As a single person, I know the dread that can arrive with any shower invitation. It’s not always envy or curmudgeonry or anything like that. I love my friends and I love their Important Life Events. When my first really good friend, Hutch, told me she was pregnant, I literally jumped on my bed. It was weird. I’d say that general curmudgeonry is not usually the problem with single people not liking showers. (Not to imply that Bridesmaids wasn’t disappointingly emotionally relatable.) Besides problems that I’ve discussed before about showers (here and here), like their penchant for being boring or awkward or lame—easily overcome!—there are occasionally issues that strike a little deeper.
Especially at baby showers, there can be a vibe of “shut up single people, let the mommies talk.” Why would you want to go out and buy gifts and dress up and bring some genuine baby enthusiasm in order to be shut down as having nothing to contribute to your friend’s celebration of this new life? Sure, there are things that single people aren’t going to be able to relate to and it’s stupid to be overly sensitive when you’re clearly not the focus of the Important Life Event…but those things are difficult enough to deal with as you watch friends grow inevitably apart through divergent experience without feeling like the door’s being slammed in your face in the process. I once had a pregnant woman straight up not believe some post-partum hospital practice I told her about because I had never had a baby and none of her mommy friends had ever mentioned it. A lot of people don’t want to go to showers (single women, men of any status) not because they’re selfish or cheap, but because they are made to feel like they have no reason to be there. This need not be.
To be fair, diaper options are not interesting to me and I really don’t want to talk about them for hours. Not everyone has to be a part of every conversation, and not everyone should be. But that doesn’t mean showers have to be painful or totally boring for single people. There are many more inclusive topics to be discussed than baby product debates. Pregnancy and childbirth and baby-raising are some of the most important things; people of every status hopefully have some more or less informed opinions and beliefs about those things. Refusing to hear them doesn’t make sense. And refusing to form them doesn’t either.
It is so easy to disregard people who aren’t like you; to exaggerate the ease or benefits of someone else’s situation and belittle their struggles because they are different from yours OR to contemn the value of their choices when yours have been the opposite. As far as family vs. single life is concerned, this absolutely goes both ways: “Single people!? Psh, what do they have to worry about? Have fun with that disposable income and freedom to travel, take career risks, meet new people, and go on adventures.” and “Married people!? Psh, why don’t you go home and cry to your husband or wife? That one who means you’ll never be alone in any tragedy, adventure, sadness, or joy; and those children who will care for you in old age.” Or the other side: “I just don’t know how I’d get through the day without my shmoopy pumpkinface and purpose-giving angel babies. I’d probably give up and die, ‘cause really, what would be the point of it all?” and “Ha! Do I have kids!? No, I’m not a talking cow for poop machines. I’m haven’t decided to waste my education, lose all sex-appeal, and have no life of my own yet, thanks.”
The thing is, though, that a life can always be reduced to boring, depressing diaper routines or lonely Netflix marathons. You need to be able to find meaning in whatever situation you find yourself in, and to see that same value and meaning in lives that look way different than yours. And we need each other—in our very-differentness—to do that. When I get annoyed by my friends’ baby-restricted autonomy or depressed because I’m single now so I’ll probably die alone (logic), I try to remember these things. I try to remember how the-same I have felt about myself when I’ve been in relationships, or had different jobs, or gotten to travel to interesting places, or what have you. In our different situations, we are not better or worse than each other. We think circumstances can make us feel or be everything we want, but they just don’t—even the big, important ones. All they do is provide opportunities for us to become (at a character level) who we should be and hopefully want to be, most of the time.
When we try to consider who has is better or who “has it all” or if we can “have it all” (especially referring to women choosing or balancing families and careers, like all of those articles flying around awhile ago) I think it’s easy for the values that we’re weighing to get really confused. This conversation can mean a lot of things to different people but, as a Christian, my values don’t always or usually add up to professional success or even emotional fulfillment. As a Christian, the realization of my pro-creational, intellectual, physical-fitness, career, whatever potential is not the primary measure of my life’s worth. From the moment my little baby head was baptized, I have already “had it all.” Anything I work for or attain—my talent, abilities, and potential in and of themselves—are gifts. The worth and value of parents and single people, then, aren’t found in their differences but in what they have in common. With this lens, I look at the challenges of single life and the challenges of family life and see the same thing: an opportunity for sanctification. And in their different joys: the goodness of a life given by God.
Back to baby showers. (Sure, that’s what this is about.) It may seem like I’m getting really intense and moralistic about something that is not very important. And that’s true. But sometimes unimportant things have very important implications. Baby showers: take ‘em or leave ‘em; the point I’d like to make is that if you want to maintain friendships with people you love you have to make an effort and you have to respect their different lives. I realize this more every year as I grow older and watch people who used to be very close become less able to relate to each other. Sometimes this leads to better friendships—in which everyone benefits from the diverse experiences of the group and shares wisdom that can serve as an external check for particular circumstances. Sometimes it simply leads to the end of a friendship.
I’m sick of hearing exclusionary pity-voices from marrieds towards singles, you don’t have problems/you don’t know what love is comments from parents towards everyone, and dismissive, you’re an alien/your life is over now vibes from single or even married people towards new parents. People. Life is always hard and life is always good.
It can be frustrating when there begins to be an effort involved in connecting with someone who used to be just like you, or whose life at least was like yours. There can be true loss involved in even the happiest of changes. Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate with your friends about something that’s taking them away from you. And when your life is changing, it is difficult to see outside of your own important situation, or to value the kind of life you had before when life now seems more significant. But you just have to. And it’s worth it.
I do need to be friends with people who are in the same situation in life as I am; I think that’s important. I need to be close with people who can relate to my struggles and assure me that I’m not crazy sometimes (unless I am). But at this point almost all of my best friends are married, many with children. Sometimes I can’t even imagine what their days look like, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate. With the good ones, our diverse experience is a resource and not just an obstacle.
I’m starting to lose count of the times I’ve heard single people rationalize their disregard for solid relationship advice because it came from someone who got married young; because they don’t know what it’s like to be single. I mean, yeah. But also, so what? Sometimes an external perspective simply provides an objective opinion; and do you know what’s great, especially when it comes to emotional relationships? An objective opinion. Most people I know, who are my age and single, live in an increasing assumption of certain relational compromises, forfeits, and concessions that feel inevitable. People just take what’s available and see where things go; they don’t make choices and relationships start as accidents instead of decisions to be with specific people. It is possible that someone who has been outside that fight against gravity can see more clearly when their friends are trying to figure things out and when they’re just kind of giving up. You’re not necessarily ignorant just because you haven’t been in the dating trenches for years.
On the other hand, a lack of marriage and parenthood experience doesn’t make you untried or ignorant either. Sometimes unhealthy relationship patterns are easier to spot when you’re not in them. And same goes for positive growth. Friends can tell when a couple is being more patient with each other or generous with their time and energy. They can also serve as a reminder to look up every once in a while from the epics and dramas of infant sleep cycles, potty training, and kid soccer so you don’t become permanently nearsighted. The inherent self-sacrifice of childrearing is a good thing, but it doesn’t automatically make you a saint. I’m sure we’ve all met parents whose kids become excuses for socially acceptable selfishness.
Baby showers aren’t just about a gift scam or playing stupid games or not drinking. If you’re single and you avoid them, it’s important to think about why. Is it the same reason that your friend who you resent now stopped coming to girls’ night or guy time? By their inclusivity, baby showers acknowledge that everybody there, family and friends, are affected by this Important Life Event. If you don’t want to go through the effort of sharing or sharing in the giant big deal of a new life, then your showers are going to suck. Some parents treat babies like trump cards and showers like victory laps. Some single people treat showers like funereal goodbye parties for people they’ll soon stop seeing and talking to. No wonder people hate them. Let’s be better than that.
I have a few more slightly less erudite thoughts on this topic (avoid creepy games; don’t deny the less-fertile their booze; boys allowed, etc.) that I’ll post soon; and then I promise I’m finished with showers (or whateverthehell this ended up being about).