The Ring of Reflection - A Rejected "Modern Love" Submission
My dear readers, I submitted a short essay I wrote to the New York Times "Modern Love" column. It was turned down (see note below), but at least I tried. And now I get to share what I wrote with you here!
"Dear Tina Schultz,
Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although I don't find your essay right for our needs, I'm grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.
Daniel Jones, Modern Love editor"
Mr. Jones, that was such a classy rejection, I can't be upset. Maybe I'll try and submit something again soon. The essay is a bit longer than my usual posts, but I would appreciate it if you stuck with me until the end. Enjoy!
The Ring of Reflection
I decided to celebrate my thirtieth birthday with a bang. I was griping about the big 3-0 for months but in typical Tina fashion, I turned my anxiety into a productive, yet all-consuming party planning frenzy. I enthusiastically talked up the big day so there was absolutely no way anyone could say they were busy or my birthday slipped their mind. It was self-centered and perhaps even childish, but it was my worry about the momentous event that would not allow me to have a single conversation without mentioning it at least once. If I made it a big deal, I would have nothing to worry about and the transition into my thirties would be virtually painless.
And so the theme was set: a nerdy thirty 1950s style sock hop. My hard earned money was doled out, augmented by generous donations from my family in the form of clothes, food, champagne, etc. The menu planned, the decorations and favors ordered, the outfits of not only myself but of my guests were all determined far in advance. Everyone had to dress the part and it was my party so I called the shots. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, as the song goes. But seriously, can anyone say type A? I sincerely hope I will not be a bridezilla should that day ever come. But besides striving for party perfection, I was truly excited about celebrating with my nearest and dearest; a close friend from out of town was even going to be in Chicago to join in the festivities for the weekend. It could not have worked out any better.
In my excitement, I told myself thirty was just another number. It was no big deal, right? Thirty is the new twenty, life begins with thirty, insert other tired age-related cliché here. My self-instilled confidence prepared me mentally for whatever life would throw at me. Things were looking good for me. School was going well, work was less stressful, I was even lucky in love, or so I thought. I had deluded myself into thinking my uber-Catholic boyfriend, overzealous in maintaining his virginity, at the time was the one. Even putting that down in words makes me realize just how blind love can really be.
Then came the birthday weekend. I went a bit overboard with the drinks and cavorting for a solid four days, but justified it as being par for the course. You only turn 30 once so I really had to live it up. But then the dust settled, the champagne bottles and streamers were cleared away and something felt different. I felt like I was too old to be “fooling around.” My once exciting and fun relationship was a source of stress and incompatibility; I was relieved when it finally ended. My body was fatigued and unceremoniously pudgy. My stress levels spiked and I went into the holidays feeling less than grand. Thirty was no longer as exciting as I once had hoped. In fact, it was looking downright uninspiring. How could a year that started out so well leave me high and dry in a mere three months? It was too soon and it certainly was far too cruel. I was feeling less than optimistic about my future and felt like an all-around failure. I felt like I should have been about to marry the proverbial swell boyfriend of several years, popping out kids, buying a home and an SUV and finally have that fabulous, well-paying job everyone says I have coming to me. But I was far from it, and truth be told, I still am.
I will admit the holidays were not as depressing this year as they usually are for me; in fact, they were uncommonly pleasant. But I looked around me at my family and friends and was saddened by the realization that there might never be the “happily ever after” in my love life, which is not an altogether odd thought at the holidays when everyone celebrates with their families. I also realized that a long-term relationship – or marriage, if you will – was no longer the be all end all of my existence. My examples of marriage were rather shoddy and I can say the “sacred institution” does not have the best reputation in my life. My parents divorced when I was six, my aunt divorced many years ago, my father remarried but their marriage has been difficult and my 98 year old grandfather, almost broken and a shell of his former, robust self, unfortunately reminded me of what a hellacious mess my grandparents’ marriage was. Granted my grandparents stayed together until grandma died (may she rest in peace), but I will never forget the shouting matches, the abuse, the separate living and sleeping quarters. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and their foundation was wobbly at best. I was even engaged once to my very first boyfriend, a German man that I met while living in Bonn, who got down on one knee and proffered a gorgeous ring (which I have since sadly sold because I was broke), but I was too young and naïve to see that I was following the “natural progression” of a relationship that was doomed to fail. That engaged person in her early twenties does not even remotely seem like me anymore. So while the holidays are a time to share with loved ones, I thought about how my Christmases might have looked and had I indeed married him, I would have added my divorce to the accumulating list in the family and still probably sold the ring in a fit of pique.
I also started to think dating was a lost cause when I signed up for Tinder and Hinge again, almost immediately post-thirtieth-birthday-breakup. The fact that I had come back to the digital world of dating, and at my age, was like a cruel joke with an added dash of déjà vu. What I wanted was most likely not to be found on my phone or a computer. But what was it that I really wanted? I felt like I had a void no app, site or first date could fill. To make things even better, my mother offered me her engagement ring that my father designed over thirty years ago. Touching, beautiful and simple – the ring is partly a relic from a failed marriage, a marriage in which the scars are still visible, but slowly fading after almost twenty-five years. Luckily I can say I am no longer bitter or angry about the divorce. I am, however, reminded that in the modern world, there are modern challenges to love and relationships. We are our own worst enemies and with our heads in the clouds, dreaming of a Disney-esque Colin Firth marriage in which you will be happy beyond your wildest dreams does nothing to simplify matters. Or maybe it really is just me. Years in and out of therapy have not given me a conclusive answer on that one. Ironically, but not in the hipster way, I decided to wear my mother’s engagement ring and have it on as I type. If I were more superstitious, I would think wearing the ring would be an omen of bad relationships or heartbreak to come, but as fate would have it, I met an awesome man (thank you, Tinder!) and am trying not to overanalyze the budding relationship, especially in my moments of weakness when my anxiety rears its ugly head. So the engagement ring also symbolizes hope for the future. I still, however, find myself asking the questions Is this too good to be true? and Can Tinder really have found me a keeper?
But I digress. I think most people deserve to be happy and should be given a shot at “happily ever after,” but it is also necessary to have the reality checks firmly in place. Relationships are not perfect, they are in fact hard work, and sometimes they sadly reach a point where they are beyond repair. I would like to say I have learned from my mistakes and my past relationships, but old habits unfortunately die hard. And with the track record in my family, I am apprehensive of making a mess of things. My relationships went from long term (four years) to medium length (around a year) to downright short (four months maximum). I am not sure anymore what it would feel like to try and stick it out with someone, but I also think my experiences have given me a better idea about what I want, i.e. with whom I am better compatible. So rather than be depressed about being 30, it is a blessing in disguise that I did not wind up married too early or to the wrong person. I should be thanking my lucky stars every day. Perhaps that is why wearing my mother’s engagement ring is not as frightening or ill-omened as it might be interpreted by some. It is a reminder of many things – good and bad – and more importantly it makes me think that 30 really is just a number. With any luck I have many more years ahead of me and there really is no rush in love, because when it’s right, everything has a habit of falling into place.