When I was 23, I was in a relationship with a 36-year-old. I was madly in love with him -- until the month of my 25th birthday, when we broke up. Why?
Many reasons, but mostly because I was about to begin my career as an educator, a job I still hold today. My 36-year-old boyfriend lived in New York; I was student teaching in Chicago. Since he was already established in his career, the plan was for me to move to him; however, when I was offered a job at my current high school, I knew I wouldn't be moving out East. Love was not enough.
I guess I'm what Neal Samudre, in his post "5 Reasons Why I Got Engaged Before 23," calls someone who waited to get all her "ducks in a row." My career was more important than a man. Maybe as a woman, I see this differently, but I wasn't about to give up my career for love. Ever.
So, after years of dating and failing, I did get engaged and married at 30. Here are five reasons why I waited (with apologies to Samudre):
1. Love is an end. True love. Not Hollywood love. Not the love you imagine at 16 or 18 or 21 or 23. But love with the person you decide to spend the rest of your life with -- especially if you have a family with this person.
I love my husband. I love the way he fathers our two sons. I love the way he supports my ambitions. I love the things we have in common (wine, travel, Ryan Adams). And I love our differences (computers vs. words; introvert vs. extrovert; religious vs. spiritual). I seriously hope this love is an end. I waited a long time until I met the right man. More importantly, I waited until I was ready. Despite what Samudre says, I believe knowing yourself before you leap into marriage isn't a bad idea.
2. Love is not part of a checklist to life. But marriage is. This is a reality -- and if you deny this, then you're not watching "Say Yes to the Dress" or flipping through bridal magazines. I'm not thrilled about this fact; it's one of the reasons I avoided marriage for so long. I saw it as an institution, something society told me I had to do versus something I embraced myself. But that's the thing about societal norms: Even when we don't want to follow them, we do.
I teach high school seniors in a college preparatory English class. One of the first questions I pose: At what age do you want to marry? It's a lesson I've taught since 2003. Every student has an age in mind: 23, 25, 28, 30 or 32. It doesn't matter. They have an age in mind because we all do. Only once, a student wrote, "When I fall in love." Only once. And it was a male.
Girls, women -- we most definitely have an age in mind, and it's almost always before 30. We've been told 30 is the age when we will turn into a pumpkin. We've been told no man will want us after that. This is all a social construct, too, but a powerful one.
My age was 28. At 28, I was single with no prospects. I lived in a big city when match.com controlled the dating scene and I was too old-fashioned to join. Twenty-eight was also the age I met the man who is now my husband. Was it timing? Was it true love? It comes down to the right person at the right time. To take time out of the equation is to love in a vacuum, which is both unrealistic and foolish.
3. Love is not determined by age. True. I fell in love for the first time at 16. I had the classic high school sweetheart relationship. People told me then I was too young to love. Not true. What they should have said: You're too young to realize that love will change as you age. Your ideas of what love (and marriage) constitute will change. What becomes important in your life will change too. Love at 16 is not the same at love at 36 -- and I imagine love at 36 is not the same as love at 56 or 76 or 96. As we age, we begin to think differently about life and love. To say at 23 that you know how you will feel about love is, as one of Samudre's commenters called, "twenty-something hubris." Things will change. One way or the other.
4. Love is not measured by the quantity of your money. But it helps. Studies show that arguments about money are the main factor in predicting a divorce. Marriage is work; it's not happily ever after. I'm glad my husband and I are established in our careers and we don't have to worry about the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, especially now with our two children.
My husband likes to remind me that we didn't have any money when we were newly married because I was in graduate school. He's right, but I never once remember fighting about money. We lived a modest life, and we were OK with that -- at the time.
5. Love is an adventure. And I didn't want it to end at 23. I wanted to meet new people and date different men and find a life partner. Perhaps that's sounds unromantic, but, now, with a career, a home, kids, I realize even more how important a partner is. A true partner -- someone who shares in all responsibilities.
My husband cooks. I clean. We both work. We both take on an equal role in raising our sons. We wish a routine meant "dinner and a movie," as Samudre so naively calls a "boring love story." Honestly, once you have children, dinner and a movie sound wonderfully romantic and lovely. If we're paying $15 an hour for a babysitter, we're not going to see a movie, but I digress.
In many ways, I would have loved -- at 23 -- to have a man like Samudre express his undying love for me. Wait. That's the want-to-be romantic-37-year-old me talking. The 23-year-old me would have thought he was a bit crazy. Of course, money matters. Of course, my career matters. There is, unfortunately and fortunately, more to life than love.
Of course, it's more complicated than this. Love always is.