Guest Post by Amanda Jacobsmeyer. Amanda Jacobsmeyer is a chronically online Millennial living in New York City. A communications professional by day, Amanda is passionate about community building, live music and finding the world’s best hot chocolate.
Although I’m convinced there is not a single soul on either side of the veil that has not heard, in case you haven’t: global superstar Taylor Swift released the highly-anticipated re-recording of her 2012 album, Red, last week. While Red (Taylor’s Version) includes new recordings of the 20 tracks that were on the original 2012 release, Sister Swift also blessed us with 10 additional songs “From the Vault” – songs penned for the album that didn’t make the cut nine years ago.
As a 28-year-old woman, and a die-hard fan of Taylor since her first album hit my high school hallways, relating to her songwriting is not a new experience for me. I grew up with her – since she is just a few years older than me, her albums were released when I was at the age she wrote them. With tracks written by a 21-year-old a decade ago, though, I was expecting the Red (Taylor’s Version) listening experience to be nostalgic: listening to my old favorites, now ethically sourced, and gaining some new insight and potential future Instagram captions from the handful of new-to-us songs.
So imagine my surprise when, at 1 a.m. on Thursday night, I press play on one of the vault songs, “Nothing New”, and spend four minutes and nineteen seconds weeping. With a feature from the queen of Sad Girl Hours herself – Phoebe Bridgers – this shouldn’t have come as a huge shock, but it wasn’t just the haunting harmonies that were inspiring such emotion. Why did this song fill me with such palpable melancholy?
I listened to the song several more times with that same sadness in my chest before it dawned on me: somehow 22-year-old Taylor had captured exactly what it feels like to be an unmarried Mormon woman of a “certain age.”
The song starts with:
They tell you while you’re young
“Girls, go out and have your fun”
Then they hunt and slay the ones
Who actually do it
I went through the church youth program at an inflection point, when leaders were straying from pushing nothing but marriage and motherhood on young women to encouraging education and developing skills. Still, the underlying message was that the latter were to be “back up plans” to the former. Marriage and family were always what I was hoping for most, but without a willing second party, I moved forward with faith in the direction of an education and a career. These weren’t consolation prizes, they were just me living my life as fully as I could with the cards I was dealt. But culturally, the tendency is to blame the fact that I’m thriving in my career and enjoying things I’m passionate about for my lack of a husband, as if the two have to be mutually exclusive.
The song goes on:
Lord, what will become of me
Once I’ve lost my novelty?
In every ward I’ve ever been in, the women have outnumbered the men at least three to one. I’ve always found it hard to stand out in this sea of eligible bachelorettes, and it seems the older I get, the more overlooked I am. People assume there must be something wrong with me or I’m simply not interested in marriage.
I wake up in the middle of the night
It’s like I can feel time moving
The idea of time passing fills me with dread because I have grown up in a culture that has a very specific vision of what your life “should” look like at certain ages. It feels like if I don’t hit these milestones of marriage and children by 30, I haven’t actually accomplished anything – not at all true, but hard not to feel sometimes. Anxiety accompanies the recurring thought that every day past the age of 25 exponentially diminishes my opportunity for meaningful life partnership.
Sister Bridgers’ verse really does me in:
How long will it be cute
All this cryin’ in my room
Whеn you can’t blame it on my youth
And roll your eyes with affеction?
And my cheeks are growin’ tired
From turnin’ red and fakin’ smiles
Are we only bidin’ time
‘Til I lose your attention?
The conventional (read: usually misogynistic) wisdom on “how to land a man” only really works – if it works at all – when you’re in the stage of life that conventional wisdom says you should be getting married in. Women in their late 20s and 30s (and beyond) just don’t fit the “helpless girl in need of defending” role as well, because they’ve spent at least a decade fending for themselves at that point. And performing that particular brand of femininity is exhausting if it’s not authentic. But we’re conditioned to believe that if we don’t follow the script, ending up alone is our own doing.
How did I go from growin’ up
To breakin’ down
To me, one of the most frustrating things about reaching this stage of life is that I feel very much on the “breaking down” end of things, but as anyone with any experience in a non-university YSA ward can tell you, we are treated by leadership as if we are still “growing up” until we are married. Marriage is not just a marker of adulthood in Mormonism, it is the marker. So as grown-up and self-sufficient as I feel in my day-to-day life, I still feel (and am treated) as not quite grown.
I wonder if they’ll miss me
Once they drive me out
In a church where opportunities for leadership and progression for women are scant and usually reserved for women with husbands, there comes a point where those of us who aren’t married have to really question if there is a place for us. I’m not quite to this point yet, but I have watched so many faithful, community-building women reach the crossroads of deciding if they can live a fulfilling spiritual life in an environment that deprioritizes and even ignores their experiences. I, too, wonder if the church actually misses these women, and if so, why they are not doing more to keep them.
I know someday I’m gonna meet her
It’s a fever dream
The kind of radiance you only
Have at seventeen she’ll know the way
And then she’ll say she got the map from me
I’ll say I’m happy for her, then
I’ll cry myself to sleep
This bridge is at once hopeful and painful. On my mission in London I noticed that unmarried women in their 30s were the absolute backbone of their wards and stakes. As I’ve reached this stage of life myself, I reflect on their examples and take courage from them. I hope this “fever dream” Taylor describes of a young woman learning by her example that she is more than just her relationship to men can be true of me too, one day. When a brighter day for unmarried women in the church comes, though, I will still remember how difficult it is right now and cry for the unnecessary pain of the women who have never felt quite good enough because of their marital status.
To borrow a line from the song: “I know it’s sad, but this is what I think about.”