Are You The “Single Friend”?

Are You The “Single Friend”?

Somewhere back there, I was left behind. It happened at my book club. When the group started, we were seven women who craved cheap wine more than Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.

The text was just an excuse to air our grievances: My mom and I are fighting; my boss hates me and I hate her; the new dog is too big for the old apartment; I ran into my ex; you'll never believe what happened last night.

We drained our glasses and edited each other's problems. Everything seemed more manageable with corrections. When it came time for Allison* to vent, the responses were different. She was married, her life doubled.

She might as well have been sending a postcard from a foreign land. The journey was difficult but I've finally arrived. Determined to conquer the language barrier. Kisses! We had to squint to decipher her handwriting.

So when, within six months, four members of my book club got engaged, I was confused. I mean, I knew what to say. Congratulations! I'm so happy for you!

But all I could think was: I thought we had a deal. It wasn't that I objected to the journey, but I hadn't packed yet. I am 25. I travel light. Were we really doing this?

We were. Gift bags. Registry. Hospitality suite. Groom's cake. Morning jacket. Just like that, Book Club became Marriage Club. I didn't think it bothered me. I'd been in love with love since my sister and I designed Barbie and Ken's perfect date. (A picnic on the Dream House lawn.)

I had opinions about save the dates and whether or not it's rude to give dating guests a plus one and single guests a plus-you-get-to-be-drunk-alone. I worked at a magazine about relationships. I talked about couples for a living. So I was fine. Obviously. Naturally. Of course.

But everyone has a limit. The third time Allison told us that her rabbi missed her rehearsal dinner, I swallowed a yawn and indulged in some daydreaming. I was about to begin that perennial favorite, "Would those shoes match that bag?" when I looked around. Watch: Love Advice From A Rabbi

My friends were riveted and I was, well, bored. I was missing the bridal gene. Lily was on the edge of her loveseat. I stared at her. As the only other single girl in the club, we'd become partners in subversion. We placed bets on who would get engaged first. We tried on their rings.

"It looks better on you," I mouthed. She winked. But underneath it all, Lily was sensitive. She was Southern and 27, which, with the drawl, sounds a lot like "past her prime." (South of the Mason-Dixon Line, old maids are alive and well: they read Us Weekly by the pool and smear suntan lotion around their bellybutton rings.)

When it was Lily's turn to host, she took one look at her tiny apartment and borrowed Allison's for the evening. Opening Cooking Light, and the majority of Allison's wedding gifts, she whipped up a storm. Arugula salad. Hot crab dip. Salmon pasta.

It should have been delicious, but the kitchen gods were against her. The salad wilted. The dip was cold. And by the time the pasta arrived looking rather pink, Lily had had it. She spooned out each portion and, in the immaculate Park Avenue apartment of her perfectly married friend, just lost it.

Tears dripped onto a coordinating charger and dinner plate as she sobbed, "This is awful. It's all just awful," and scurried to the bathroom. The entire table looked at me. It's not about the pasta.

With regard to most aspects of our lives, my friends and I ran parallel races. We excelled in our careers at roughly the same pace. We shopped the same sample sales. But when it came to relationships, my friends had graduated college, and Lily and I were back at the middle-school dance. "Stairway to Heaven" was playing, couples were swaying, and for eight minutes and two seconds we would be alone. And. Everyone. Would. Know. It.

I opened the bathroom door and hugged the last single girl in the universe. "Maybe," she said tearfully, "It's time to quit book club."

Instead, we decided to ditch. Lily went "out of town." I sent my regrets and agreed to a date with a guy who was certainly not marriage material. As I flirted and sipped my vodka soda, I thought of the double-faced satin strapless fit-to-flair gown that was surely being discussed uptown. I ordered another cocktail and drank it, fast.

The following book club meeting had a scheduling snafu. Last minute cancellations started popping up at 3 o'clock, so I thought it would be rude not to go. The summer heat had forced us to abandon our apartments entirely. When I arrived at the chosen restaurant, it was down to three: two brides-to-be and me.

Dutifully, I played the single person, entertaining the girls with my standard dating disaster stories. At the time, the problem I liked to exaggerate most was the banker. He adored playing games and was never going to settle down, never going to be my boyfriend.

Anyone, everyone, knew this… which meant he had me on a string—pulling me in, driving me crazy, letting me out, hurting my pride. Just generally a bad idea. Everyone thought so. Except, as it turned out, the fiancées. Why Married Women Envy Single Women

"Ooooh. The lost cause. I remember how fun that was," one of them said.

"There's nothing like that feeling of falling, really falling, for someone," the other added.

"Can you believe we're never going to do that again?"

I had to do a double take. A person's memory is a cagey thing. While I clearly recalled comforting the fiancées when they rejected the Wrong Ones and found the Right Ones, they'd now deluded themselves into thinking they'd had fun. And one day—if I managed to reprogram my Pavlovian nausea for certain ex-boyfriends' names—I might feel the same. Regardless, I would pretend to feel the same.

Later that week, I had lunch with a college friend, my first to get married. I gasped when she told me that she was also going to be the first to leave her husband. I thought of the term that describes this phenomenon: starter marriage. In Defense Of Starter Marriage

But listening to her quietly explain her decision, it seemed bigger than a starter, more than a main course—an entire buffet laced with salmonella. She was surviving a great loss, certainly the greatest of anyone I'd ever known.

That day I wasn't in such a rush to get married, to trust my happiness to someone else. I may not be perfect, but at least I'm familiar with my deficiencies. My flaws rarely blindside me; I've been hiding them for years.

I returned to book club thinking about the upside of watching my friends dive in first, toe the squishy bottom, invent swimming. I might get a sunburn, but they could drown.

Full of apologies, I arrived with a bottle of wine as my olive branch. It was as if I'd never left. (Since I never announced my departure, I suppose I hadn't.) And within five minutes, we were back to color schemes and location fees.

Nothing had changed. One hour of tulle-draped conversation later, in a well-intentioned attempt to include me, a fiancée turned and said, "What do you want your ring to look like?" I had no idea. "Where will you get married?" I was equally stumped. 5 Things Single Women Hate To Hear

The fiancée changed the subject. She had an appointment on Saturday at a fancy Fifth Avenue bridal boutique and was 99 percent sure she was going to purchase the gown. It was antique white with a draped neckline and ruched skirt. (Ruched?) The only problem was that her sister, mom, and eight bridesmaids lived out of town. What was she going to do?

This was a question I knew how to answer. "Well," I said, gazing down at my unadorned finger, "I'm not doing anything Saturday. I could go with you." When I finally looked up, she was smiling so wide I had to grin back. And just like that, I joined Marriage Club.

*Name has been changed.