Here’s another great response I got when I asked you guys for writing prompts: In what ways has your life turned out differently than you thought it would when you were growing up? I have a lot of answers to this question, so this will be a five-part series. Also, could the person who submitted this question please shoot me an email? I want to tell you something 🙂
I always dreamed of staying single through college and most of my 20s.
I spent my high school years in three consecutive relationships, with very little time between each one. So I figured the next decade would be my chance to really focus on myself and my friends, collect crazy and hilarious dating stories, and basically be Carrie from Sex and The City.
My best friends from high school didn’t believe I could do this. They predicted I’d be the first of us to get married, hands down. I took offense to that and was determined to prove them wrong.
But I only stayed single my first three years of college.
I wish I could at least say those years taught me that I’m a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man to be happy. But what I actually learned is that I’m not a Carrie at all; turns out I’m a wreck when I’m alone!
I have since observed that there is a category of people whose natural default is to be in a relationship. I call them “relationship-people,” and I am one of them, through and through. There’s no shame in that;` it just is what it is.
When Doug and I started dating at the beginning of our senior year, I was relieved to fall back into the patterns of a committed relationship. It felt like arriving home after a long, grueling workday and finally getting to change back into pajamas.
Still, I was by no means looking for a husband—I was openly critical of people who sought spouses in college—and figured we’d probably break up when I moved away after graduation. But we didn’t. I had no idea whether or not we’d survive the next two years of long-distance… we did. Then I wondered if finally moving in together might somehow tear us apart—it did the opposite. Before I knew it we were engaged, and I was someone who hadn’t been single since I was 21. My friends were right: I was the first to meet and marry my husband.
Back when I was a teenager who worried about settling down too young, I was coming from a place of having felt stifled in my early relationships, where I’d always felt there were certain aspects of my personality I couldn’t fully explore while I was “tied down.”
That feeling was validated and intensified by something my older cousin said shortly after getting engaged to her boyfriend during her sophomore year of college. “I really do love him,” she confided to me late one night in our grandparents’ basement. “But I wish I had met him later in life, because there are things I would have liked to do on my own first.” (She never ended up marrying him.)
But with Doug, I never felt that way. As soon as we became a couple, I couldn’t imagine a single thing I’d want to do in the future that wouldn’t be a fuller, more meaningful experience with him by my side. Saying yes to him was not a decision I questioned for a moment.
Though sometimes, I do let myself fantasize about what my alternate single life might have looked like. It might have been nice, for example, to have been able to move anywhere I wanted—out to California or Chicago, perhaps, where many of my single friends reside (and, if Snapchat is to be trusted, appear to have such fun, spunky nights out)! By now I’ve also met the people I’m pretty sure I would have dated had I been single—and hey, that might have been fun. There is also a distinctly single-in-your-20s experience of living with close friends that I feel I’ve missed out on. My friend Anahitta and I talked about living together ever since we were 16. I really think we would have; it would have been a blast.
But I also realize that those daydreams are just glamorizations of a life that, in reality, would have been quite difficult for me. Maybe I’m just a big wimp, but I think adulthood is really freaking hard and I cannot imagine facing it alone. I get anxious even thinking about coming home to an empty apartment, waking up alone on weekends, or moving to a new city by myself without the safety net of a school system. The thought of meeting a love interest outside of school seems scientifically impossible, and internet dating seems absolutely insane. Hats off to the people who do these things and thrive! You are much braver than I am. (As I once told a friend: I’m lucky I met a good guy, because I might have settled for a much worse guy to avoid being alone.)
Plus, there are many perks to settling down early that my teenage self never thought about: I get to grow old with someone who knew me when I was young, and there’s something magical about that. At 30, we’ve already amassed a decades’ worth of memories together. He got to meet all four of my grandparents. If we end up having kids, we will have gotten to have this whole other life together first—just us.
I’m glad I never traded that in for the opportunity to gather “crazy and hilarious dating stories”— that’s why God invented Chelsea Handler’s memoirs! I read them, I laugh, and then I happily fall asleep beside the guy I met the first night I ever went to a bar, relieved I’ve never had to navigate this world without him.