My best friend is getting married (in three weeks). In fact, in the last four months, three of my close friends have tied the knot. I can remember having “waiting to exhale” conversations with all three of these friends (one of them male) about the improbability and impossibility that true, enduring, forever-type love was possible for us. And so we imagined alternate endings to would-be fairy tales and held fast to each other in what felt like our perpetual singleness. And we had some good times and some hilarious conversations over glasses of wine, inexpensive meals (the male and I were on graduate student budgets), and long distance phone calls. I watched on the sidelines, only partially participating in the last two years, as we un/successfully trekked along waiting for love and trying not to settle in the meantime. And we dated and dabbled and tried on various imitations of love and distracted ourselves with the details of everyday life (grinding hard, raising children, going to school, making love without commitments, and watching soap operas for fleeting moments of romance). And we waited. And waited. And waited. We waited while holding our breath, as if the love-thing would just happen with no warning or effort, and the anticipation itself would build and make the exhale that much more exhilarating. But the waiting didn’t do it. My best friend met her soon-to-be-husband at a New Year’s cookout that she almost declined attending because of a bad bout of the flu. I encouraged her to go, saying, “you could meet your husband there.” (I have always been rather clairvoyant).
My other friend, who is ten years older than me, gorgeous and definitely wifey-material, saw her now-husband on facebook, a site she had intentionally avoided for years and is now no longer actively using (she jokes that she got what she needed from facebook—her husband!). Her husband’s face was one she recognized from her childhood. After marrying other people and growing into who they are, they re-connected, fell in love, got married and honeymooned in Hawaii.
And my homeboy, well his dream girl was in his life all along on the periphery. She was his friend from college who held all of the calm he needed to complete the life he was building. Once they were official he told me that the next time I saw him he would probably be engaged. I attended his fabulous outdoor cookout-style wedding on the water a few weekends ago in Florida.
In a time when black love feels impossible, and we are constantly bombarded with messages of its demise, it is refreshing to have friends who are happily in love and committing to love. And it is especially encouraging that they are with the people they wished and prayed for all along, not substitutes or good-enough versions of what they really wanted. Being single into your thirties always leads to the chance of running out of time or options…and the fear of settling (whatever that means).
Years ago my best friend and I compiled lists of our “ideal” mate. We were encouraged to specifically name everything that we wanted in a future husband and to keep the list in a place where we could remind ourselves of our standards. I wrote an early version of my list in pencil, just in case I changed my mind about dealbreakers that seemed so significant in my early twenties and less relevant in my late twenties (and let’s not forget that who we are and what we want when we are 18 is not the same when we are 28, or hell, even 25). I came across my final list a few weeks ago, written in pen with the non-negotiables highlighted in yellow. At the time I wrote it (about five years ago) it felt lofty but I was optimistic and convinced that the only way I could be truly happy was with the man I had written out on paper. Now, I realize that my happiness is a personal endeavor, something I am independently responsible for. But while I have been focused on loving myself fiercely, unapologetically and utterly…I am still checking for the love list!
I often argue with my students when I try to explain to them that love is an action word, and that it is a choice, not an emotion. Love feels like lust at first, during the initiation and honeymoon stage of a relationship, but after that…the real love starts, the love that is not based on the woozy feeling you get when that special someone walks in the room or calls/texts your phone. Love is the decision to stay after your first major argument. Love is coming home at night when you have an invitation to go elsewhere. Love is seeing yourself with someone through the calamities and celebrations of life, through their good and bad moments, with or without vows. Love is commitment.
When I read over my list, which includes my preference of a man with beautiful eyes and a soulful spirit who will be affectionate and affirming and open doors for me (yes, feminists like chivalry too) I realized that my list was not un-realistic or lofty. Don’t get me wrong, I fully aspire to fall in love with a man so beautiful (inside/out) that he gives me butterflies… but the majority of my list focused on character and demeanor and the capacity to love… Who knew, the baby-thug of my teenage dreams is not the desire of my grown-ass woman heart.
I am hopeful that love is possible for everyone, in all of its various manifestations (not wholly heterosexual or monogamous or conventional or even romantic). And while I don’t necessarily believe that “there is someone out there for everyone,” or that we all have “one true soul mate” (I mean, what if my ONE true soul mate lives in Korea and we never meet?) I do think that under the right circumstances, at the right time, with the right person, all kinds of things are possible. And when you think about it, love is a miraculous thing. It is as much a miracle as making a baby, which though seemingly innocuous and ubiquitous takes perfect timing and synergy. Out of all of the times of making love, making a baby can only occur when specific factors fall in line (so too, with falling in love).
So while I am not sure that marriage is a viable option for me, or that my love list will manifest into my life partner, and while I am not particularly interested in or invested in traditional representations of commitment, I could not be more happy for my best friend (and my other two newlywed friends) and the love she (they) found. And while she is standing at the altar, dressed in her flowing white dress, holding hands with her future husband and making promises of fidelity and forever, I will be on the sidelines, crying my eyes out, breathing in deep, and finally, finally, finally exhaling (for her).
Shout out to everyone in love and summer weddings!!!