With every wedding invitation comes a guilt of not feeling as excited for the friend-you-love’s big day. And a fear that easily turns into anxiety, as everyone you love gets married.
A voice in my head goes on and on: Everyone is getting married and I’m not. The last wedding I attended, the bride promised to seat me at the singles’ table so I could meet, well, single people. I breathed a sigh of relief, but thoughts still lingered in my mind. There’s an undeniable feeling in the air when it comes to going to your friend’s wedding: Is something wrong with me for not finding love?
Doubt, self-pity, doubt, self-pity. On repeat.
The wedding where I was supposed to be seated at the singles’ table was a destination wedding nonetheless, which meant flight, cab, hotel, and shopping, because you have to try the local ice cream and buy yourself a local island designer necklace. All the costs that I don’t get to split with someone because #single.
When being single feels like being singled out
All dressed up and filled with excitement, I followed the hostess to the singles’ table, only to discover one other single woman … and a number of kids aged 6 to 15. I was confident the hostess got the wrong table number. Maybe so many people arrived at the same time. Or she meant another Jessica who was 12 years old. But no, she insisted that the bride referred to this as the singles’ table.
I started feeling even more anxious, but buried those feelings with two glasses of champagne and a conversation with a 12-year-old about Pokémon Go.
I couldn’t put a name on my mounting anxiety since I received my first wedding invite in my mid-20s (still far from having my own) until I read this new research in a 2011 article by The Guardian about British psychologists who coined the expression “quarter-life crisis.” They describe it as “educated twenty and thirtysomethings most likely to be hit by pre-midlife blues.”
We all feeling anxious about a number of things, and our friends moving on before us doesn’t help. The Guardian article points to a survey undertaken by Gumtree.com, the United Kingdom’s version of Craigslist. It found that 86 percent of the over 1,000 young people questioned admitted feeling under pressure to succeed in their relationships, finances, and jobs before hitting 30.
Where did this deadline of 30 come from? And how arbitrary is it? Why is it that we have to have everything figured out so fast? Aren’t we supposed to be living till 90?
But wait, the majority of my contemporaries are single, too
It’s hard to think about it in the bigger picture. Wedding season has a strange way of making it feel like everyone is saying “I do.” But it turns out that being single in your late 20s or 30s is normal. Gallup statistics show that in 2014:
- only 16 percent of people under 29 were married
- only 14 percent of young people were living with a partner
- 64 percent of respondents were single and had never married
Additionally, marriage rates for people in their 30s have also started to decline — just 56 percent of thirtysomethings were married in 2014.
Knowing this data helps me normalize my feelings, but when my therapist friend tried to dig more into why I felt anxious around wedding season, the real answer came up: I don’t think I’ll ever find love.
You might be idealizing
It turns out that wedding ceremonies — a highlight on a couple’s path — had become idealized Disney love stories in my head, making me feel even more disappointed with my previous relationships and even dating life.
Disappointment = expectations - reality.
I was looking into my small bubble and comparing myself to the people who hit milestones faster than I did. Which makes me feel like a failure ... which makes me even more anxious and in turn harder to connect with.
While comparing is a natural frame of looking at the world, I must remind myself that it’s also a source of misery. It’s like constantly comparing apples to bananas. No two people have the same ancestors, the same environment of growing up, the same health, the same anything. We are all unique and on our own personal journey.
Out of my head, into my heart
I keep self-reminders: Be grateful. Have fun. It’s hard to force gratitude, but a practice can eventually alter a state of being. Writing down three things you’re grateful for in life can be a powerful tool.
List all the things you’re looking forward to at a wedding you’re attending. What are your wishes for the couple? What can you learn from their love story? Dance. Celebrate life and love. Love is not limited to romance. Love is what keeps the world turning. It’s a blossoming flower, a stranger’s hug, a full moon on the beach.
Most importantly, never shame the emotion
J.K. Rowling once wrote, “The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made … was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else.”
Shame is a toxic emotion. We often don’t recognize it, but it goes as such in this situation: I feel anxious about my best friend getting married and me being single. I shouldn’t feel that way. I’m a bad friend. A bad person.
This is also known as self-hate.
I’m here writing this to let you know that it’s normal to feel things, especially difficult emotions. It’s okay to feel lonely, left out, scared.
I’m here to also tell you to externalize the emotion: Write it down, speak to a trusted friend about it, make art out of it. Whatever it is, don’t let yourself hang in shame.
But also, a word to friends getting married
Be thoughtful about your plus-one process. For example, you might not want to give everyone a plus-one unless someone’s married. That way, the person attending won’t feel stressed to bring a plus-one and the wedding has more of a community feel.
Be vulnerable. Remind us that companionship is hard work, especially for the long term. You’ve been single before, you know how it feels. But single or not, there’s a world of joy, hope, and love waiting for everyone. Sometimes the singles’ table just needs a reminder.
Get us all involved in your wedding in some way. Connect the single people before the wedding to organize lodging, dinners, and gifts. Maybe invite us to think about the people we love, or what love means to us.
And, most importantly, make sure the singles’ table has actual single adults.
Jessica writes about love, life, and what we’re scared to talk about. She’s been published in Time, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and more, and is currently working on her first book, “Child of the Moon.” You can read her work here, ask her anything on Twitter, or stalk her on Instagram.