Since weddings no longer reflect the passage into adulthood, other celebrations have come to hold similar meaning.
Ann Friedman recently wrote in New York Magazine about the parties we should have instead of weddings. With changing nuptial norms, weddings don’t actually reflect a passage into adulthood. She suggests a few alternatives, including a graduation shower and a not-pregnant party. I haven’t thrown myself any of these parties, though I am still more than happy to accept your gifts of cash and kitchen gadgets.
Last weekend I did, however, throw myself a going away party. My next Big Adult Life decision is to move to Korea to teach English for a year. It was a fairly simple affair. I invited about 20 friends, and a few even drove from out of town to send me off. There was pizza, apple pie, and I asked everyone to show some cleavage since I’m going to have to observe a modest dress code for the next year. I got to see all of my friends and talk about the specifics of my plans. We listened to music, laughed at the usual things, and played a few silly games I made up. I got to hug all of my friends one last time and hear their well wishes for me.
I was a bit reluctant to throw myself a party. As obnoxious and self-centered as I can pretend to be on the internet, it was actually hard for me to plan a party for myself. I needed multiple friends to suggest the idea and offer up ways to help. The more I thought about it, however, the more important it felt to have a party. I’m never getting married, but moving abroad for a year is actually really similar to what weddings used to mean (and sometimes still do, though norms are changing).
I’m leaving behind my friends and family, the people who have loved and taken care of me for years. I’m venturing off into the unknown. My relationships with these people may never be the same. I’m scared of losing them, of losing that care and closeness. I feel a bit guilty for leaving them behind. I won’t be there to love and support them in the same way that I can when I’m in person. They won’t be there for me in the same way either. I’m going to miss beach days, late night dinners, birthdays, Christmas, and even a close friend’s wedding.
The decision to move abroad for a year is complicated, and one that I’m not taking lightly. I’ve been thinking about this move for a while, preparing paperwork and trying to get myself ready for something I know I can never actually prepare myself for. In the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the play Into The Woods. My senior year high school English teacher showed us the film adaptation as an introduction to post-modernism. We talked about derivative art and breaking the fourth wall, but mostly we talked about what it means to go off on one’s own. To leave the safety of the village and find adventure, to find ourselves away from everything we’ve known. As over-achieving high school seniors preparing for college, it struck a chord.
When I lay in bed at night unable to sleep, I wonder if it’s worth it. Am I stretching myself too far? What if I get lost in the woods? Is going off on my own something I can even strive for? Is that a fucked up “American Dream”-esque goal? At my going away party I got to see the people who love me most and watch them be genuinely exited for me. I was reminded that my friends and family are still there for me, even when I go into the woods. They will make sure I don’t get too lost in the woods, and they will continue to love and support me from afar as I venture off.
I don’t have a grand solution to what cultural milestones we ought to celebrate if not marriage. Even if there isn’t one grand template for celebrating Adult Milestones, I think it’s important to take up space with our celebrations. I found a very satisfying and soothing boost of love to see me off for the next year, and I’m grateful to these people for showing up to show their love and support for me.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now putting her Ivy League biochemistry degree to use by teaching English in Seoul. She authors Fat Smart And Pretty, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.