Magazine

Connections

Being single at weddings

I wish the perplexed bridesmaid I was had understood that wisdom about love is not limited to those blessed with partners.

Gracia Lam

As a wedding guest, I set myself to single-woman cruise control. You can’t let a wedding get to you — you have to glide through in a swingy dress and newly retouched highlights; you need to be prepared with tales of your exciting career and happy-slappy dating antics.

But during the ceremony, safely tucked in the adoring crowd, I allowed more complicated emotions in. I watched very hard as the misty-eyed couple gazed at each other with that intoxicating mix of overwhelming emotion and utter certainty. Yes, the rest of our life: Let’s go.

These two people knew love, understood its vast and unwieldy intricacies. And as I’d watch the groom’s lip quiver and the bride smile reassuringly back, I was ashamed of the black cloud gathering in my heart. These were citizens of a universe I had no access to. They possessed some invisible ability, or quality, that could never be learned or even really articulated. Meanwhile, I was part of the unenlightened single-and-searching masses, shuffling in sweat pants or — worse, maybe — sashaying in dresses cut a little too low, with lipstick a little too bright.

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Yes, I’d fallen in love — many times. But I usually hit the same tricky snag: The men I loved didn’t love me back. I didn’t feel like the kind of woman men wanted to marry. I felt like the kind they might want to drink with or sleep with or maybe take on four dates. I wasn’t the kind of girl you went grocery shopping or folded laundry with. I certainly wasn’t the type to whom you declared your eternal love in front of all your friends and family.

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Happily, I was wrong. I’m married now. I got my perfect glassy-eyed moment. Better yet: a life with a sweet, handsome man who knows how to build furniture from scratch and crack up the kids next door. Jackpot!

When I look back on my single years, I feel deep regret. Not because I sometimes felt envious at weddings — hey, I was human — but because I didn’t respect how much I already knew about love.

If you haven’t yet merited a ceremony honoring your achievements of the heart — wedding, anniversary, baby shower — it’s easy to believe you don’t know much about love. At least, that’s how I felt when I was unattached. But now I understand that that ineffable energy was always stirring inside me; it was just channeled differently. It went to the nice Korean lady making my sandwich at the deli, to the college friend I was meeting for dinner, to the street lamp’s glow sifting through the trees in my neighborhood.

Of course, I still appreciate quiet walks and warm exchanges with strangers, but something has been lost. My love has a vessel now, and the rewards are palpable — he loves me, too. But I’ve also noticed my interactions with those outside our happy bubble are less intense. Before, love spilled out of me in puddles, only to evaporate into the ether. This frustrated me, but it was more expansive in a funny way than the more contained loop of affection couples enjoy.

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I’m not complaining. I have the relationship I had longed for as I witnessed other people’s bold declarations and secret glances. I just wish I had appreciated the more fluid way I experienced love when I was unattached. I wish the perplexed bridesmaid I was had understood that wisdom about love is not limited to those blessed with partners.

When I was single, I often felt that my lonely, aching heart diminished me. Now I see it was quite the opposite.

More coverage:

- Sara Eckel on finding peace with being single

- A mom’s view of teens’ texts

- More from the Magazine

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Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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