As she spoke of wedding plans, her eyebrows drew together, lines becoming visible on her young face. I watched the weight of exhaustion sweep over her, pulling her shoulders forward. She sighed. It is clear she is in love with her partner. He is absolutely smitten and she is equally adoring of him. I had simply asked how things were coming along. She conveyed that the timeline felt rushed. The venue was…fine, the guest list ever-increasing. They hadn’t nailed down a caterer.
“I was never the girl who dreamed of her wedding or had the binder,” she said.
I nodded, understanding wholeheartedly. Then she indicated the wedding would double as a going-away party because the newlyweds were moving to Alaska, which begged the question, “Why Alaska?”
I watched my friend’s daughter light up, her entire countenance changing in an instant. She spoke of a marine biology position tracking migration and dietary habits of sea life, classifying new genus and species of phytoplankton and working alongside indigenous people who were familiar with the land and wildlife native to the area. She barely drew breath as she described in greater and greater detail the importance of this particular aspect of the ecosystem. Her eyes held mine as she excitedly described the equipment she’d have access to, the boat she would work on. She drew me into a world I would have sworn to you I had scant interest in fifteen minutes prior, yet I was now somewhat enthralled, transported along with her.
Her enthusiasm stayed with me for days following our meeting, my mind circling again and again around our conversation, thoughts gathering and knocking against each other like bingo balls in a crank cage that’s not yet ready to release the right letter and number indicator.
My friend’s daughter was choosing to marry and choosing herself.
Her soon-to-be spouse was undeterred by the location across the continent as they moved into the next phase of their relationship together. They were embarking on an adventure, realizing a dream that, for now, they would share equally. It was refreshing.
I wasn’t the girl who dreamed about her wedding, either. Looking back, I can speculate as to why. The women in the fairy tales I grew up reading and watching portrayed slender-bodied women with mostly flaxen hair and fair skin, compared to my own athletic build, mocha skin and brown curls. Their stories began full of curiosity and possibility, and when a man entered the picture, chaos ensued, then resolved, followed by a happily ever after. This indicated to me that only certain women married, and it was likely that I would have to capitulate at least parts of myself in order to be married.
Most of my friends came from two-parent homes where the mom stayed home (an unspoken rule in the South), while I was raised by a working, single mom who chose not to venture into the dating world. I did, however, grow up seeing and believing that women could be and become anything their hearts could envision or dream, a belief I followed through collegiate studies, convinced I could become the chaplain for a major league sports team one day.
Today I’m married with three children, but I would be lying if I said I never look with a twinge of envy at pictures of single friends—even those who are married without kids. It’s not traveling to the California coast in the middle of the week or a weekend trip to New York that I envy, it’s the freedom to drop everything and say yes; to crave adventure and be able to take a bite every now and then. There is a surrender in choosing to marry, a degree of letting go of oneself that often goes unnamed and unacknowledged. There are parts of myself that I am discovering I let go of before I realized they were there, and now I miss them.
Make no mistake, I wouldn’t trade the life I have, the ebbs and flows of fifteen years of marriage, or the three human lives we’ve given birth to. I would also be doing the younger parts of me a great disservice not to revisit what I was taught about what it means to be a woman, to dream, to hope, and to be a whole person—and to invite my daughter to do the same.
Vanessa Sadler is a trauma-informed Spiritual Director and Enneagram Specialist. Through her company Abide (@abidinginstory), she collaborates with clients who seek deeper abiding and a greater understanding of the ways they relate with God, self and others. Vanessa has Level I and Level II certificates in Narrative Focused Trauma Care from The Allender Center, located within the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and also offers Integrated Story Work to her clients along with a culture identity component.