“Hi Sherry! When are you getting married?”
I grit my teeth and raise my head from the refrigerator to look across our office’s break room. The sun is shining through the wall-to-wall windows right in my eyes. I can’t even see who’s talking to me. It’s after 10am, but I stagger backward like a vampire fending off dawn so that I’m finally able to see my coworker Hema blocking off my access to the cereal and smiling over her coffee.
Shit. If it had been anyone else, I’d planned to stumble off like I didn’t hear or was perhaps on some sort of medication, but I like Hema. She’s always smiling way too big considering she’s at work, and during weekly status meetings, she shouts over the men on our team who try to interrupt her.
“Not any time soon,” I tell her, shrugging with my whole body.
“Aren’t you engaged?” she says.
I nod. They’d all seen the ring a year earlier.
“A wedding’s just not a priority,” I say, at the same time she says, “For over a year now?”
Her wide grin stays in place through the entire six seconds of silence that follows. Maybe I should just nod at her again, grab my cereal and leave, but I notice my feet aren’t moving because I have too many people-pleasing instincts for that.
Instead, I say, “Yeah, my fiance Aaron’s mom wishes we would get married too!”
This is not true, but I say it to make the silence stop.
“Oh doesn’t your mom care?” Hema asks.
“Not really. She was in labor with me for like 14 hours, so she’s used to me dragging things out by now.” Also not true, I was born cesarean, but I can’t resist a good joke.
Hema doesn’t laugh but tells me how her own mother pressured her into having children when she was a young wife.
“And now that I have three, where is she?” she says. “In India! Tells me she’s too old to travel to US to help me take care of them!” The wide grin comes back but she gets a faraway, slightly maniacal look in her eye that confirms my decision not to have children.
I head back to my desk.
“See you!” she says.
The interaction was fine, pleasant even, but I was still glad it was over. Every time I answer a question about my long engagement, I can’t help but feel like the asker is treating me as if they’ve just pointed out I’m wearing my underpants backward and I’ve told them I meant to.
And then there are the people who think a long engagement must be a symptom of my broken relationship. Oh you don’t love him, their eyes say as they clasp one hand over mine. “It’s good you’re taking your time,” they’ll say. “There’s no rush, especially if you aren’t sure.”
Inside Me: I’m sure, Becky! As I’ve said many times, Becky, it’s just not a priority, Becky, so why don’t you mind your own fucking business, Becky!
Outside Me: “Thanks, Becky.”
Once, when I tried to explain my lack of wedding fervor to my lawyer friend Dorothy, she nodded knowingly and elbowed me in the ribs as if we were sharing a secret.
“You know,” she said, “The courts ruled that engagement rings are a gift, so even if you never marry him, you can legally sell the ring!”
So if neither weddings nor escaping with the family jewels is my priority, what is? Not much. I’m not an especially busy person, and I like it that way. I’m a person who needs large swaths of uninterrupted downtime. In fact, “person” might not be the right term at all — more of a sloth in that lying around naked in my habitat is the best way for me to ensure my continued survival.
Amid the downtime, I manage to keep a job at a “normal” 9–5 tech company, which pays for food and a roof while I devote the rest of my free time to writing something publishable and connecting with other writers. Stopping or even slowing any of that down to plan a traditional party that’s largely for everyone else’s benefit just doesn’t make sense to me, or my betrothed, Aaron. To us, an engagement is a statement of intention, a way of saying to the universe, “Yes, yes, at some point, we plan to make all this official, but let the paperwork ride for now because we’ve got more important things to do.”
Why is this so hard to understand? Why are we still married to this antiquated idea that we have to be married? Why do I feel like the village idiot out here trying to convince everyone that I love a person whom I’ve been happily sharing bills and space and life and death with for the past five years?
“What do you and your coworkers make small talk about?” I asked Aaron.
“Football. Basketball. Whatever’s in season.”
Instead of asking about his marriage, Aaron’s coworkers ask him how his favorite team is doing that year, and apparently, the answer to such a question forms a bond strong enough to withstand them spending 40 hours in close quarters with one another. This has led me to conclude there’s only one solution to my problem. For everyone looking to use small-talk to lube up our workday, I’ve compiled this short list of common-ground icebreakers you can use in lieu of asking me about my marriage:
- Hi Sherry! How are your bowel movements?
- Hi Sherry! I’m so hungry, want to go see if we can fit all the snacks in the break room in our bellies?
- Hey Sherry! How’s your hair? I keep thinking mine is falling out…You too?!
- Hi Sherry! Have you heard about this new brand of plus-size jeans that won’t chafe a hole in the thighs every five months?
- Hey Sherry! What kind of foundation do you use to get that layered, cakey finish?
- Hey Sherry! When you’re lonely at 3AM and feel like nothing is ever going to be okay again, what drug do you wish you were doing?