If you have read the ‘Freshly Pressed’ articles on WordPress recently, you may have come across 23 Things to do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23.
If you read this blog, you may know that I am engaged. I am also under 23. In fact, I am the same age as the author of the aforementioned Freshly Pressed article.
You can see why this might put me at logger-heads with the author.
I understand what the author’s saying and in some ways, I agree with the general point. If you haven’t read it, the best way to sum up the beginning is by the author’s own words:
“I NEED to develop MY dreams and MYSELF before I can truly be the type of woman you WANT to marry.”
For the most part, I agree with this. In a relationship, you shouldn’t lose yourself to the ‘we’. You need to be your own person with your own life and interests to make your life great. Fine. But to me, this statement also shows an assumption by the author about marriage/engagements/finding a long-term partner which I think a lot of people share. It is the end-goal and with it, comes the end of freedom and of an exciting life.
Ok, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Maybe I’m taking too much out of one statement.
But then the author really loses me. She says that “a lot of these unions are a cop-out.” A way for people to get out of living their own life and experiencing things for themselves. She also states that she has “already experienced more of the world in the last 22 years than my married peers will ever experience in their life.” Again, it’s back to the idea that as soon as you get married/engaged, your life stops.
It would have been kinder to spit on everyone who got engaged before they were 23.
This idea isn’t just specific to the author of this blog. I think the reason why this post stayed with me so long and bothered me is that I’ve experienced a lot of similar comments from people in the real world. Even those closest to me. After a year of dating my fiancé, I was out with a friend and made a casual remark that I might end up marrying him. She looked at me in horror as if I’d just told her I like to eat babies as a side dish.
“Don’t you want to want to do something with your life first?” She asked me.
“Like what?” I said.
Insert massive eye roll here.
I don’t understand where this idea that once you find someone you want to be with long-term, you can’t go travelling. Or you can’t do things that you would have been able to do when you were single. That you instantly become a bore and all that is left for you to do is to spout out a child and die. This is a completely new generation and, to me, aren’t people looking for relationships to support them in living their life, not just to have someone to cuddle when you’ve achieved everything you wanted to?
The author of the post and a lot of the people that say similar things to me in the real world haven’t tended to have had long-term relationships themselves which might affect how they view these relationships. What I find I get from my relationship is support to go and get my goals and encouragement to push myself when I get scared, rather than a chain around my ankle, tying me to a home. To me, a relationship is all about support.
For example, my partner and I bought a house last year. Two months later, my partner quit his full-time job to go back to university for a year to train to be a teacher. That meant that we only had one income but I was happy to support him as that was what he wanted to do with his life. Three months later, he realised that this decision had been a mistake. Teaching, for a variety of reasons, was not the right move for him and was actually detrimental to his health! So he left that too. Before he quit his job, I could have told him not to. We needed the money and he would have stick it out for a while. I could have told him to carry on with the course so that he would have a guaranteed job at the end of his training. I didn’t do either of those things. When he asked me why I didn’t stop him, I told him something that is so ingrained in our relationship, I couldn’t believe he had to ask: It’s your life, you do what you want.
Next year, I’m hoping to start my masters degree. My partner is thrilled, even though it will mean studying during my free time that I could be spending with him. I also write a lot which he encourages me to do. He never stops me going out with friends or makes me pick him over them. And we have already talked about going travelling together in short bursts as neither of us fancy taking a year out to travel.
So if two people who get engaged at under 23 can be this supportive to the other person in letting them achieve their life goals and following their dreams, why is it a bad thing to get engaged so young? I understand there is evidence to suggest that waiting until you mature to marry is a good idea but there is also a lot of studies which say marrying when you’re young is great too if you are ready for it. It’s not as if I’m going to miss out on experiences because he would never stop me doing something I wanted to do, as I wouldn’t with him. If that is how people see young relationships, then comments like my friends hurt because they see my relationship as crippling me, not supporting me.
I sometimes wonder if this perspective comes from seeing other people in relationships change significantly whilst they are in them. That’s true. Unlike when you are single, you have think of your significant other, whether it is as simple as ‘I’d better tell them I’ll be late home’ to ‘What would we do if I took that job abroad?’ Again, this doesn’t mean you stop experiencing life or having freedom. One of my closest friends has been with her partner for over five years and for the last two summers has worked abroad for months. That doesn’t sound like someone who has stopped having experiences.
I hate this assumption that an engagement or a marriage means it’s over. That suddenly you’ve stopped growing as a person. It’s total bollocks. You never stop growing and learning new things. No matter what, you’re experiences (married or not) and changing you into someone new with new perspectives and new ideas all the time. Just because you have a ring on your finger or a mortgage doesn’t mean you can’t do the things you want to do in life.
The greatest bit of advice for long-term relationships I received was by my mum (obviously!). She told me that people change all the time. You are reach a point and just become this amazingly stable person that you will be for the rest of your life. The secret to a long-term relationship is that people grow and change together. To live life together.
I got engaged before I was 23. That doesn’t mean your life is better than mine. It doesn’t change my plans for my future – my career, my writing, my education – are gone. Nor does it mean my life is better than yours. But for the record, it really pisses people off when you question their life decisions and tell them your life will be more fulfilling than theirs.
EDIT: I focused a lot on how marriage/engagement does not lead to the end of someone growing as a person, experiencing life or having their own adventures but there were a lot of other ideas I barely touched on that I thought about when reading it. Derek Rishmawy explains a lot of them here and it is worth a read if you are interested in people’s thoughts on this area.