I may be the oldest maid in derbydom. Yeah, the whole derby wife thing just passed me by, and now I’ve been skating for two and a half years as a single lady. If you know me in “real” life this may not be a surprise. Not just because I’m flying solo these days. My historical ambivalence about actual marriage is well known among family and friends. I also tend to make friends slowly, keeping people at a skeptical distance for awhile. However, once I consider you a friend, I will probably keep you forever. I’m not a joiner, I don’t quickly adopt traditions I don’t understand, I’m cautious in forming alliances. So I didn’t really get the derby wife thing. It’s supposed to be someone who has your back, who will collect your gear when you get carried out of practice on a stretcher? Well, how the hell would I have known who to pick for that when I was still learning to skate? Is it supposed to be someone who will be your best friend in derby? Who will buy you knee socks at Christmas? Who will get on your ass if you’re skipping out on practice?

When you first join derby and don’t know anyone, the risks of making a bad match are high. Maybe you awkwardly accepted a proposal from someone just to fit in. Or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Maybe your wife didn’t end up finishing boot camp. Maybe she left derby and returned to find you shacked up with another woman. Maybe a couple months after you got hitched, someone joined the league who you clicked with much better than the skater who randomly sat next to you while gearing up on the first day. Hence the divorces, annulments, separations, polygamy and polyamory that characterize the derby wife tradition.

I predict that some of the folks in happy derby marriages will dismiss my observations as the ramblings of a bitter old derby maid who can’t get a date. But my point isn’t to make an argument against this cultural rite of passage, though I sometimes feel vaguely embarrassed when asked who my derby wife is, as if it somehow reflects negatively on me that I don’t have one. No one chose me. But I’ve found I don’t need it to succeed in derby. I have friends on my league. I’ve been proposed to, I’ve been something of a derby mistress. I’m pretty sure someone will grab my things when I get carried out on a stretcher.