"Why aren't you married yet?"


No, this post is not about my marriage, which marks its 12th happy anniversary this year. This post is actually about writers and sensitivity.

Imagine yourself at the wedding of a close friend. You're there alone, having failed again to find a date to yet another big occasion. And it's not as if you didn't try hard. The frustrating thing is that things were looking really good with ol' what's-his-name for a while there. He seemed really interested, he did. You thought there was a good chance he might even be the one. But that was before he started acting all weird and distant, and stopped calling, or even returning your emails and texts.

So here you are alone at the wedding, again.

Oh, you're not alone alone. Most all your friends are here, and they're all happy to see you, but the thing is, they're mostly all married themselves. Everyone's nice enough to you, but you can sense a certain distance developing. It's nothing personal, you know that. It's just that for married people it seems somehow easier to relate to other married people. There are new concerns, new problems, new joys that come along with marriage, and that sets you apart from their world.

Oh, you know enough about those concerns and problems and joys, because, really, even though you're strong and proud and self-sufficient, there's nothing you want more in the world than to be swept off your feet and up the aisle, and you've been preparing for it. You're ready. And it's not even that your knowledge is entirely academic. You've done plenty of dating, and you've been in your share of long-term relationships. But in the end, they were all either too casual, or they just didn't end up heading where it looked early on like they were going to head. And you're still here alone, with no prospects.

You still remember the clutch of conflicting emotions that clogged your throat when your dear, close friend, all beaming and radiant, rushed up to show you that giant, sparkling ring she'd waited for and prayed for and worked for for so long. It was maybe the biggest ring you'd ever seen, and though you were so happy for her, so very, very happy, you couldn't help but feel that poisonous sting of jealousy deep inside. You swallowed it down and hugged her hard and told her all the things you needed to tell her, that you were thrilled for her, so thrillied, and that you wished her all the happiness in the world, and that no one deserved this more than she did,

Except, deep down, you know you don't really believe that. Oh, your friend deserves her happy day, no doubt about it. She is good and kind, and she worked so hard for so long and did everything right, and you can't believe this didn't happen to her sooner. But deep down, you know, you know.

You know that you deserve it more.

She worked hard, yes, but you were right there beside her, working just as hard, maybe even harder. You punished yourself at the gym all those years. You crawled through broken glass to get to where you are at the office. You went to all the right clubs and bars, put yourself in situations where you were most likely to meet the right people. And you were never less than entirely supportive to all your friends going through the same thing, there with them in the good times, and there to pick up the pieces in the bad.

In fact, when you look at it through your coldest analytical lens, the fact that you still haven't had your turn at the altar seems proof of one thing and one thing only—that it's as much luck as hard work that makes the magic happen. And that's the most discouraging notion of all.

But things can always get worse, and now they're about to, because you've just spotted your dear friend's busybody aunt making a beeline for you from the reception line. You look around in desperation, but there's nowhere to hide, and your friends have all vanished and left you defenseless. You've known this woman for almost as long as you've been friends with her niece, and you know what she's like, and you know what's coming, but that doesn't make it any easier.

After a minute's pleasantries, as you try not to wrinkle your nose at her boozy breath, she drops the bomb. "Now, really," she says with a conspiratorial frown, patting your arm in a way that makes your flesh crawl, "why aren't you married yet, dear? We all expected you to be snapped up years ago."

You hem and you haw, because no matter how many times you hear this, it doesn't get any easier. You try to make a case for how busy and successful you've been at the office, and how you've had all those close calls, how you were sure ol' what's-his-name was going to pop the question but he took a powder instead and you still don't understand why, his excuses were so lame, but the words get all jumbled up in your mouth because you don't owe this awful woman any explanations, she wasn't there with you through all the trials and heartbreaks.

But while you're still pushing out your feeble stream of justifications, while you finally admit in a hoarse voice that you just don't know why not, your friend's aunt only shakes her head, her eyes filled with superior judgment. "What it all comes down to," she says, patting your arm again, "you just aren't trying hard enough."

And as she begins to point out all the eligible bachelors in the room, offering capsule bios and suggestions of how to win them over, you have to just turn and walk away—rush away, really, because who is she to tell you you haven't tried hard enough?

Except the sting you still feel—the one that makes hot tears try to spray though you won't let them, you won't—is because, deep down, and I mean really deep down, deep down where you live, you're afraid that she's right. You really haven't tried hard enough, because if you had then wouldn't it have been your turn up there already? Wouldn't it?

You tell yourself you should just give up, that you'd be so much happier if you just didn't care about getting married, that you should just stop torturing yourself and make yourself content with everything you do have.

But though you can fantasize about giving up, when it comes right down to it you just can't go through with it. And though you know your friend's aunt is a hateful witch and that she's wrong wrong wrong, it doesn't matter. All you can do the next day is to hit the gym even harder, to keep on trying, and to keep on hoping.

"Why aren't you married yet?" It's a horrible, horrible question—and it's the equivalent of asking a struggling writer: "Why isn't that book of yours out yet?"

The answer is, I don't know. So just, you know, be a little sensitive, okay?

Now, there are plenty of ways this already strained analogy could be extended, to describe other questions to our hypothetical wedding guest that map well to our hypothetical struggling writer, and that would be either equally insensitive or far kinder. Please suggest some in the comments.

I have a few in mind myself, and may do another post in a few days to talk about them.


Self-publishing is the future, even if it's perceived as a kind of Lars and the Real Girl in the eyes of the married (in the spirit of the analogy, at least). They'll appreciate it better though when, after failing to satisfy the unrealistic expectations of their stogy spouse, the divorce lawyers come a-knocking.

Just look at the music industry. Self-publishing is the new normal for countless talented and successful musicians, from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to Radiohead.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on February 8, 2013 9:16 AM.

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