So there’s been this blog post circulating the interwebs that’s allegedly a list of 23 things to do instead of get engaged before the age of 23. I say allegedly because it’s less a legit list and more a judgmental rant with a list attached to it. You could read it yourself (which would probably make my own ranting easier to understand), but do here’s how it opens:
‘As 2013 wraps up, I’ve been noticing more and more people getting engaged and/or married under the age of 23.
I get it.
It’s cold outside… you want to cuddle and talk about your feelings… life after graduation is a tough transition… so why not just cut to the chase and get married, right? It’s hip. It’s cool. You get to wear clothing that wouldn’t normally be socially acceptable at the dive bar you frequent with the $5 beers. Eff it. YOLO. YOMO! You only marry once…
The divorce rate for young couples is more than twice the national average.”
The author, Vanessa Elizabeth, goes on about divorce from there, and even farther into a diatribe against people marrying before the age of 23, which is apparently a magical number. I got married at 24 so I guess I dodged that bullet.
Vanessa Elizabeth assumes that young people are getting married for all the wrong reasons, and if indeed there are couples out there who are getting married because of the reasons she lists, then I’d tend to agree. I’m sure there are a lot young of people who have no business getting married…but you can easily make the same argument for the 33/43/53 year old single who finally found a boyfriend and who has the mindset that, though he may not be Mr. Perfect, he’s Mr. Present and that’s better than being alone. I think age can be a factor in failed marriages, for sure. But it’s not the only factor.
I actually have friends my age who have been married and are now divorced. According to Vanessa Elizabeth, they’re ammo for her “got married too young” argument. But you know, what? The reasons behind their failed marriages are none of my damned business. I don’t know what went on behind closed doors. I don’t know the hurt or the suffering or the misunderstandings and neither does Vanessa Elizabeth. It’s easy for us to judge others when we’re not privy to the actual goings on. It’s a lot harder to love them. But loving people isn’t on her list, so I guess that doesn’t apply here.
What really gets to me in this post is the idea that one way is better than the other. Vanessa Elizabeth clearly has a different concept of marriage than I do. She clearly has different goals than I do. And that’s fine. She’s allowed. What I mind in all this is that she makes my life, my personal choice seem faulty and foolish. That’s just irritating. And mean.
She writes that, “Some days I wake up and stare at my ceiling thinking: “I’m single as f—.” But then I realize that those [married] friends are going to get knocked up and fat soon sssoooo in retrospect, who really is winning here?“
Newsflash: I was fat before I got married. Like way before; probably around second grade. And guess what? Getting “knocked up” is single-handedly the most phenomenal thing I’ve ever experienced because of what it did to my body, not despite it. If you really want to know how I feel about the “babies ruin your body” argument, please read this beautifully written post on the subject and then go hug your mother.
Also note that the person above who is “winning” advises the younger set to eat an entire jar of Nutella in one sitting (number 17 on the list and the one I fully intend to complete just as soon as I’m done with this jar of frosting…). So…yeah. Kind of contradictory if she’s avoiding fat like the plague.
And that’s the issue. No one is winning. Life isn’t a competition. There aren’t points to be awarded. This isn’t Hogwarts and we aren’t fighting for the House Cup. I’m irritated with this blog post, not because Vanessa Elizabeth wants to experience life before she gets married. I’m irritated because she writes on the assumption that once married, all experience ceases. Marriage is a death sentence and you’ll never have fun ever again. I’m irritated because she thinks her way is better than mine. Apples and oranges, I’d say.
She says, “…I look at my life, my relationships, and my future… and I realize that, I’m f—ing awesome. It literally isn’t me, it’s them. I have begun to notice a common thread amongst all these young unions: inexperience. Inexperience with dating, traveling, risks, higher education, career direction, SEX, solitude, religious exploration, etc… and it’s insane that I have already experienced more of the world in the last 22 years than my married peers will ever experience in their life.” (bolded emphasis mine.)
Here’s the thing. Her married friends will experience things in their lives that Vanessa Elizabeth will never experience ever. Because it’s not her life. How on earth do we expect to measure the value of experiences?? I’ll never experience the “more” of the world Vanessa Elizabeth has experienced because I’m not Vanessa Elizabeth.
And what’s more, and the secondary issue I take with her post, is that marriage doesn’t have to fit into any one specific puzzle piece. Marriage doesn’t necessarily have to look like the “white picket fence” Vanessa Elizabeth rails against. My friend/hero Jade has colorful dreads, tattoos, her own incredibly successful business, a dreamy husband and two incredible children. Most of that stuff happened after she got married. Also, she and her husband travel regularly. Honduras, Nepal, you name it. They make it work. In my opinion, that’s pretty cool.
My friend/hero Katy is a stay at home mom of two with another one on the way. She’s got a magical husband, two adorable dogs (both adopted, check number 4 off the list), and more sass than Vanessa Elizabeth could possibly shake a stick at. She’s kind, funny, giving, and creative and I’ve never met someone more passionate about raising awesome kids than Katy. And that’s pretty cool, too.
My friend/hero Britt is single with a master’s degree and plans to further her education in a completely different field which takes serious cojones. She adopted a pet (there’s number 4 again) and travels with her family all over the place. She’s smart and good and doesn’t settle for things or relationships that don’t measure up. And that’s also pretty cool.
My point is, any one life doesn’t have look like any one thing.
In A Wrinkle in Time Mrs Whatsit talks to Calvin about how life is like a sonnet. Each one has the same very strict form: fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, ending with a rhymed couplet. If this form isn’t followed, it’s not a sonnet. Ever. But as Mrs Whatsit says, “…within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants…You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.” And I’d venture that in this instance, what you do, the experiences you have, the marriages, the single life, that’s all up to you, too. You get to decide what your life will look like. Period.
People will not choose to live the life you choose to live. I’m definitely not going to rush off and knock off all 23 things on Vanessa Elizabeth’s list any time soon. Mainly cause I don’t like making out with strangers (none ever offer anyway) and I don’t really want to sign up for CrossFit. She has her own set of values and I have mine. They may align every now and then; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think starting a band would be fun or that I’m not craving Nutella right now. But ultimately, my place is not to force my values upon her, but rather to live my life as an example of what God is doing in me and to love her because of it.
It’s not my job to decide when someone is ready to be married and it’s not hers either. Sure, many people are getting married too young or for the wrong reasons, but it’s obnoxious to think that all are. It’s even more obnoxious to belittle their choice because it’s not your choice. We have to stop assuming that any of our lives are “supposed to” look like something specific. Marriage will be what you make it. If you want the white picket fence, go for it. If you want jet setting, wild partying, standing naked in front of a window (number 20), that’s fine, too. You can have your cake and eat it too (number 6) married or not. It’s entirely up to you.
All of life is a gift and we’re not on anybody’s schedule. I’m sure Vanessa Elizabeth feels some sort of societal pressure to get married and that’s just silly. Shoot. If you want societal pressure to settle down, try attending a tiny Baptist university where the term “ring by spring” was actually included in the Freshman welcome booklet. Sheesh.
I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to make my life fit somebody else’s schedule, to squeeze myself into somebody else’s idea of what’s an acceptable time to get married or have babies or get my nose pierced or join CrossFit or whatever. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I only have to answer to God. I’m allowed to make the decisions for myself and my family that I think are appropriate. And as long as I’m living a life that’s pleasing to my Creator, I’d say I’m on schedule.
Let me say it again, there is no one right way. It is unfair to expect others to measure up to the expectations put forth by Facebook, or Pinterest, or your eighty year old grandmother. Life isn’t one size fits all. It’s not just Millennials who “deserve the opportunity to develop themselves alone” as Vanessa Elizabeth says. Married Millennials deserve the right to develop themselves together. And we all deserve the right to be respected.
By pigeon-holing each other we do nothing but cut down and hurt and that should never be on anybody’s list.