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A Single Gift

"On the journey to buy a wedding gift for a friend I went from single career woman to pathetic, unmarried loser. It seems silly that shopping for a single gift could lead me to question my self worth, but standing amongst the whistling tea kettles, grapefruit bowls and wine racks that's exactly what happened."
 
 
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In reality it was only five blocks from my office to Williams-Sonoma, but the walk there was enough to make me question my entire existence. On the journey to buy a wedding gift for a friend I went from single career woman to pathetic, unmarried loser. The minute I got to the store I felt completely out of place. Next to a soon-to-be bride looking like an Ann Taylor ad in her suit, briefcase slung over shoulder and every hair in place, I felt like a freak. A big, single, sloppy, backpack-carrying, sneaker-wearing, Walkman-listening freak.And it wasn't just my tragic wardrobe leading me down the path of self doubt. The KitchenAid mixers and over-priced muffin mixes mocked me from every aisle and suddenly I was contemplating when my friend -- the one who I shared my first apartment with after college -- decided she wanted a set of mixing bowls in sunshine, avocado and indigo, and why I had yet to feel the kitchenware urge.We were happy in that two-bedroom, four-roommate apartment, weren't we? The one where your seating options were stained green, hand-me-down futon or carpet? So what if we had more cats than place settings. While I'll admit I was thankful to finally move out and have my own bedroom, until now I hadn't thought about how much our lives had diverged in the past six years. She'd taken the big Marriage offramp, leading to a well-furnished house in the suburbs, while I was still doing 55 in the Single lane, with an apartment in the city (two roommates, three bedrooms) and no exit in sight -- and not entirely ready to pull over anyway.Now I was wondering if she'd grown up while I was more or less marching in place -- just many ex-boyfriends and bad dates later. Not to mention still eating off my grandmother's yellow and orange floral dishes and drinking out of unmatching plastic cups from Target."Can I help you?" someone asked, and suddenly I snapped back to reality, only to see Vera-Wang's fantasy still standing at the counter surveying her registry items. I felt an overwhelming urge to flee the store, but I needed that gift."I'd like a registry list," I told the fastidiously dressed, grinning-like-an-idiot salesman. "The last name is Connors, first is Megan.""Here it is, Megan Connors and Time Griffin," he said, pleased with himself."It's Tim," I corrected, slightly amused."Time, that's an interesting name," he continued, perky as ever."His name's Tim, " I repeated."I've never heard of anyone named Time before."Suspicions confirmed: I was nonexistent in this bridal world."He's British," I hissed through clenched teeth before swiping the three-page document.I knew my mission: Find something that says, "Yes, thanks, I'm fine on my own," while at the same time not breaking my solo journalist-with-student-loans budget. I was tempted to go off the registry, lest they know what I spent, but I resisted.When you're single, the whole wedding-gift-getting process can play on your insecurities, even if you don't think your marital status is one of them. First of all, most likely you've never been the recipient of houseware items so you don't have the advantage of already marrieds who have been on the other side and can spot a good present from a loser. It seems silly that shopping for a single gift could lead me to question my self worth, but standing amongst the whistling tea kettles, grapefruit bowls and wine racks that's what happened.It set off a mental domino effect: Maybe I should be getting married, but how can I choose someone to spend my life with when I can't find a job I can stand for more than a year? And what if (deep, dark fear) I'm unlovable in the "I-love-you-so-much-I-want-to-own-matching-china-with-you" way?While I don't feel ready to get married just yet, in that store I started wondering if it was normal to be happy still living much the same way I did in college. After all, my parents were married and had me at my age, as I'm often reminded.It's not like if I met that combination best friend, stand-up comic, Greek god, brain surgeon I'd throw him back. But the way I see it it's a lot like choosing a favorite ice cream flavor. When I was eight, my favorite flavor, the one I got every single time, was peanut butter and chocolate. It wasn't until I became a true woman of the ice cream world -- working at Baskin-Robbins at 16 -- that I was able to sample all 31-plus flavors and realized that, while I liked peanut butter and chocolate, my true favorite was cappuccino chip. And now I know I can't make a decision until I've had enough free samples to be sure of my choice.Suddenly I bumped into a display table sending cookbooks crashing to the floor. As I reached down to clean up the mess I found I was holding the perfect present. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Boring, but good. A complete gift. Not one bowl from a set of dishes or something random like that."Nice choice," His Haughtiness assured me when I brought my selection to the counter.I was exulting in a self-congratulatory moment and waiting for my book to be wrapped when another woman about my age entered the store. I instantly recognized the look on her face: It was the same one I was wearing moments earlier. Uneasiness, disorientation, as she glanced around through funky, horn-rimmed glasses. I noted her cool Adidas sneakers and hip little barrettes. She checked her one-page registry and was back at the counter with her selection before my wrapped gift returned."I'd like to get this," she said, a bit nervously."The chicken pitcher? Uh, is that on the registry?" the salesman sneered, unable to catch the words as they slipped from his lips.Her eyes met mine. Was there something wrong with her choice? I couldn't see it."No, it's not, and I'd like it wrapped," she told him, a change apparent in her voice. Determination, confidence, a don't-mess-with-me tone."Hang on," he said, before marching to the backroom carrying her pitcher as if it were a grenade with the pin removed. "She wants to buy the chicken pitcher, and she wants it wrapped," he whined (too loudly) to some invisible Martha Stewart lurking in the wings.The chicken pitcher girl and I again exchanged glances. I was proud of her for not letting the gift dictator intimidate her, and watching her regain her conviction I too underwent a metamorphosis. Deep inside me the scrawny, scared caterpillar had changed into a self-assured butterfly, happy to be making my own choices and waiting for the right time and the right person. It was good to be reminded, in this most wedding-related of tasks, that there are lots of other cool single people out there.At last my gift returned and I was free to go back into my single, unmatched-linens and china-less world. Walking home, I started to wonder: "If I get married will I too develop a yen for a salad spinner? A need for a $220 stainless steel, eight quart stockpot?" I guess there's no way to tell. What I do know is that no time hunting for gifts while lamenting my oneness or receptions spent sitting at the "singles" table and being forced to claw for the bouquet will prompt me to settle until I find my perfect cappuccino chip.