Relationships

The Accidental Wedding Dress

The Accidental Wedding Dress

Last year, I bought a wedding dress. No, I did not get married. No, I was not engaged. (And no, I was not crazy.) It was an accident…

The story begins with a wedding — someone else’s. I am a lowly guest, and I need something to wear.

So, one Saturday, I wander into a tiny, intimidating boutique on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It’s the kind of place where everything, including the floorboards, is painted white, save for one spindly cactus chilling in the corner. Dresses are suspended on hooks from the ceiling. The vibe is like an art gallery, with gowns instead of paintings.

“Are you shopping for a DRESS?” asks a salesman. This seems like a foregone conclusion in a place where dresses are the only thing for sale. Still, I tell him I am. He seems excited about this.

I hold up a dramatic black lace gown. It’s something a more fabulous version of me would wear. The me who wears this dress owns a very impressive home, maybe even a castle. She is mysterious, alluring, self-assured. She knows what she wants and also how to get it. I would like to be this imaginary person, which seems like a logical reason to purchase this dress. The salesman says he will fetch one in my size and flounces away, disappearing behind a white velvet curtain.

“Here we are!” he trills, emerging moments later. I look up to see him holding the fabulous dress… in white. It is, for all intents and purposes, a wedding dress. I shudder. I am not here for a wedding dress.

“We don’t have the black one in your size,” he explains. “But try on the white, and if you like it, we can order it in black!”

This is how I find myself gazing at my own reflection, wearing the world’s most perfect wedding dress. I want to set it on fire. I want to never take it off. Most disturbingly of all, I am ready to say yes to this dress. But I am not getting married. So that would be insane.

“I want to see how it fits!” calls the salesman.
I tentatively emerge from the dressing room.
“Oooooooooh! Are you a BRIIIIDE?” asks another salesperson, clapping her hands together.
“No,” I respond.
“Are you ENGAGED?” she asks.
“No,” I reply.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asks.
Why do I feel like it is Christmas Eve and my aunt just backed me into a corner?
“Sort of?” I say. “I’m seeing someone, but we haven’t really, uh, defined what’s going on with us yet.”
“Oh,” she says. My answer has disappointed her. “Well, you could wear it to a black and white ball?”

My chances of going to a black and white ball anytime soon are about as good as my chances of getting engaged, which is to say, slim to none. So I order the dress — in black — and begrudgingly leave the store.

Two weeks later, a box arrives at my home. I am ready to transform into the black-dress-wearing, castle-owning version of me. I open the box to discover… the dress, in white. Very funny, universe, I think. Obviously, I will have to return it.

Yet I cannot ignore its siren song. Later that day, I put the dress on, just for fun. I sit at my desk and rattle off a few emails. I discover how it feels to watch Netflix in a bridal gown. (The answer, in case you’re wondering, is weird.)

The dress hangs in my room for a week.

After much soul searching, I realize what I want isn’t the dress itself. What I want is an answer. A milestone. A conclusion. The “white dress” story has been told to me ever since I was young enough to hear. It is a fairytale handed down for generations, tumbled through the ages until it emerged smooth and shiny as a pebble. We all know how it goes: “One day, your time will come…”

But what if it doesn’t?

The truth is, I am okay with being single. I like the shape of my life. Still, I don’t know what a happily single woman wears to symbolically commit to the rest of her life. I suppose the optimistic answer is, anything she wants. Yet with such a wide array of options comes many decisions, many questions, many doubts. There is no prescription. No fairytale that ends with a phenomenal pantsuit or a faux fur coat that the princess dons as she boards the jet to her life full of solo adventures.

What I want are more examples, a cornucopia of happily-ever-afters. Because no matter where we find ourselves (single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, separated, confused, complicated…) there are never any guarantees. So why don’t our stories of settling down — and more importantly, feeling settled — reflect all the ways that might look?

One day, while giving the dress the side-eye, I am reminded of my prom. My high school boyfriend and I had broken up days beforehand, and I was left without a date. And so, I went alone, wearing a women’s tuxedo with a sequin tube top underneath. (It was the early aughts, so a sequin tube top was actually a sound sartorial choice at the time.) Perhaps, I realize with a start, I’ve never subscribed to the expected wardrobe. Perhaps this is just the latest chapter in a very long tale I’m writing for myself.

In the end, I did what any self-respecting person who’s trying not to tempt fate (or waste fabric) would do. I said goodbye to the dress and sent it on its way.

But if anyone wants to invite me to a black and white ball, well, you know where to find me.

And I know what I’ll wear.

P.S. On living alone, and things that should exist for single people.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Caroline! Oh how we missed you here! Please write more for CoJ!

  2. Wb says...

    Missed out on what you wore to the wedding!

  3. Emily says...

    Caroline, clearly we adore you! When is your book coming out?!

  4. Meredith says...

    Caroline’s writing is so fresh – love hearing from her! I too felt immense pressure, most of which was internal, to get married and move my life forward in my 20s – I often wonder where I would be if I had made other choices. While I don’t believe in regret, I do perhaps wish I had taken a different path. Although my chosen path led me to my beautiful daughters who make up my world, so that is more than enough for me. Be bold and brave!

  5. Kat says...

    Caroline! I was so thrilled to see you in Joanna’s Instagram story earlier today and now my wish has been granted – so happy to have you back!!! You don’t know me of course, but I started reading Cup of Jo when you were writing with Joanna and you wrote so many great pieces that resonated with me. <3

  6. Dana says...

    This is a lovely essay! It made me think of that 30 rock episode when Liz Lemon buys the perfect wedding dress?

  7. Joanna Tsay says...

    So nice to hear you again, Caroline! You really do have a distinct voice and I’ve loved every piece since you first popped up on CoJ and did that lipstick series. :D This one has to be my favorite, though.

    I’ve also loved reading all the comments. Love this blog.

  8. jane says...

    Caroline! Do you know your photo is being used on Pinterest for deodorant ads? I see them all the time, but of course couldn’t find the ad to link right now

  9. YL says...

    Love your “voice” Caroline! I’ve missed you!

  10. june2 says...

    A very similar thing happened to me. I decided to try on a boho-yet-sophisticated wedding dress that suited, and fit!, me so beautifully, though I did not buy it, ($1200 was more than I could pay at the time). But it felt great to know that should I ever need it, I could find a dress I loved and that loved me back, lol…I don’t like trad wedding dresses so this meant a lot and it was a comforting experience overall!

  11. I love this so much. Yes to a cornucopia of happily ever afters! I’m 35 and have been single for a looong time and, while I’m learning more every day to embrace and celebrate my life for one, I, too, am constantly on the look-out for more fairytales ending with a life full of amazing solo adventures. Thanks for sharing, this made my day.

  12. Brooke says...

    Love Caroline!

  13. Tera says...

    Caroline, I started reading this before I looked at the author and just KNEW you were back! Missed you and your wonderful voice!

    • Alexandra says...

      I had the same experience! Caroline, you have been so missed.

  14. Pam says...

    Caroline!!!!! LOVE!

  15. Ingrid says...

    Lots of luck and good wishes to Lexie! Hope we get to read about your birth story (SO easy!) and the meeting of the siblings (SO sweet!).

    And welcome back, Caroline! One thought about the dress: You can’t wear the perfect dress if you don’t have it. Just saying…

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Thanks, everyone! xoxo

  16. Frin says...

    Your watching Netflix in that dress reminded me of that Friends episode where Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel hang out in wedding gowns. lol.

  17. May says...

    almost squealed with glee to see caroline’s name just now. i miss her voice!! also i want to see her in that dress!!! :)

  18. Amanda says...

    OMG OMG It’s Caroline! XOXOXOXO

    Would love to see you more often.

  19. jean m goddard says...

    I loved this post! Not only did it make a serious argument for the recognizing a solo life as a legitimate choice and deserving of a commitment ceremony, but it was charming and hilarious. Well done! More, please.

    • Yes to that! Being in a relationship as a final step, a goal to reach has annoyed me for so long – as if you have any influence on that. Female solo life should finally be accepted by society as it has long been for males.

  20. Elle says...

    I. Miss. Caroline.

  21. Amor says...

    Caroline!!!
    Was giddy to see your name :) Hugs!
    Hello from Malaysia

  22. AJ says...

    Ohhhh so good to ‘hear’ your voice again Caroline! Love the image of you in the gown watching Netflix haha! You rock, lady… x

  23. Rae says...

    CAROLINE!! Are you back? :)

  24. Caroline! YAY!!! i want to see a picture of this dress too…

  25. Briana says...

    Same as all the other women – I MISS CAROLINE! When I saw her name on the top of the post, I actually gasped with glee. I miss her, and her blog too! I hope this means her book is complete and we will start to see more of her, and get updates on that process!

    “I like the shape of my life.” That’s a perfect way to say it and a phrase I am going to adopt. I am 35, single and childless. And I love my life. I have a great career and bought a house last year. I feel whole. But I look around and see the same things, the friends married with children and wonder if I am missing something. I wish there were more women I could look to as role models or inspirations of happy alone-ness.

  26. Carly says...

    I got so teased by my family because I bought two “wedding dresses” before I was even dating anyone. I loved them, they were on sale, and both short and simple enough that I could wear them for other purposes should I change my mind or never find someone. BUT. When I did get engaged I had two dresses I LOVED. It was so easy. I’d recommend buying a wedding dress in advance to any girl who’s not interested in a formal or fancy wedding.

  27. Holly C says...

    I had never heard of you until today. You showed up on my Newsfeed. I must say your writing is terribly enjoyable and I love your style, girl!

    I would like to wish you were all the single girls out there that so desperately want a husband. That’s not a bad thing. But, keep in mind that being trapped in a miserable marriage is worse than being single. Trust me. I have been there and I have done that. It sucks.
    I must say that after getting out of the second marriage I actually did find a wonderful man and I’ve been married to him for 25 very happy years.
    There is hope. Don’t rush it.

  28. Jessica says...

    i have to join the COJ lemmings and say YAY for Caroline! What a great writer you are.
    PS–love your haikus!!

  29. Edwina says...

    Yaaaay welcome back Caroline <3

    And lots of good wishes to Lexi in this exciting time xx

  30. Lorna says...

    How I have missed Caroline’s writing! Welcome back! xxx

  31. Jessica says...

    Oh, Caroline, it’s so wonderful to read your writing again! I miss you on CoJ and I miss your blog! Everything about this essay spoke to me, especially the part about wanting to see a “cornucopia of happy endings.” I’m about to turn 36, and I feel utterly surrounded by everyone having what is still, even in 2018, the conventional happy ending of marriage, children, and a home. I often feel so left out, and not just because a part of me wants those things too. As a single and childless woman, you can start to feel marginalized at a certain age in our society. I see so few women whose lives look like mine in either my own social circles or in media. Reading your essay here today reminded me of how much I crave that, and how instantly reassuring it is to see someone who is “settled down” like myself.

  32. Charlene says...

    Glory To GOD!!
    Wow!!
    I love this!! It wasn’t an accident!! That’s the dress your day is coming
    Faith without works is dead!

  33. Jeanette Sweat says...

    You go girl

  34. Sarah K says...

    What everyone else said: Caroline, you’re a great writer. I forgot how good! Your prose is tight and clear and vivid and it just hooks me and pulls me in.

    Also—if the dress makes you feel that good, at least buy it in black! And then create a reason to wear it. Get a friend to go to the opera with you, or throw a party—party could be simple, but tell everyone to dress fancy and take a bunch of pictures. And show us some of them, of course. ?

  35. Lana says...

    So beautifully written. Thank you for this.
    Cheers to beautiful outfits and millions of beautiful milestones in our lives!
    Black and white ball for Cup of Jo readers soon?

  36. Sara says...

    I really enjoyed reading your work here again, Caroline. Love how you take a seemingly simple topic like the wrong dress and use it to explore much more complex ideas and thoughts, all the while keeping it fully engaging.

  37. Lauren says...

    All is well in the world when I can read anything written by Caroline <3. Her writing is like meditation for my soul. XOXO

  38. Ismah says...

    Yippie for Caroline‘s comeback!!

  39. Sarah says...

    Hurray! Caroline is back! I’ve missed your writing, and I loved this piece.

  40. Abesha1 says...

    1) where’s a picture???
    2) what did you wear to the wedding?3) love a woman in a white dress, any event. So classy.
    4) welcome back, Caroline!
    5) wishes to Lexi for a simple, healthy birth…

  41. Christa says...

    Oh! I am so happy to hear from Caroline. I actually just looked her up last week to see what she’s up to! (#stalker).
    I also vote for a photo of the dress!

  42. M.K says...

    Buy the dress!! You love it! I also try to avoid tempting fate, but I also believe in doing what you love, regardless. If you love the dress, you should buy it and keep it for whenever it seems appropriate to wear it. Justify it however you want, but don’t let the fact that you aren’t engaged keep you from something you love.
    Also, why do we give white dresses this power? You should darn well be able to wear whatever color dress you want. Just for perspective, at an expensive private school near me the girls all wear white dresses of their choosing at graduation and it’s beautiful. None of them were getting married ;)

  43. Karen says...

    love your writing voice!
    on a side note–why do you not appear on the “about us” page when you have been writing for CoJ much longer than some other who do appear on that page??

  44. Lauren says...

    Good grief! What an extraordinary piece! Caroline’s right. We do need more examples. What I loved about this piece is that she hinted at the idea that maybe each of our happy endings doesn’t depend on partnership or somebody else at all. Maybe, the fairytale one writes with one’s self is where the real happily-ever-after lies. The question is, how to we celebrate those individual milestones? I mean, for me, the answer is sometimes running into Total Wine on a Tuesday to buy a fancy bottle of champagne to celebrate a huge career accomplishment (and opening it shortly thereafter, of course). And, there are other examples of more subtle happily-ever-after moments for me. But, my thought is that we each define how happily-ever-after looks ourselves. We can’t live life subscribing to someone else’s idea of what a rich life should look like.

  45. shannon says...

    Caroliiiiinnnneee! Yay!

    Also…can we see a photo of the dress (or a link to it)? Please? :)

  46. Kerry says...

    The piece just resonated with me. I am a happily married woman (12 years in September) however I am one of those women who doesn’t make friends easily.
    The writer had this semi pseudo relationship with this dress that seemed to equal the relationships that I have with those who are my gender. Maybe I am not making friends with the right people.
    Thanks for writing and whoever reads this thanks for listening to me ramble.

    • Sam says...

      Kerry! I’ve felt that way so intensely in recent years. I yearn to be part of an all female power squad to march with and have cabin getaways with but they are no where to be found. I feel instead like an outsider to womanhood or at least that creating authentic female friendships is unlikely. I hope it makes you feel better to know that someone else feels similarly! :)

    • Kerry says...

      Sam, it both makes me glad to know that I am not alone as to how I feel and it makes me sad to know that you feel the way that I feel. This is the saddest thing. I am 46 years old and cannot seem to make friends and sorry to hear that your life is similar to mine.
      Hopefully both of our lives will be more enriched by female friendships by this time next year.
      Good luck to us both.

    • Kerry – I was so struck by your comment, I had to reply. So astute. I have nothing else to say other than I wanted to commend you for your poignant self awareness, whatever it means :). I bet you’d make a wonderful friend.

    • Kerry says...

      Clara, thank you for responding to my post. This is something that is normally not what I would do. I have never publicly responded to someone’s writing on line but this piece was different. And perhaps I am feeling a wee bit abandoned as we just buried my step father yesterday.
      I wish you well and thank you again for your kind words. There’s a picture phrase I like to use…when a rock is thrown into the water you never know where the ripples in the water will lead.
      Take care Clara.

    • Leah says...

      Hi Kerry…
      I am with you. Happily married, days away from 43, and sort of a lone wolf. I find female friendship so daunting I just don’t know where it begins.
      Thank you for sharing. Means more to me than you know.

    • Kerry says...

      Leah, thank you for your comment and know that I feel your angst and frustration. Why was it so much easier to make friends when we were younger and it’s so much more difficult now that we’re older?
      You would think that with more money, a mode of transportation and the ability to say yes without needing to ask one’s parents would make things easier, right? Not so much!
      Please do not think that you’re alone because you are not.
      Take care and good luck.

    • Jenna says...

      Thanks for posting. I suppose I feel about friendship like I used to about marriage: maybe it’s not for me. Maybe I’m ok with that (perhaps I think about it too often for that to be believable). Anathema, I know, but hold the pity. Invisible chronic illness leaves me unreliable. When I am around people, I instinctively prioritize time alone over sleep. My life will be too short to read all the books I want to read. Maybe I’m one of those people who could leave civilization and live in a cabin in the woods. Maybe I will for a month.

    • Bethany says...

      Ditto.

  47. Jess says...

    Caroline, love hearing your voice again here!

  48. Anne says...

    YOU’RE BACK! I’ve missed you. And I want to see a picture of this dress.

  49. Alice says...

    ‘I like the shape of my life’ – I love the solidity of this sentence: so clear, so decided, and strong. This is the stuff I visit COJ every day for, thank you x

  50. Hanna says...

    Ha-ha! I’m afraid for me, it *is* the dress. My mom was a professional seamstress for years, and she made me the most amazing watered silk dress based on a 1912 pattern and our combined design efforts. I’ve been married for 15 years, but I only got to wear the dress once. Once! Every time I see it in the closet I wish there was some kind of event I could bring it out for. My husband tells me we can have an old fashioned “silver wedding” party for our 25th anniversary, but that seems like a pretty contrived excuse to get out a wedding dress and twirl around. :-)

    (On the bright side, Mom made me an almost-equally awesome bias cut burgundy silk dress that we designed together for my senior prom, and I’ve worn it to a steady stream of formal events for 20 years. It always gets compliments. Maybe we should just do a colored version of the wedding dress . . . excuse me while I email my mom.)

    • You could have a professional photo shoot done for your next anniversary and wear it then!

      That was my hope and plan when I got married 2 years ago, but there was an unfortunate incident not too long after our wedding: the dry cleaners ruined my beloved dress.

      I am able to realize that things are just things and what really matters is that my marriage is still intact, but if you still have your beautiful dress (and OMG does it sound beautiful) please find a way to wear it again!

      Oh, and don’t get it dry cleaned.

    • Allison says...

      I ‘re wear my wedding dress for anniversary dates and going to the ballet. Make a reason to wear it!

  51. LV says...

    LOVE YOU CAROLINE

  52. Julia says...

    I’ve missed your voice and writing, Caroline! So wonderful to have you back.

  53. Anne says...

    Caroline!

  54. Katie says...

    Caroline is back??!! Love her writing, and her Instagram (those haikus!!). So happy to see her here again:)

  55. Amy says...

    Yay for Caroline!

    Would love to hear an update on how Lexi and her sweet family are doing sometime :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      her last day is today and then she’ll be on maternity leave. she’s expecting her baby in two weeks! :)

  56. Alex says...

    Oh COME ON! We’ve got to see the dress!

    • Morgan says...

      Show the dress! Show the dress! Love your voice.

  57. Ceridwen says...

    Oh this post! So good, so funny, so spot on. Just what I needed to read this morning.

  58. amy says...

    Caroline! I thought you had left Cup of Jo. So nice to have you back. xxxx

  59. Jen says...

    I love your writing, Caroline and I wish this were an excerpt from a novel – I’d read it cover-to-cover!

    • yes! me too :)

  60. Emily says...

    Jo, did you plan Caroline’s return as a Galentine’s day gift for all us readers?!? SO JAZZED that she’s back, even if it’s temporary.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahaha YES! :)

    • Caitlin says...

      Ahaha oh my gosh the most perfect Galentine’s Day gift there ever was! Leslie Knope would 1000% approve

  61. Jennie says...

    Oh Caroline! you writing is just so, so good!

  62. I’ve missed Caroline!! This makes me think of the Friends episode where they all sit on the couch wearing wedding dresses. :)

    • that was my first thought too!

  63. Katie says...

    I’ve come veryclose several times to buying a J. Crew wedding dress that was on sale. It was beautiful and only $250, it would have been stupid of me NOT to buy it. Think of the savings!! But then I would have to hide it from any man I dated and it would probably go out of style before I ever got engaged…so no. But I dream.

    • Julia says...

      You will appreciate this…J Crew had a crazy sale the weekend after I got engaged, so I ordered a dress “just to see how it fits.” I didn’t tell my fiance/now-husband for quite a while because I didn’t want to seem like a crazy person, but it was $287 and it was perfect! Such a bummer they discontinued the wedding line.

    • Katie says...

      Ah Julia, I’m so glad you snagged one! And now I’m sad all over again because I forgot they discontinued that line! (Why??)

  64. Cooper says...

    There is so much wisdom in this piece! The line that resonated with me? “After much soul searching, I realize what I want isn’t the dress itself. What I want is an answer. A milestone. A conclusion.” This so perfectly captured what I’ve been realizing about myself – more than the partner, the baby, or the house, what I really want is to know how it will all turn out! It’s such a struggle to be content RIGHT NOW and to trust that whatever is around the corner, it will be okay.

  65. Ivy says...

    Caroline! I love coming to Cup of Jo every day, but have missed your writing! Nice to see you back, even if only for a short time :)

  66. Caitlin says...

    So happy to read another post from you, Caroline! I love your writing style and I love hearing about your life!

    Also – I’m super curious about the dress now! Wish you had a photo! :)

  67. Claire says...

    Thank you thank you thank you Caroline. I have been having this internal conversation for a years, and needed to read this today <3

    "What I want are more examples, a cornucopia of happily-ever-afters. Because no matter where we find ourselves (single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, separated, confused, complicated…) there are never any guarantees. So why don’t our stories of settling down — and more importantly, feeling settled — reflect all the ways that might look?"

  68. gina says...

    “What I want are more examples, a cornucopia of happily-ever-afters. Because no matter where we find ourselves (single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, separated, confused, complicated…) there are never any guarantees. So why don’t our stories of settling down — and more importantly, feeling settled — reflect all the ways that might look?”

    Just wonderfully said, amen!

    • January says...

      I loved this, too, and I’m so so glad to see Caroline back for a visit!

  69. Meg says...

    I got married in July, and my adulthood – at age 43 – still doesn’t feel fully baked. My husband has 2 boys by a previous marriage. Our wedding was small, fewer than 50, at a restaurant. I wore a yellow dress. Previously, I spent approximately 3 seconds married to a man from Rio and then spent 11 years living alone. There’s never been a stopping point where I looked around and said, ok, this is good, final adult achievement unlocked. Life keeps unspooling – there’s just more and more of it, if you’re lucky – but I know that phantom feeling of wanting the thing that lets you know you’re there.

    • B. says...

      “Life just keeps unspooling–there’s just more and more of it, if you’re lucky…”

      …just became my new mantra. Thanks Meg. You sound awesome.

    • Love this whole thing, Meg….especially the phantom feeling. Spot-on.

    • Jo says...

      “Life keeps unspooling – there’s just more and more of it, if you’re lucky…” Meg, I LOVE this and may have to print it and frame it, because you are speaking straight to my heart!

    • Nia says...

      This is so amazing, Meg. You totally captured that feeling of never quite feeling like the grown up your age says you should be and wondering if you are there yet.

    • Tristen says...

      Wow. Beautifully said.

    • Briana says...

      “Life keeps unspooling – there’s just more and more of it, if you’re lucky” this is really beautiful.

  70. Martha says...

    Caroline! So happy you’re back!

  71. Catarina R says...

    Caroline is back?! Yeaahhh.
    To Caroline: I love the way you write.
    Read the article and thought “Who wrote this? Must be someone new.” And it was you!
    I love all the girls in this blog, but yours and Joanna’s articles are always my favorite.

  72. Lisa says...

    CAROLINE! Yes! Miss you!

  73. Beata says...

    I missed Caroline! :)

  74. Siga says...

    Glad to hear from Caroline again! And, I had to think of Friends episode of the girls watching tv in bridal gowns together.

  75. Maria says...

    Caroline, you and I must be similar ages because when you wrote about the sequin tube top, it was crystal clear in my mind. I had a blue-ish one that I loved wearing to da club.

    • SAME. Though mine was not sequin, but purple and silver Lurex. I was a freshman in high school 99-00.

  76. Jenny says...

    There’s so such thing as a simple life, right? ??

    As always, love this blog and the writings within. As for my own story- I was planning a wedding- big fancy wedding dress- when SURPRISE pregnancy happened. We eloped instead with the plan of having the wedding a year later. Less than a year later, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The wedding never happened. But I do still ponder the same sentiments that lovely Caroline expresses. My elopement was a special day, but not THE special day. Is that ok with me? Sometimes it just has to be. And sometimes I start planning my dream celebration for where my life is now.

    • Abbie says...

      “Sometimes it just has to be.” The most true words about adulthood.

      HOORAY FOR CAROLINE’S TRIUMPHANT RETURN!

  77. Mary says...

    This is so funny! But honestly, I bought a “white dress” that I loved and that fit me like a glove when I had just started dating a new guy after I found out my mom had tumors in her liver and had roughly 2 years to live. She just died 2 months ago and I’m not engaged/soon to be married but it was important to me that my mom saw that dress and saw me in it so that if I do get married one day, I’ll know she knew what I was going to look like on my wedding day.

    • Katie says...

      That is so sweet. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother, but I love that you got to share that with her.

    • joe says...

      you made me cry
      love you

    • Hillary F. says...

      That is so, so amazing. Hugs to you.

    • Maureen says...

      Mary, how wonderful that you thought ahead and were able to share that experience with your mother. I am sorry for your loss of a clearly very special person. Wishing you the best.

      And thank you for this story today, Caroline!

    • cori says...

      Your story is so moving. So sorry about your mom. Cheryl Strayed has a beautiful story in Tiny Beautiful Things about a baby dress her mother bought for her not yet conceived granddaughter. Reminds me of your story.

    • Katherine says...

      This is heartbreakingly beautiful. What a special, sacred experience that must have been. So very sorry for your loss, Mary.

  78. I love this article/story, the way it turned a bit at the end and led us down a different path. I know it’s dodgy to be 42 and doling out ‘advice’ or ‘should-have’ blurbs, but let me say this: I thought finding a husband and getting married and having kids and moving into the loveliest house would make me happy. I thought once I had all of that, I’d be settled and live along into old age, well-coiffed hair and intellectual stimulation as my sidekicks. As you may have guessed, it doesn’t work that way. I wish I’d known, back in my twenties, to focus less on finding a husband or dating or even the size of my thighs and more on my writing, maybe law school and definitely traveling the world a bit longer. I love my husband and my life now, but there is no ultimate answer (married, single, unmarried, etc.). Life is too fluid for that. You sound much wiser than I was at your stage in life. Good for you.

    • Simone says...

      Amy, I don’t find it dodgy at all, but maybe that is because I am 34 and coming to the same conclusion. Minus the kids, plus moving to “paradise” a year ago, I keep coming back to the saying “no matter where you go, there you are”. I am now in therapy working through accumulated baggage and THAT is helping a ton. I am actually happier in everyday life now than I was last year, but it is by no means a 360 change, just doing hard work and moving in the right direction. And it has nothing to do with moving to “paradise”. Thanks for sharing, Amy.

  79. Caroline!!

  80. Yvonne says...

    All the hearts to Caroline.

  81. Claire says...

    I am here for this. CAROLINE!!!

    It’s like hearing a friend’s voice again – thank you for this piece.

  82. Gosh I was excited to see your name on the most recent post, Caroline. The whole time I was reading this I was thinking to myself “I wish I was this good at writing.” How cool – it feels like having a chat with a close friend, but mixed with reading a fancy op-ed in the paper. This is a great story with an inspirational message for us all, regardless of our single/coupled/somewhere in between status. Right on, dude.

  83. Rebecca says...

    Caroline!!! I am so happy you are back for a while! I love your writing so much and have missed it. I hope you are doing well!

  84. jen says...

    I’m sorry, but I think we all have the wedding dress fantasy. I married in a plain white linen dress, but I love love love weddings and the dresses and sometimes wish I had not been so down to earth.

  85. Beautiful, Caroline!

  86. annie says...

    Right on, Caroline. I’m saying yes to this all day long. I spent many years single and found contentment along the way. This essay deeply resonates with that wonderful and beautiful part of me. Thanks for writing it.

  87. Talia says...

    Oh my gosh! Is Caroline back?! I hope the answer is yes – I missed her!

  88. Maia says...

    Oh yay, Hi Caroline! It is lovely to see you here on CoJ again :)

  89. Jessica says...

    Caroline, you have such a gift. As a reader, I usually just skim during the workday; click here, click there, but never staying anywhere too long… but you’ve always made me stop my work, lean in and truly pay attention. What a testament to your engaging style and voice!

    • Catarina R says...

      I feel the same way!

  90. Jessica says...

    I really feel like we all need to see the tuxedo/sequin tube top prom outfit. That is the logical next post, right?

    • Sandra Zerahn says...

      Agree:-) and great piece to read!

    • Erin W says...

      YES!

  91. Celeste says...

    Caroline, as always, I LOVE your voice. (And I’m glad to see it pop up here again… what does it mean, Jo?!) Thank you for this piece!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, we adore caroline!!! she is filling in for lexi, while lexi is on maternity leave. her first full day is today! :) :) :)

  92. Jacqueline says...

    Echoing pretty much everyone: (1) YAY, Caroline! (2) UHM CAN WE SEE THE DRESS??

  93. Alisa says...

    Loved this essay! Missed your writing too!

  94. Jacque says...

    Yay CAROLINE!

  95. Kate says...

    Thank you so much for this, Caroline. I was married in a rose-colored dress that was technically meant for a bridesmaid, am now divorced but count my ex-husband among my closest family members, and am in a monogamous, long-term (unmarried) relationship and full-time parent to my partner’s two step-kids. On the day I got married in that beautiful rose dress, I never, ever would have predicted that a little more than a decade later I would find myself here, living a completely different life than the one I thought I was embarking on. And so I offer you this: There will be many milestones but no conclusions. The feeling of being settled is a transient one—regardless of whether we remain married to one person till death do us part or spend our lives single, stability comes and goes, and any belief to the contrary is an illusion. There is at once no answer and always an answer: It exists right here, in this essay, inside yourself, in the people you love and places you go and the work you do. You are the answer, the one constant in the cornucopia of happily-ever-afters that will most likely exist within the span of your lifetime. So let’s ditch the fairy tale and the myth of the white dress, let go of the idea that there is one happy ending and celebrate the many happy endings, the shapes of each other’s lives and the many shapes of our own. And let’s do it in whatever damn dress (or jeans or pajamas) makes us feel most like ourselves.

    • Emily says...

      Thank you for writing this, Kate. Who knew I’d find what I needed to hear in the comments section. Beautifully written!

    • Venn says...

      Wow. I actually held my breath reading this. Thank you.

    • Jenny says...

      I echo the other replies- so right on.

      Perfectly expressed. Thank you.

    • Anneka says...

      Love your response.

    • Amy says...

      “There will be many milestones but no conclusions.” <- gold!

    • Kaitlin says...

      This was exactly what I needed to hear today Kate, when I’m searching for stability but starting to believe I might never find it. Caroline and you make help me realize that I have to find that stability and peace within. Thank you!

    • Marianne says...

      I’m getting married soon in a super white dress and I just love this so much I might have to print it and hang it on my fridge. Words to live by right there.

    • Catherine says...

      Kate for president!

    • Elle says...

      Holy smokes. This gave me a giant lump in my throat. You spoke right to my heart and my reality Kate. Thank you.

      Can Kate also please write for Cup of Jo?

    • Dee says...

      Best comment EVER!! Tearing up with you lovely insight :)

    • Katherine says...

      Kate, this makes me want to reach across the table and squeeze your hand. Your wisdom and grace is an affirmation and reminder that we’re doing okay. Here’s to a multi-shaped life full of many happy endings.

    • Kato says...

      Great comment, thank you for sharing.

    • Julee says...

      Um, hell yes, Kate.
      What a lovely truth you share with us all.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      So beautifully written, so wise, so true. Thank you for this, Kate. More power to you.

    • Alice says...

      Thanks for this. I really needed to read it!

    • Cailin says...

      Oh my goodness, Kate, this is so beautiful and so important and so needed at this point in my life. I bought my perfect dress for my wedding but my fiance left me and I never got the chance to wear it…when I was standing at the seamstress having my beautiful dress fitted, I never would have imagined that it would go differently than I’d planned. I find myself in the habit of collecting words that make sense right now (because not a lot does) and your words are going into my collection. Thank you.

    • Emily W says...

      I wish I knew who you were. As a new widow, this is what I needed more than anyone could know. This prose, in its entirety, will be framed on my wall.

  96. Caroline!! I want to read every word you write.

    • Sabrina says...

      Such a gifted writer – can’t wait for a book from her!!!

  97. Courtey says...

    I love Caroline! I want to know in what boutique you found this dress, please.

    For my prom, I remember telling my mom that I wanted to look like Penelope Cruz at the Oscars
    http://img.bekia.es/galeria/70000/70092_penelope-cruz-goya-2010.jpg

    and my mom was like, “…..uhh ok, we will see what we find.” I found the most beautiful silk, white dress which I still treasure (maybe even more than my own wedding dress?). After prom, I took the dress to college and wore it to every social function that required dressing up. So literally, I would show up to fraternity formals WEARING A WEDDING DRESS!
    When one of my best friends got married, I asked her how she wanted to look on her wedding day and she responded, “Honestly, I want to look like you did at prom.” Go back, get the dress and wear it somewhere!

    • Mandy says...

      I love this!!!

  98. Nora says...

    Liz Lemon approved, too.

  99. Kelly says...

    to echo everyone else here….Caroline!!! Thank you for this.

  100. Tara Ilsley says...

    CAROLINE IS BACK> I”M SO HAPPY

  101. Karina says...

    Totally over the moon that you’re writing for Cup of Jo again. Your words are the best – quirky, out there but thoughtful and sensitive at the same time. This made this gloomy, rainy London afternoon so much better.

    Oh and I hope you sent the dress back and got the black one instead. x

  102. Hannah says...

    As a new yorker, this line really resonated with me – “I wander into a tiny, intimidating boutique on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. ”

    Why are boutiques in Manhattan so intimidating?!

    Loved this piece, Caroline.

    • june2 says...

      Because the salespeople in (often expensive) boutiques feel compelled to shift the balance of power to a more balanced place due to the rampant disrespect commonly shown to said salespeople in wealthy enclaves like Manhattan. What they forget is to Be The Change They Wish To See in the world…

      Would LOVE to see that dress!

  103. S Kay says...

    Ha! I love this so much
    especially “I discover how it feels to watch Netflix in a bridal gown.”

  104. Kaela says...

    So good to have you back here, Caroline!!

  105. Yay for Caroline! Hope to see more from her in the future. Always thoroughly enjoy her writing!

  106. Toni says...

    Caroline! Your perspective and clever writing has been so missed.

  107. Katie says...

    Caroline is back!! Yay!!

  108. Gretchen says...

    I’ve never commented before, but just wanted to tell you, Caroline, that I absolutely loved this essay and it was just a delight to read your work again!

  109. Ashley says...

    Opening up Cup of Jo to see Caroline’s byline heading the site made my day. And reading this piece just did me in. Thank you. Caroline, you are immensely missed!

  110. Vicki says...

    I wanna see the dress!!!

  111. Tiffany Jordan says...

    To echo so many other comments, it is good to hear Caroline’s voice again.

  112. Rachel says...

    CAROLINE!! You light up our lives! We miss you!

  113. How I’ve missed your writing and your single girl perspective and tales! Thank you for giving voice to that feeling of wanting to be settled. I too want that stability, that happy ending and society/culture/maybe just being a woman tells us that looks like happily ever after and a wedding

  114. Elisabeth says...

    I love Caroline’s writing. And I reeeeeeally want to see a photo of this dress!

  115. Maria says...

    Thank you Caroline for writing this post. I miss these types of posts from this website since I am also a single woman and have LOTS of moments of struggle. When I think I am alone for having that has these thoughts, I read your post and am comforted that I am not alone. Thank you again.

  116. Kim says...

    “What I want are more examples, a cornucopia of happily-ever-afters.”

    YES!!!! I grew up in a suburb inhabited almost exclusively by married people with kids or married people with older kids and / or grandkids. There were literally almost no people above the age of 18 who were happily single or even married without kids.

    I distinctly remember pangs in my awkward, nerdy high school years of wanting a boyfriend — and freaking out that I wouldn’t find someone to marry. And that if I didn’t find someone to marry, I would be facing a long life of unhappiness — because clearly the only way to be happy as an adult is to be married with kids — or at least that’s the only example I ever saw.

    Luckily, 15 years later, I’ve broken free of the bubble and realized there are so many more ways to live and be happy other than being married with kids. And so many different types of people who are all delighted by different things. Diversity for the win!

    I’m not nearly as eloquent as you, Caroline, but cheers to the fact that there are many different versions of what fullness and fulfillment can look like in someone’s adult life! Now let’s get more examples of what this looks like in popular culture!!!

  117. Sarah says...

    Love the “cornucopia of happily-ever-afters.” We absolutely need to see more representation of what that looks like for women in entertainment and media!

  118. katie says...

    I absolutely loved this essay. Such a thoughtful piece. Thank you.

  119. Beth says...

    Love your writing, Caroline–glad to see it back here!

  120. Karen says...

    Beautiful.

  121. Anne says...

    I’m so glad to have an article by Caroline! I hope there are more.

  122. Emma says...

    Thank you for this post.

    Upon returning from an annual galentines trip with the gals, this was a fresh reminder that the colourful backpack was the best sartorial purchase for this single gal (and the voodoo doughnut packed in it puts the icing on the cake – thank goodness I have no one to share it with!)

  123. good to read your words again, Caroline. Especially this:

    “So why don’t our stories of settling down — and more importantly, feeling settled — reflect all the ways that might look?”

    <3!!!

  124. Laura says...

    This is like on 30 Rock when Liz finds the perfect wedding dress and buys it even though she’s single. If you have the money and you like a dress, why not buy it??

  125. Caroline, I love this story it’s so uplifting. If I ever have a black and white ball I will definitely invite you.

  126. Jane says...

    Bring back Caroline!! The best.

  127. HA, love the women tuxedo twist of this story !

  128. Adriana says...

    I enjoyed this whole story, but my mind was blown by “aughts”

  129. Chloe says...

    So what did you end up wearing to the wedding????

  130. Chelsi says...

    Caroline! I was so excited to see your name at the top of this post. I think many a COJ reader has missed you! I wish I had some sage wisdom to offer about life but as you so eloquently stated, “… there are never any guarantees.” Surround yourself with those who lift you up, make you laugh, and cherish you for who you are. Sending love.

  131. ruby jo says...

    Read the story and thought wow I loved this writing only to realize Caroline is back. Bravo, you were missed.

  132. Meredith says...

    CAROLINE!!! <3 <3 <3 Love the voice for the single women!

  133. Leah says...

    Caroline, your writing is as gorgeous as I’m sure you looked in that dress!

  134. Princess Hajjar says...

    Caroline, that was a delight. It brought a little pensiveness to a dreary Tuesday. Thank you.

  135. Charu says...

    Haha! Chilling in wedding gown watching Netflix immediately reminded of the Friends episode where all three girls hang out in wedding gowns eating popcorn!

  136. V says...

    Love this, and your prom outfit sounds cool.

  137. Lily Swistel says...

    PRAISE. I see you Caroline. I’m a single 30-year-old woman, with no marriage prospects on the horizon. Reading this post made me think for a moment of all the love affairs, and all the love and companionship from important people I could devote more of my life to, if I never got married. Maybe it will turn out to be the life I always wanted. I don’t know yet. But I want to make a space for that fantasy, of a wild and settled-feeling life, and how great it could be. Thank you for this!

  138. Lovely to hear from you again, Caroline! <3

  139. Helen says...

    CAROLINE!!!!! ahhhhhh I missed your refreshing voice for the single people on a Cup of Jo <3

  140. Melanie says...

    This kind of content is exactly why I keep coming back to Cup of Jo. Refreshingly funny, lighthearted, and REAL LIFE all at the same time. <3

    Hope y'all have a really awesome Tuesday.

  141. Katrina says...

    Is Caroline back???

  142. Laura says...

    So great to hear from Caroline again!! Nice article!

  143. Anna Gray says...

    CAROLINE! This is beautiful! I missed your writing here.

  144. liz says...

    She is mysterious, alluring, self-assured. She knows what she wants and also how to get it. I would like to be this imaginary person (so great! and I too wan tto be this woman!)

  145. Molly says...

    You returned it? Very disappointing, anti-climatic ending :)

  146. Leigh W. says...

    I found myself hoping you had kept the white dress, even though it made no logical sense to do so!

    • Elizabeth says...

      Me too! But I’ve some weird clothing hoarding tendencies.

    • Mila says...

      I so agree!!!

  147. Karine says...

    Oh how I missed Caroline!!!