I was 21 years old and three bites into my bagel – extra pickles, of course – when I noticed a woman sitting at the next table, looking my way.
She was middle-aged, bustling with joy, and eager to start a conversation. I was… eating my bagel… and as anyone who has frequented the Melbourne institution of Glick's will know, bagels are a near religious experience and one’s full attention is required. Please.
Alas, she seemed pleasant, and so I smiled and chatted along. But before long, I could feel the conversation veering into different territory, and oh okay, yes, it’s time for the interrogation now.
“Are you married?,” she enquired with a smile, her eyes quizzing my face.
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I chortled on my mouthful, “Nooo!”.
“Oh, but you have a boyfriend?,” she nodded, eyes brimming with hope.
“No… I don’t,” I found myself offering a slight smile. (Was I... a little apologetic?)
Pause. Her brow furrowed with concern.
I detected a faint whiff of pity. And then, she found the most hopeful words she could muster:
“That’s okay, dear. Even though time is getting on for you, you still might find someone yet.”
I was 21 – and speechless.
“Who cares!,” I hear you say. “Laugh it off!”. “She’s a stranger! It doesn’t matter”. And yes, it’s true, and I did… but also, I never forgot it too. Because that moment jolted me. It was the very first moment, I felt the pressure of ‘next’. The pressure of what ‘should’ be: The pressure to find someone. To settle down.
That despite everything that I was and the things I’d achieved, I was being perceived through a lens of lack; of what I didn’t have, or rather, who I didn’t have… yet.
I’ve been fortunate. I was raised by a mother who is open-minded and supportive. Who has never put pressure on me to be something other than who I truly am, or the life that I want.
But I can’t always say the same for my community; my dear Jewish community that I adore, but can push my buttons in the way only a beloved but annoying family member can… You know?
I’ve been set up on a blind date with someone purely because he had a PhD, and convinced to give another guy a second date just because he is a lawyer.
I’ve had well-meaning parents of friends raise a glass to me, publicly declaring their hopes that I “find someone soon”.
I’ve had brides tell me “not to worry” – I wasn’t – and that “you’ll be next” – I wasn’t – and endured far too many tables of miscellaneous singles at weddings.