Miss Independent: Staying happily single against the odds
She was the kind of woman who butchered her own meat, baked her own bread and could tell north from south, no matter where she was. During her 94 years, she raised seven children, withstood illness and poverty, and by steadfast example taught me to be true to myself at all costs, especially when it hurt.
She was my grandmother and she was fierce.
Born to German immigrants in 1915, from the beginning her life was all about hard work. Her family owned a farm in the small, central Kansas town of Odin (which didn’t make the map until a tornado razed the neighboring community of Hoisington in 2001). She and her 12 siblings helped milk cows, scrub laundry, feed chickens and harvest wheat.
Her older sisters married young and tried to carve out lives amid the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. This was no easy feat, and when her sisters started having children, many of them realized they had taken on more than they could handle. So they called on my grandmother for help and though she was still a child herself, in addition to her regular chores, she became babysitter to her nieces and nephews.
This frenzied glimpse into her sisters’ lives convinced her that marriage meant misery. At a young age, she vowed to stay single.
By the time I was born, my grandmother was in her late 60s. On my many summer visits to her farmhouse, I listened to the stories of her youth, which were almost invariably about toil and heartache. More than once I sat in shock as she likened marriage to hell, even though she had finally married at age 31 and remained happily wed for four decades.
“Wait for the right man, Angie,” she’d say, especially when, as an awkward teenager, I’d whine that I’d never have a boyfriend. “Make sure he respects you.”
Then one summer when I was 24, she stared at me as though she was seeing me for the first time, as though she had finally realized that I’d grown up and become an actual person.
At first I assumed she was going to offer me some lunchmeat or some pie, as she usually did, but instead she asked an unexpected question: “So, when are you going to get married?”
I was so taken aback that I could barely stammer, “I suppose when someone asks me.”
And she laughed, and then she dropped it. Still, five years and zero weddings later, I can’t help but wonder what she would say if she were alive today, especially as my younger cousins start getting engaged and heading down the aisle. (“We’re saving the best for last,” one of my aunts joked at my cousin’s wedding this summer, patting me on the back.)
Family pressure aside, even as I write this, it is becoming more common for women to choose the single life. The average age for a woman’s first marriage in the United States has risen from 21 to 26 since the 1940s, with Midwestern women marrying younger than those on the coasts.
That’s not to say staying single is an easy choice, or that after a certain age there won’t be anyone calling a girl out for choosing it. I look younger than I am, so I’m lucky in that respect. People occasionally ask me if I’m an art student, probably because my wardrobe is colorful and I rarely brush my hair, and for the moment, at least, I’m fine with that.
Facebook also can be an awkward place for single girls in their late 20s and 30s to hang out. It is frequently flooded with engagement and wedding photos, and there’s always that one couple that turns their mutual love and admiration into status updates including words that no adult person should use, like “hubby” and “wifey.” I frequently want to remind these couples that 50 percent of marriages fail, but being a jerk isn’t really my style.
And apparently even science is against me: One recent study shows that birth control affects memory by causing women to forget important details (read: think more like a man). And another study revealed that single people are more likely to develop memory problems due to the crushing weight of their own loneliness (or something to that effect).
But even with my geographic location, Facebook and science trying to tell me I’m wrong, I still think I would be a more confident single woman if my fierce and feisty grandmother hadn’t questioned me. Because then I would merely be fulfilling my familial obligation as an independent woman who, no matter what anyone says, is going to do as she pleases, thank you very much.
Dang it, Grandma, why did you have to go there?