Being from the Alabama means a LOT more than having an accent. It means you’re raised in football country, and are born following one team or the other. It means you know what REAL southern food tastes like, and you have handwritten recipes from your nana…probably with a key ingredient missing because she never wants yours to be AS good as hers. It means you could be thrown into the woods and eeeaaasily survive. It means you smile and say “hello” to strangers everywhere you go.
There are so many things to love about being southern, but there are also some not so great things. The “everyone in the rest of the country thinking we’re stupid, racist, inbred, rednecks” thing is obvious, but there’s a lot of pressure that comes with old southern traditions. There are expectations that TRULY aren’t placed on people from other parts of the country. The specific expectations I’m getting into today, are buying a house, getting married, and having babies - IN THAT ORDER - while you’re relatively young.
I am an almost 35 year old, apartment dwelling, unmarried, childless woman with cats. That doesn’t bode well for me in the opinions of others. You might think it would just be a topic of conversation for the old folk…you’d be incorrect. While there are exceptions (I’m one of them), there are also some younger people who will let you slowly drag yourself to the curb if you’re not getting married and having kids around the same time they are. This has absolutely happened to me.
I’m from Tuscaloosa, but moved to Birmingham over 10 years ago, after graduating college. I didn’t really have any friends here, but I made them. I was a part of, or attended their weddings. I was around for the birth of their children, and the 1st birthdays…but then I started getting phased out. I’m not an insane partier, a man-stealer, or a husband flirter with-er (not my style), so there wasn’t any real reason for me to get closed out of the circle. BUT, something happens when a group of friends get married and have babies very close to each other. They form an alliance…a “mom gang”, if you will. They have something in common that the childless outliers don’t. They know what it’s like to be pregnant, give birth, have sleepless nights with a screaming child driving them actually insane, and they know the feeling that comes with watching their kid roll over, crawl and walk for the first time. They can recommend ointments, remedies and toys to each other. They exchange baby and maternity clothing. It’s a bond that changes friendship for the better for them.
But what to do with the one who offers to bring over a bottle of wine, and do whatever, so they can have some sort of break without having to leave their infant? There just isn’t time or energy for that girl…and I’m pretty sure they thought I wouldn’t want to hear about all of the aforementioned things, but that’s not the case. Honestly, I get it. It hurts, but I understand the bond without ever having been a part of it. That’s the blessing and the curse of being very aware and empathetic. I WANT to be there, and it feels awful, but I understand why I’m not.
The older people…the older people are much more obviously disappointed in where you are, or aren’t, in life. Every time you see them, there’s a laundry list of questions. They vary depending on whether you’re single or in a relationship. As the “in a relationship person”, I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve been turned to after a conversation with a married person/mom and heard, “sooooooooo what’s going on with YOUR life?” - and it’s definitely not being asked because they’re interested in what’s going on with the ol’ grocery shopping job. There’s the, “are you married/pregnant YET?!”, and the “when’s he gonna ask you to marry him?!” question. Don’t even get me started on what it’s like when you’re living in sin…aka living together without being married. My hand is frequently picked un and examined for a non-decorative ring, occasionally followed by a, “bless your heart”. Then you have the non-verbal communication of expectation. I’ve never met a southern woman who couldn’t say everything to you with one look…or a look at her friend and then back to you. The worst? The holidays…aaaaaaand they’re comin', y’all!
I will tell you, after all of that, I’m okay. I made the decisions I’ve made in my life with purpose. In the traditional southern way, I’m not a believer in divorce as an easy solution to a poorly thought out decision to get married. I know divorce happens. It’s happened all around me, but I’ve held out on “settling”, because the “I’m aging” thing, and what others think of me has been less important than my truth. My truth is that I was never in a relationship I could truly see resulting in marriage and children. All of my previous relationships were toxic in one way or another. Why would I want to pretend to build a life with someone I didn’t want to build a life with just so I could get married and have kids? I’m ABSOLUTELY not saying that’s the case for others, but I grew up in a crazy enough way to not want to put my children through the hell of an unhappy home, and the tragedy of a broken marriage/what comes after, if I can in any way help it. I’ve waited for a reason. I’ve waited to find my person, my parter. I’ve waited to have a relationship that can stand the test of time. So it's taken me a little longer than "everyone else"...is that the end of the world? No.
So, if you’re where I am, just know you’re not alone. Go into the holidays with your head held high, your plate covered in food and your wine glass full. Fuck shame. Fuck judgement. Fuck building your life on someone else’s expectations. Don’t let the pressure others put on you affect the decisions you make for your future. This is, after all, YOUR future. This is your life, and only you can live it.