Photography courtesy of Caitlin Skinner Photography.
A few years ago, I was in a pretty low place. Like, Garth Brooks kind of low place. I was your average college student, facing the stress and rigor of attending school full-time, working, attempting to be social, and trying to swim my way out of an abusive relationship. I was stuck there, in a relationship with someone who I thought I was in love with, who I thought was my soul mate, who I thought would one day tie our daughter’s shoes on her first day of school. I was so convinced that he was the source of my happiness, the one person who really understood me, and the person I would be with forever, that I was blind to his constant manipulation and made excuses for his aggression. One day – and to this day I’m still lost as to how or why – I woke up feeling strong and empowered, so I walked away. I walked away from the mental and physical pain that accompanied that relationship, I prayed to God for the strength to never look back, and I healed. (The healing part was not a one-day process)
I don’t know why things happen the way that they happen, but I like to think that there’s a greater reasoning behind it than simply “because.” What I do know, is that oftentimes, when we let go, stop searching, and leave behind the anchors of pain and despair, we stumble upon what John Green so eloquently describes as “The Great Perhaps.” When I walked away from all of the pain and baggage that I was carrying from my previous relationship, God opened a door for me. He opened a door to a journey that led me to my Great Perhaps.
Facebook is littered with blog posts titled, “10 Reasons Your 20s Are Meant for Exploration,” “23 Things I’d Rather Do Than Get Married at 23,” “Why I Don’t Need to Be Completed by My Significant Other,” et cetera. Relationships are a hot topic among millenials, and social media has exacerbated the desire for user-generated content that makes 20-somethings feel validated in whatever current relationship status they’re in. What I’ve also noticed throughout this sea of viral Facebook posts is also more and more 20-somethings getting engaged and married. This isn’t a new concept – most of us have parents or grandparents who got married young; the difference is, social media and the internet have given everyone the opportunity to voice their opinions on the topic.
Right now, I’m 21, I’m engaged, and I’ll be married at 22 years old. To some people, it’s like “leaving the party at 9pm,” it’s too young, it’s rushing things, it’s [insert other negative comment here]. Those “some people” are internet strangers and my parents. My parents have a right to be concerned about my life choices and future, and I understand their concerns and am thankful to have parents who love me so much that they want the best and happiest life possible. However, I stand by my commitment and I’m not going to change my mind. I’ve read articles that say you can’t possibly know what you want out of life at 21, and that your life experience has not yet prepared you to make wedding vows. Let’s look at traditional wedding vows:
For better or for worse – I think we can all agree that loving people is pretty easy during the “better” part, and it’s when the “worse” comes around that things get tough. Alex and I have seen each other at some pretty low points (details not necessary). Will I see him at worse? Probably. But I have an idea of how he acts when he’s at his lowest, and it’s helped me to understand him better emotionally, so hopefully whenever we face disaster, grief, stress, and pain in the future, I can love him in the best way that I can.
For richer or for poorer – About a year ago, I had $30 to my name, I drained my savings account to pay my rent, and I was attending free lunch and dinner at a neighborhood church twice a week because I genuinely could not afford to buy groceries. The financial stress I was under seriously affected my mental and physical health, and I was in a constant state of panic and anxiety over making sure my bills got paid. Who did I turn to? Alex. He helped me look for a second job, he listened to me cry, he bought me groceries for Valentine’s Day. This period of time really brought us closer as a couple because we didn’t let the misery tear us apart. Conversely, when I was making a lot more money, Alex brought me back down to earth and if I was spending a lot of money, he let me know that he noticed I was spending a lot more and maybe I needed to slow down.
In sickness and in health – Also about a year ago, I was extremely ill. I will spare you the details, but I have never felt so helpless over my own body. I was constantly up in the early hours of the morning writhing in pain on my bathroom floor, and Alex somehow managed to wake up and answer my sobbing phone calls and comfort me on his already limited sleep schedule. He sent me medicine and positive messages, listened to me when I just needed to vent and cry, and supported me through doctor visits. He was there.
To love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part – I promised this a long time ago, and have no intentions of ever going back on it.
I know that people always say I’m at the age where I think I know everything, but I don’t think that changes as you get older. I think people in their 30s and 40s think they know everything as well, and we all learn as we get older. People get divorced in their 20s? People get divorced when they’re 50 too. It’s smarter to save up and be financially sound before you make any commitments? I’m going to be relatively poor at 22 whether I’m married or not. I’d rather spend those years with someone who makes the misery just a little less miserable. Getting married to Alex is going to make me happy, even through the inevitable petty arguments, Ramen Noodle diets, and toilet seats left up. And I would think it’s pretty selfish for anyone to not want me to experience that happiness just because I’m not living my life in the order they think I should live it in, getting married at the age they think I should get married at, or getting married to the person they think I should marry. I’m not going to live my life in fear of divorce or poverty or anything else for the sake of other people, because at the end of the day, it’s my life, my love, my happiness, and I deserve to be in control of those emotions and face the adversity that comes with it on my own.
I don’t need Alex to complete me, I don’t need to backpack through Europe to “find myself,” and I don’t need to date 20 more people to make sure he’s the one. I don’t need to spend the next 5 years getting to know him better. I’ve known him since I was 13 years old, and I get to know him more every day. Being married allows me to get to know him on another level that 5 years of unmarried life won’t give me.
If getting married at 22 is like leaving the party at 9pm, at least I get to go home, put on yogas, plop down on the couch with Alex and watch two hours of Game of Thrones before bed. We’re going to travel together. We’re going to grow together. We’re going to love each other more, and the reasons for which we love each other are going to change over time. We’re going to build a life together. We don’t have any unrealistic beliefs or expectations that marriage is going to be sunshine and rainbows or easy, but so far none of our relationship has been, and it’s made us stronger.Our love alone will not make our marriage successful, but our commitments to each other and our willingness to be a lifelong team will. And I have yet to figure out why that is so offensive to everyone else. If you don’t want to get married until you’re 30 – don’t! If you don’t want to get married ever, then don’t! I think it’s admirable to admit that you’re at a point in your life where you aren’t ready to settle down and you don’t know what you want out of life – or maybe you do know what you want and marriage isn’t it. Better to be honest with yourself and save yourself and others from heartbreak than to commit to something you know you’re not ready for. However, I’m at a point in my life where I’ve decided (after much thought and prayer) that I am ready to make this commitment, and I couldn’t be more excited to do so. And if that upsets you, well then, I’m sorry – sorry that my future marriage is the most pressing thing in your life that you have to be upset over. I will never apologize for my happiness.