Walking into my grandparents’ house, my grandmother greets me with her usual expression: “Oh my heart, it’s so good to see you,” she says, clutching me close.

“Now,” she adds. “Let’s talk. Both your sisters are in serious relationships. When do you think you plan to get in one, too?”

Ouch.

It was the moment I realized other folks recognized just how single I was … and how attached my two younger sisters were. They had been in years’ long relationships while I — 30 at the time and the oldest of three girls — hadn’t made it past month five with anyone in more than six years. It didn’t help that my older brother had played his part in the sibling pecking order just fine and was happily married with kids.

I could have been offended by my grandmother’s question. I could have tried to explain that I was dating but hadn’t yet found someone worth committing to.

But the fact that she thought I could plan my way out of my supposed relationship slump was so ridiculous that all I could do was laugh. “I’ll be sure to start making those plans soon, Maw Maw,” I said, chuckling.

“Okay, good,” she replied, obviously missing my sarcasm. “You are the oldest, of course.” She may as well have added: “And we don’t want your sisters to get to the altar before you, now do we?”

This wasn’t the first time someone had brought up the fact that I was the oldest and the only single one of us three girls. Growing up in the South, I’d gotten used to failing folks’ expectations that a woman should be married — or near marriage — by the time she entered her 30s.

There was a time when I believed it, too. I remember thinking, as a child, that I would marry late at 25. But as I got older and realized how much more I wanted to know about myself before entering such a union, I let go of that expectation. However, many others still held onto those beliefs.

How else do you explain the Cajun wedding tradition that makes fun of the older sibling whose younger sibling gets married first? They actually have the older sibling dance with a broom for having the “misfortune” of being the older and single sibling. A broom, often decorated as though it were a wife or a husband, is that person’s dance partner for at least a portion of the night. Talk about rude.

You don’t have to be Cajun, however, to single out unattached older siblings. For example, my mom was stopped at church one day and told by a woman who’d never met me that all would be okay because she had a dream that my mom’s oldest daughter would be getting married soon and giving her a grandbaby. Incidentally, that was three years ago … and here I am, no baby or husband. A family friend asked one of my sisters if my hairstyle was holding me back from potential suiters, because she couldn’t understand why my sisters had found love and I hadn’t yet. (My hair looks fantastic, by the way.)

The funny thing about the obvious assumption some friends and family members had — that I was miserably single while my sisters were floating on air — was that no one had ever asked me how I felt about being single. 

If they had asked, they probably would have gotten a nuanced answer — that as an older sibling, I used to feel pressure to do things before my sisters: go to college, get a job, even fall in love. But that was because I felt a duty to go through the good and bad parts for them, so they could learn from my experiences and mistakes, and face only the good.

Many older siblings feel this sense of duty. “The older sister is expected to act as an example for those coming up behind her,” Claire Cohen wrote in the Telegraph last year. “You have to set the standard. It can be a little overwhelming.”

Thankfully, I’d long gotten over that particular sibling pressure. I knew that no matter what I experienced before them, my sisters would have their unique adventures, including in their love lives.

So rather than rush to marry before my sisters, I’d prefer to focus on being happy that my sisters are happy. And if either of them ends up marrying first, I’ll be celebrating and dancing with them — not a broom.

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