I am my mother’s daughter. She blessed me with her middle name and fortified me with the strength and freedom to conquer the world. She raised me by herself, from the beginning, and sacrificed to provide for me and expose me to as much as possible. She had a plan for herself, too. As a kid, I accompanied her to registration for her college courses, watched as she studied at the kitchen table and cheered her on when she walked across the stage to get her degree. She was also the head of our household and earned every dollar.
My father, to whom she’d been married before I was born, wasn’t in the picture, so I didn’t have much of a concept about what marriage entailed. I didn’t have an understanding of what it meant to share the joys and weight of life. What I saw, what I knew, was that my mother did everything, so I thought that’s how it worked. I also knew, at a very young age, that I would have to rely on myself. I was to be my own savior.
As much as marriage was a foreign concept to me as a young woman, I naively assumed that all married couples were happy. Since I’d never seen my parents together, I didn’t understand how circumstances and dynamics of a marriage changed over time or how people changed and, ultimately, grew apart. I also didn’t know what it took to stay united.
I continued to be in the dark about such matters, even as I watched many of my friends get hitched. Just as I was focused on making my dreams come true, I believed that getting married was the final frontier for those who wanted to be married. What I later learned is that life is not so simple. I would also learn that many people — including a handful of my friends — believed that being single was a social crime.
The first time I walked down the aisle was in the wedding of a dear family friend. I think I was about 7 years old, and I was beyond thrilled to be the flower girl. My mother was a bridesmaid, and she, along with my grandmother, made all the dresses for the bridal party. I remember being so excited to be wearing baby’s breath in my hair and of course, posing for pictures. I loved the bride and groom, who are still married today, and I was so happy to be included in the festivities.
Over the years, I’ve surely done my fair share of bridesmaid duty. I’ve worn the standard, pastel dresses and those horrid, dyed-to-match shoes with pride, and adorned my lobes with dainty earrings of the bride’s choice. Though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I still have a few of the dresses tucked in the back of my closet because I drank all of that Kool-Aid about being able to “wear the dress again.” I now know that to be a lie that most brides tell their bridesmaids, but back then, I happily played along.
I’ve also bought bridal-shower gifts and wedding gifts, hosted baby showers, shipped care packages across state lines and celebrated my friends as their lives expanded. Ironically, sadly, what I often received in return was judgment and even misdirected resentment. Although nobody wants to fess up to it, relationships get tricky when your friends get married, especially when you’re single. Things change quickly and in rather excruciating stages.
Regina R. Robertson is the West Coast editor of Essence. She shares her thoughts about being single and living life on her own terms in the bestselling relationship anthology Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community.