In my Mexican family we have a saying, “Ya te puedes casar”, it translates to: “you can get married now”. I have no idea if it’s an entire Mexican culture thing or if it only happens in my family, so please don’t go citing this in your Spanish homework kids. But ever since I was a little girl, I remember hearing this phrase every time someone, specifically a woman, did something extraordinary in the kitchen or home. It’s supposed to be a compliment! Though it’s supposed to be a joke, the message is pretty sexist, “Good job, you’re ready to be a homemaker”. Basically, if you can cook arroz and your agua fresca skills are on fleek, you’re ready for whatever life throws at you!
Yet, I never heard anyone say, “Mira, she got excellent grades in math! Ya se puede casar!” Or “She just won an Olympic medal,” Ya se puede casar. I’m sure nobody ever told Lorena Ochoa “Good job, you can get married now,” when she became the best Mexican and Latin American female golfer of all time. I can bet my Callaway driver on that! We have to change the messaging we give our girls if we want them to grow up to be confident that they can be happy and successful with or without a life partner. And not underestimate their life achievements because they don’t have a significant other to validate their worth.
It’s not something 10-year-old me really spent time reflecting on, but the message carries through my adulthood. When the success of a woman depends on her marriage, it’s no wonder my mother’s hometown has almost as many bridal shops as tortillerias. We’ve had this discussion in the past, I’m basically a unicorn in my family, as the only over thirty single woman there has ever been. I could hear my grandmother’s sigh of relief when I told her I was engaged. “Turns out I’m not a lesbian after all,” I told one of my uncles who had bluntly asked me the question a year before.
I know I complain about how oppressing the patriarchal norms of our culture can be, and I always thought I was alone in this until I had a heart-opening conversation with one of my cousins who recently got engaged and then un-engaged. It was at that moment that I realized how brave she was. Even after growing up in a world where marriage is (for a woman) an achievement greater than most master’s degrees. No matter what culture you’re from, I think breaking off an engagement, whether temporarily or forever, has to be one of the most grown-up decisions anyone ever makes. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but for reals! To face the world, especially in this age of social media, and exclaim: “I am not afraid to be alone”. That shit is brave. I commend my cousin for putting on the breaks and taking the time to reflect on her career and life.
I was inspired to write this after I came across this Huff Post piece by Natalie Brooke: Getting Married Is Not An Accomplishment. She’s right, it’s very simple to say that when you’re not searching for love or already happily committed to spending your life with someone. But the message is no less true coming from me than it would be coming from my mother or sister. We all have our differing views on marriage, and we can all agree on one thing, you should be absolutely sure that you are ready to get married and doing it for the right reasons.
The “right reasons”, how very vague of me. Nobody knows what they are, it just has to feel right! Not forced, imposed on you, because you’re too old or too young, or too lonely. Or worst, because you need someone to take care of you. Then you might as well forget ever having the freedom your heart desires to pursue your own life’s mission because you will always depend on someone else. Is that really what you want?
I hope I’m not the only one who carries the over thirty and single torch in the familia. Not meaning to “curse” any of my younger cousins to an endless cycle of singledom, but I have appreciated the difference a few years of experience have made in my life, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Nothing wrong with marrying in your twenties, I know plenty of women who have and are perfectly happy! Because they did it for their own “right reasons”. But if life offers you the opportunity to fly, I hope you flap your wings far far away and take advantage of it for as long as your heart desires. The opportunity to be completely on your own and not be responsible for another human is short and precious, take advantage of it! We are women, in one way or another we will be expected and will proudly assume the responsibility of taking care of people for the rest of our lives. So why not put ourselves first for just a little while longer?