Saturday, February 9, 2008

UN-becoming Ally McBeal

"Mom," I said. "I'm afraid of becoming Ally McBeal."

I was twenty-two, riding shotgun in her van to somewhere. She turned her head away from the road to frown at me.

"How many boyfriends do you have?" she replied.

"Two," I admitted.

"I rest my case."

Neither one of us had to elaborate on what I meant by "Becoming Ally McBeal." It was one of the first chick lit TV shows-Ally McBeal, successful anorexic lawyer, over thirty, struggles to find a man. Nearly every woman complained about the show when it first debuted on TV. Feminists said that it painted an unfair portrait of the typical woman who has everything, but it means nothing, because she's single.

I didn't give a shit about the politics. I loved the show. I loved the characters, John Cage especially, and I loved Ally. But I did not want to grow up to become her. I did not want to roam the world alone in my thirties. I thought that it would be a pathetic existence. I thought that if I was single at thirty, it would mean that there was something wrong with me.

Alas, here I am, thirty years old, and single. I don't even have a boyfriend. In fact, I live with my ex-boyfriend and his family. How's THAT for pathetic?

It happened like this. My apartment burned down. It burned down at this exact time last year. Ex and I had already broken up, but were waiting for the lease to expire. Still, his folks kindly took us in. After a few weeks, they invited me to stay, for dirt cheap. I could barely afford an apartment in Boston on adjunct pay. Now I could live in Cambridge, which is way prettier than any neighborhood in Boston, and I got to quit one of my jobs and work on writing part time. I was like, "Thanks, Fire!"

And you know what? It's working out okay.

It works in the same way our relationship didn't work. We're both too career-minded to pay attention to each other. Ex and I have our own rooms, having gracefully sailed into the land of best friendom, and his parents are nicer to me than my own. There's no drama. No big deal. I love where I am. I love it, until I walk out of the house and begin to converse with other human beings.

I'm the only single person I know.

It's a phenomenon that's occurred over the past five years. Nearly every one of my friends has gotten married, or had a kid. My unmarried friends are in relationships, wearing Claddagh rings, indicating that they are attached, but still coolly residing outside of "the system." If I sound sardonic, snide, it's because I am. I mean, come on, people! Do you expect me to believe that every single one of you magically found "the one" all at the exact same time? Please.

I'm not jealous. I'm Jo March. I'm lugging my guitar to sing and play at friends' weddings, while quietly skeptic in the flurry of white dresses and flowers and teary vows.

"Why is everyone getting married?" I bitch to my brother over the phone.

"It's the age," he replies.

The age? That makes me think of marriage like puberty. Like it's a biological change. Like losing wisdom teeth and sprouting hair on your privates, the late twenties to early thirties is "Meet Your Soulmate" time! And I'm the runt of the class, the freshman with no tits.

I try to make myself feel better about it. I tell myself that I had a compromised upbringing. My parents loved each other and loved me. Therefore, I don't feel the need to justify my existence by attaching it to another's. I remind myself that I've been in abusive relationships that screwed my head on backwards, causing me to make bad choices. I tell myself, It's not your fault! But no matter the excuse, I continue to feel like there's something wrong with me.

So what's wrong with me?

Exactly that question. I have a problem with the fact that I'm different. I'm all grown up, thirty years old, an English professor-and I still want to be like everybody else. THAT'S what's makes me Ally McBeal. Not because I "can't get a man," but because I am embarrassed for not having one. Ally McBeal is not the poster child for single women over thirty. She's the poster child for single women over thirty who are UNHAPPY ABOUT IT.

I didn't have to make the decision to be happy about my singledom, though. I didn't have to spend miserable years, hallucinating dancing babies, hiding in a co-ed bathrooms, Barry White bass thumping inside my head. SIngledom didn't torture me. One day, without trying, I got over it.

It hit me this last Christmas, on a random afternoon, shopping at the King of Prussia mall. I entered through the doors by Macy's, and came out into the mall right where kids were having their pictures taken with Santa. There was this long line-a mess of strollers and puffy coats and fallen mittens. Mothers dropped their purses, gabbed at each other, stopping only to yell at their children to behave, or else they'd march right out of the mall, and cancel Christmas.

Marriage, I thought, makes kids. At least, for me I know it will. Kids make lines. They make lines at Disney World, at toy stores, at the Easter Bunny, everywhere. Now I've made some dumb decisions in my life. But perhaps choosing a career over marriage was one of my best dumb decisions. If I had followed the crowd and gotten married, I'd be standing in that Santa line. I would not have been able to pass by, bullet toward my own agenda, ipod screaming in my ears. I would not have had the peace of mind, knowing I'm right, falling madly in love with myself for being right, and thanking God that I was not standing in that Santa line.