Picture this: a large Laura Ashley furnished living room with a grand piano and polished end-tables filled with young women dressed in pastels. As they’re lined up in a circle, a song was chanted while a lit candle was passed around, from one hand to the next. Until, POOF. Just like that the candle was blown out and the chant is silenced. This momentary silence was followed by a loud unanimous gasp and screams in an octave only to be challenged by a 1950's horror movie.
This cult-like ritual, known as a ‘Candlelight’ ceremony, takes place in a sorority house when an active member gets engaged. None of the other members know who it is until the candle is passed to the bride-to-be, who then coyly blows it out and proceeds to tell the story of the engagement in vivid detail. Once the screaming subsides, of course.
Wildly accepted as the norm in most Southern states, it's a tradition that has always puzzled me. Or maybe it's the idea of being engaged at 21 that puzzles me. Either way, as someone who grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. but migrated south for undergrad, the first time this happened I was part of the choir of screams, but not for the same reason as my ‘sisters.’
I had this notion that marriage was for adults, for people who have done everything they've wanted to do before settling down. It was inconceivable to me that someone not much older than I had found the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. I’m not even happy with the shirt I picked out to wear this morning.
Now as a recent grad, the epidemic has proven even more prevalent in my life, and unfortunately the same goes for my social media feeds. This is problematic for friends still below the Mason-Dixon line because they’re under the impression that this is normal. Just because you haven’t had a “serious boyfriend” since you sparked something with your mixer date sophomore year, doesn't mean you’re destined for solitude and 15 cats.
I find myself speechless when I talk with friends and find that everyone seems to have a boyfriend. Those who don’t are even somewhat shunned from group outings, as if those paired up are trying to spare their poor single friends’ feelings. There’s this conspiracy theory that if you’re not with someone, then you’re not taking life seriously.
This ludicrous idea that you’re not an adult without a serious relationship that’s “going somewhere” is only killing the self-esteem of women who are simply living their 20's or 30's. There are two kinds of women down south. There are women who are successful, confident, empowered, and happily single, and there are other women who have admitted that they would be “devastated” if they weren't married by the time they were 30.
The conviction of the latter type is insulting. There are a lot of happy and, by typical definition, normal couples who get married later in life. It is by no means a measurement of personal or emotional fruitfulness. Because of this abnormal social pressure, it creates stress, a stress so displaced from a lot of other women around the country.
The big question is why do young women feel self conscious about not having that special someone? Social media has made it impossible to escape the reality that some of your friends are taking the plunge a good decade before you’d even commit to buying a nice handbag. But the underlying question is, “Do you want that relationship for yourself, or just feel as if you’re lagging behind your peers?”
This major difference in self-loathing will be the key to discovering what you really want for the future. Desiring that life for personal reasons is very different from setting up a relationship timeline that has gone awry because supposedly you should have met Prince Charming…oh, about five years ago.
This is intended as a plea, an invitation to isolate yourself from what you believe to be accepted culture. Erase from your brain the ideas of high school sweethearts and small-town ideals, because serendipitous moments happen at all stages of life. Not everywhere in the country do weddings commonly occur from the ages of 20-24. Those few years of your early twenties may be seemingly uneventful.
You’re probably stuck in an entry level job, living at home, possibly unemployed, but this is the time in your life when you’re supposed to be looking at yourself as an independent. You’re no longer part of something whether it is a school, a group, or former social circle. You’re arguably back to square one in the game of life, and if you play it right, it could serve as a beneficial springboard into a confident, adult you. It’s valuable to be secure with yourself before you embark on a codependent journey, and you shouldn't be stressed if you’re not ready.
I realize that to anyone who thought this marital trend died with the creation of the 19th Amendment; this concept could seem dated and irrelevant. But, let me assure you: this is a thing of the past. It’s so much a thing today that people aren't logging on to social media in hopes of avoiding a bombardment of shiny fingers. You shouldn't have to block half of your friends from your feed just because you’re not ready to say ‘I Do’. And look at it this way, the earlier you jump into it, the more $4 pillows and coffee mugs you get as gifts. Thank you, wedding party of post-grads.
Wait till you’re 30? Hello, registry filled with requests for fine China.