There are some pretty funny and truly bizarre traditions around the world if you happen to be single. In some parts of Germany, single women celebrating their 30th birthday are tasked with cleaning doorknobs with a toothbrush. In France, unmarried young women get to walk around in elaborate green and yellow hats on November 25 to celebrate St. Catherine's Day, the patron saint of single women. A prayer for single women over 30 in France loosely translates to "Send whatever you want Lord, I'll take it!"
In Denmark if you're 25 and not hitched, you get cinnamon thrown at you, and if you're 30 and haven't walked down the aisle, expect a shower of pepper.
But there isn't anything more terrifying than what happens to single females in Puerto Rico and probably the rest of Latin America: the cadre of meddling aunts. A sometimes loud and ever-present force of nature, these women are always on the lookout for anything that seems out of the ordinary, and to them, not being married is most definitely out of the ordinary.
It's especially acute around St. Valentine's Day, when the same why-aren't-you-married question comes up over and over again. Among the chocolates and cards and everyone acting all lovey-dovey, the Spanish Inquisition is in full force. Oh, how nice that school is going well, or that work is going well, and that you like what you do, but tell me, mi'ja, qué pasa contigo, what's going on, you're not real serious with any boy. Pobrecita. Ay bendito. You poor thing. WHAT IS GOING ON?!
I'm fine, really I am, I'd answer. I'm busy with things. But truth be told: I've never really wanted to get married. It even came up during my First Communion, when I was adamant about not wanting to wear a veil like all the other little girls in church. To this day I remember arguing with my mother at a religious store in San Juan about the veil and how I wasn't going to wear it at all because it looked like I was getting married, and I ended up being the only one who didn't wear it. I think one of my aunts even cried about it, and so did my mother, naturally.
Not that there's anything wrong with getting married, of course. I know plenty of married couples who genuinely enjoy each other's company, and I'm always impressed to hear about people celebrating 30, 40, 50 years and beyond together. It's just not for me. Maybe coming from a large family has something to do with it. Sharing space and everything else with your own flesh and blood is hard enough sometimes, and the thought of doing the same with someone else for all eternity just didn't sound very appealing, especially when you throw in the cooking and cleaning part.
This was not something the aunts wanted to hear, and they were backed up by my mother, who to this day is terrified that I'm going to end up alone in a ditch on a cold winter day, waiting to be rescued because the car veered off the road and there's no husband to drive me home. It doesn't help that I tell her I take the bus. She and the aunts just couldn't wrap their minds around the thought that not only wasn't I married, but that I didn't even want to be! ¿Uy qué es eso? ¿Por qué? What is that? Why?
Inevitably, the entire United States would get blamed for my failure to get married. Yes, moving from Puerto Rico to the States, the aunts would muse, was the problem. Maybe if you had stayed on the island and not gone over there where they have some pretty liberal ideas of things, then you wouldn't be thinking these weird thoughts of going through life alone without a husband. Who wants that, they would ask, nearly in horror. Did you know, they would murmur, that some girls over there in the United States LIVE WITH THEIR BOYFRIENDS WITHOUT GETTING MARRIED?! UY! You're not doing that are you, and not telling us, right? No Titi, not me, I explain. It's just not something I'm interested in doing.
Look at it as a profession, I would say, much like wanting to be a doctor or a teacher, or even a writer. It's like a job; you pick it if you want to do that. But that kind of logic didn't fly with them.
¡Pero toda mujer sueña con casarse! Every woman dreams of getting married, I would hear. Y algunos sueños son pesadillas, some dreams turn out to be nightmares, I would answer, only to be told don't get fresh, they're just concerned that you'll end up all alone. The last two words, all alone, said with extra emphasis so that one could imagine a bleak and gray future ahead. And worst of all, become a jamona, Puerto Rican slang for an unmarried woman with sad eyes and way too many pets.
It really is an uphill battle as a Latina to be perfectly fine with being single. Everything about the culture tells us otherwise. Going out alone is seen as weird, the vast majority of commercials on Spanish-language TV revolve around the wonderfulness of a family, the novelas focus on that girl trying to decide who among the many to marry, and family gatherings mean having to deal with relatives who either try to play matchmaker or just look and smile weakly, like you have an incurable illness and they feel sorry, ay bendito, poor thing, mira esa, look at her, all alone.
My mother's aunts are all gone now, but with another Valentine's Day upon us, I wouldn't be surprised if I hear their voices in the wind asking me what is wrong, when you are getting married. I'm fine, really I am!