When people ask me how old I was when I got married my canned response is usually along the lines of "when I was a fetus." I quickly follow that up with "Yes, I'm joking... but I was just 22." Because I'm keenly aware how silly it sounds to say I married so young, especially now as I look back on pictures of the girl who said "I do" 14 years ago.
Of course I didn't feel young then. I had graduated high school and college with a full-time job lined up in a field of study that I'm still working in today. I had been dating my then-boyfriend for nearly three years and we talked a lot about what we wanted for our lives, both as individuals and as a couple.
For us, the decision to get married was made up of a bunch of parts -- you know, how most 20-somethings process big, life-altering decisions. Part religious beliefs, part thought through, part whim, part never wanting to let go of each other, a little bitty bit part about the pretty white dress and a whole lot of gut feeling and confidence in knowing we had found a pretty good thing in each other.
Today I'm 36 and still married to the man who asked to spend the rest of his life with me while I was finishing my last year of college. As the full-blown grown up I am today, I don't deny that we got lucky. The statistics were stacked against us. But that doesn't make our decision wrong or misguided.
Recently I read Vanessa Elizabeth's post on "23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged When You're 23", and it had me wondering what I must have missed out on that all young singletons get to experience. Her article suggested there are 23 things in life that -- because I got married before I turned 23 -- I will never be able to experience in my life. That my premature union is a cop-out and a way of hiding behind my husband as a life-long emotional security blanket.
Wow. This list must be really good. And so I begin...
1. Get a passport . Weird, I was unaware they don't give passports to married people. Thank goodness I got one when I was 10-years-old or I may have missed out on this opportunity.
2. Find your "thing." I've found a lot of things in my married years. I'm looking at a penny on the floor right now. I've also found new friendships, a passion for running, writing, really foamy lattes and travel with my core group of college girlfriends.
3. Make out with a stranger. Been there, done that (yes, pre-marriage). Check.
4. Adopt a pet. We've adopted two and I have a feeling the love of a pet is universal, not exclusively for unmarrieds.
5. Start a band. I did. Just the other day with my son who got a Mickey Mouse guitar and plastic piano for Christmas. We rock the roof off our town home.
6. Make a cake. Ooo, good one. How do I go about doing that? I wish my husband would let me.
7. Get a tattoo. That's something only a 22-year-old would put on a to-do list. I passed on the opportunity then and I will pass on the opportunity again and again.
8. Explore a new religion. Or simply, question the one you believe.
9. Start a small business. I did for a year and continue to nip away at it and guess what? I do it all by myself.
10. Cut your hair. If only I was single again so I could cut my hair. Fourteen years into marriage and I'm nearly walking on my hair it's so long.
11. Date two people at once. See #3 and yes, it did blow up in my face. Some things never change.
12. Build something with your hands. This list is just getting silly.
13. Accomplish a Pinterest project. Maybe I should have waited 10 years to get married just so I could complete a Pinterest project as a single woman (because sadly it wasn't invented and mainstream until four years ago). Let me just say that if you read anything over at HuffPost Parents you would understand that Pinterest is the devil.
14. Join the Peace Corps. Admirable and many people are destined for this great work. The option is not off the table for married couples, though.
15. Disappoint your parents. I believe that happened when I told them I was getting married at 22.
16. Watch Girls. Beautiful show, beautiful girls. I think my husband tuned out after season 1, episode 1, but *gasp* I continue to watch it.
17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting. Here's an instance where it's good to be married because sharing a kitchen means someone's always watching. But on those nights he goes to bed before me, GAME ON!
18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places. I accomplished that with a raging stomach bug on a four hour, non-stop flight.
19. Sign up for CrossFit. Do boot camp classes offered through my gym count? It seems kind of like first generation CrossFit.
20. Hangout naked in front of a window. This happened. As an accident. But darn, it was with my husband.
21. Write your feelings down in a blog. I believe that's happening now. Realizing dumb lists and ignorant generalizations can be powerful creative triggers.
22. Be selfish. Everyone -- married or unmarried -- is selfish until they have children. Discussion over.
23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year. If you'll still have me, I do. Can my husband come? JUST KIDDING!
Look, this response is not to play a game of who has it better, young marrieds or unmarrieds, because honestly both have it great. Rather, this is to point out that marriage, one that is equal parts everything, doesn't mean you have to give up who you are. Or that you have to stop growing and flourishing as an individual. Or that you can't travel and have experiences separate from each other. I look at pictures of the girl I was in college and I hardly can relate to her. Because you know what? Change happens to everyone regardless. Life happens, jobs come and go, loved ones pass on too soon, travel plans are made, children are born and at every turn along the way we are shaped as individuals.
Marrying young provided us with the opportunity to grow into our older selves together. There have been times in our marriage where we spent more time growing as individuals and other times developing more as a couple. But we've stayed together through our 20s and (ahhh!) almost through our 30s, and I'm not less of a person on my own because of it.
I actually hate the pressure put on single women (and men) to get married. It is ridiculous. And yes, The Facebook only compounds that pressure to streamline yourself with where society believes you should be. But that's also a bigger problem with social media today, not marriage.
I believe the point of Ms. Elizabeth's misguided story was to rally the troops to seize the day, get out of the office and explore the world and try new things. Don't be down about your relationship status but embrace today knowing that sooner or later you will find someone who you want to be with for a week, for a year or forever -- and who will be happy you're able to do all 23 of those things with or without them.