recently, worked at a popular restaurant. He’s flirty with a tongue piercing and not my type at all. For some reason, I decided that this was just what I needed. I often feel behind for the fact that my Magic Number is a whopping ONE. Yes. Take the number of people you’ve slept with and divide it by itself and you’ve got mine. I figured casual dating wouldn’t be the worst idea when Bartender wanted to hang out. I took this as a date. He claims he didn’t, but I think he just took the chance to declare crossed signals after I drowned him in text messages for a week and Gail convinced me to send him a sexual solicitation just to see what he’d say. I got $24 for said text and hysterically cried to another friend:
“I suck at this. I have no idea what I’m doing. At least other girls sort of know where they stand. They can look at an orange and think ‘Oh, a fruit’, but I look at an orange and think ‘Yay! A bicycle!.”
After things didn’t seem like they could get any worse, I kept texting him to convince him that I wasn’t insane. At first, it was in the way you’d expect, by explaining the situation… way too many times.Then it was at one week intervals, about unrelated things.
“See. I couldn’t have feelings for you when I’m just texting about True Blood. I’m so casual and smooth. Not crazy at all. Right? I mean, that’s what you’re getting out of this, isn’t it?………..
Lafayette’s my favorite.”
Finally, I’ve realized that the best case scenario here is that the heavy drug use will wipe me from his memory. Really? What was I thinking?
But all of this has taught me some valuable lessons. I now know to let them come to me if I don’t want to risk rejection. I also know that endless texting is really fucking annoying, no matter your intentions. Even the constant self-consciousness has faded a bit. I can now go to a movie alone and not wonder if everyone around me is whispering about why a woman is seeing a movie by herself. (I swear, humans are ridiculously self-centered and Facebook is not helping to convince us that we aren’t constantly being watched.)
This is what everyone in the theater sees…
However, I still find myself assessing every man in the room and looking for a ring. I wonder what they think of me, whether I’d be interested or not. If a sleeve tattoo is one that covers your arm, then the tattoo artist who touched up my foot yesterday had a ski mask. I still could not stop thinking about how badly I wished I’d shaved my feet before this. I may be able to sit through the movie alone, but it’s still awkward to eat out. I know that if I couldn’t take the most basic rejection, I really couldn’t handle a one-night-stand. My brother tells me all the good men are taken at my age and I can hear my biological clock ticking because I wasted so many good years and everyone in the South thinks your soul has died if you don’t have a family of your own by now. I still sometimes cry in the dressing room because I don’t know if I look edgy or silly.
Appropriate for my first day of work, right?
But sometimes, another girl from high school tells me she’s getting divorced and I have some insight. I can relate to how she feels and let her know that, of all places, our hometown is the place to not feel alone in this. And lastly, I can remember that I’d rather be weeping in a dress, because I don’t know if it fits correctly, than weeping in wedding dress because I know it’s all wrong.