This post detonated on my newsfeed: 23 things to do instead of getting engaged before you’re 23.
I can see why. It’s funny and relatable and seems really true. As a single 24 year old, the WanderOnwards post smacked me in the face and made me think, Yeah, this girl is cool.
I still think that. And even though her list of pre-wedding plans is a bit off-the-wall, I like that too. Because it’s not supposed to be super-serious. Your list is supposed to be personal. It’s about whatever you want.
So, yeah, I like the post.
But while I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think of all my young married friends — and, having gone to a ring-by-spring, M.R.S. degree college, there are a lot of them. What are they thinking when they read something like this?
I don’t know, and I won’t speak on their behalf. But on my end, I really hope they aren’t thinking, Oh no, I made a mistake. I hope they aren’t thinking, Now I can’t do all the awesome junk I wanted to do growing up.
Because, even though that’s some of what the mysterious yeti of pop culture says, I think they’d be wrong if they thought those things. The same way I’d be wrong if I thought, Marriage, now that’s one way to screw your life up.
Now, this isn’t me shouting down the 23 things post. Neither is it me being naive about some of what marriage means. This is me wanting to encourage my married friends.
* * *
I won’t sit here and tell you, “Marriage is the greatest adventure ever!” because I wouldn’t know and I try to avoid clichés, especially the sappy ones.
But what I can say is that marriage doesn’t kill you. In fact, from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty cool. A lot of my married friends — many of them tying the knot at 22, 23, 24 (ahh!) — seem ridiculously happy and in love. Maybe they’re just playing it off that way, but I don’t think so. Not most of them.
Marriage doesn’t mean you’re missing out.
When you get married you don’t suddenly vanish. You don’t turn into smoke and disappear into the atmosphere. Nor do you become a pair of boulders bound to the depths of some chasm called holy matrimony.
(Having kids might do this; but marriage, not so much.)
Your marital status defines you in its own way, and it does determine some of the cans and can’ts in life, but it doesn’t end your life; it adds to it, make it bigger. It starts it anew. (I guess I couldn’t avoid all the clichés.)
In fact, if you’re doing it right, getting on with the nuptials means you get to do everything with your best friend. That means most of the things on WanderOnwards’ list — finding your “thing,” starting a business, traveling, eating and working out and hanging out naked, etc. — are made better by having the closest person in the world to you along for the ride.
I don’t know about your married friends, but mine do all kinds of cool stuff. Sometimes they even visit other places (no way!) or take new jobs (go crazy!).
Marriage is a personal choice. You do it — or should do it — when the time is right for both of you, whether that’s at 19 or 79.
My unmarried friends — myself included — should stop being downers about marriage. From what I’ve seen, getting hitched doesn’t mean getting chained to the wall, as much as we like to joke that it does.
Really, it means growing up. I know these days we like to stay young and nomadic and crazy and “free” as long as we can. But there’s something really cool about commitment. I love seeing my friends get married, seeing them say in front of lots of other people that this person’s happiness and well-being and life is more important than their own.
Sometimes — and maybe it’s just me — I even envy my young married friends. Maybe they envy me too, but all that means is it goes both ways. It’s not that one way is right or better. It means there are amazing things about singleness and about exchanging your vows. They both offer their own, often-overlapping kinds of freedom and privilege and happiness. And we shouldn’t trick ourselves — especially if it’s just to make ourselves feel okay about our own lives — that one way is always closer to The Right Way.
No matter what your age is, life is meant to be lived, and that means with other people, and that often means marriage.
* * *
Now, I’ve sometimes felt this way: I’m glad I’m single because I’m completely free to do whatever and go wherever and be awesomely “into my career.” I’m free to take on all the items on my list! But that’s usually mixed with Man, being married, having that sort of best friend, knowing somebody better than I know anyone else — that would be awesome too. It’d be cool to tackle our lists together with my partner in crime.
So, yeah, don’t rush to get married. It’ll happen when it happens. Don’t worry about it and definitely don’t cave to imagined pressure from your mob of married friends, or to real pressure from elders who “are just looking out for you.”
But, at the same time, don’t run from it. If you meet the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, are willing to sacrifice for, are excited to do your list with, then go for it. So what if that happens while you’re in college? Isn’t that a good place to meet like-minded people, one of whom, hey, you might actually fall in love with?
I’ve sometimes wondered what I would/will do if/when I know who I want to marry, but still have a lot of things left unchecked on my list. (This will happen, by the way, because my list is long and ever-growing.) Will I bail on the list or bail on the girl?
I don’t plan on bailing at all, but if I have to choose, I’ll choose the girl, because I can’t see doing the list without her. That’s sort of what love is, isn’t it? Sacrificing some of yourself for the sake of the other?
And get this: marriage is on this list, just like it was for my married 24 year old friends. And, really, it trumps quite a few other things and rules out almost none of them.
Marriage, I think, will be a compromise. But it won’t be giving up. Many of my young married friends have shown me marriage is cool, and not something to put off until it’s convenient, because if you’re only thinking of yourself, it will never be convenient.
Yeah, some of your teenage years and twenties are about finding yourself. But I have yet to see why you can’t find yourself while married. (In fact, doing things on your lists while married probably helps you find yourself and your spouse better than doing them alone.) College and post-college are not about postponing growing up; they’re about growing up. Maybe that doesn’t mean marriage, but for many of us, it very well might. And that’s so cool.
So, to my young married and unmarried friends, have your list and go nuts on it. But marriage can be on the list. Maybe even at the top. And when you get married, you can keep checking things off together. And I don’t think we need to worry if the list changes, because, hey, that’s part of the adventure too.
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