Before I was 18 years old, my mother presented me with a choice that is a theme in the lives of many women. She asked me if I wanted to pour my resources into college or save them for my potential wedding day and marriage. Now reaching my mid-thirties, I’m only realizing the impact of my decision between choosing a career or marriage.
Young, Dumb, & Full of Possibilities
The year I graduated high school, it was still the social norm to go to college, get married, and have a few kids. It was just assumed that my friends and I would be at each other’s graduations and weddings. Not getting married wasn’t even a consideration.
Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth noted that 79 percent of women between 25 and 44 years of age had gotten married for the first time. The median age for a woman to get married that year was just shy of 25.
I was dating a high school dropout (shaking my head at naive me) at the time who wanted to get married immediately. He didn’t want me to go to college since we were going to have kids soon (again, shaking my head). He filled my head full of the romantic ideas that a child from a broken home hopes for.
I told my boyfriend to wait until I was 21. I was determined to stick the blueprint given to me; graduate, marry, and have some kids.
The Benefits of a Gap Year
In retrospect, I wish that I had a more European upbringing that encouraged a gap year between high school and the next thing. Teenagers go from asking teachers for permission to go to the restroom to making decisions that influence the rest of their lives. Other first-world countries allow and encourage teens and new adults to learn about themselves and their world before plunging into college, a career, or married life.
The Old College Try
I am extremely blessed in the fact that my parents gave me $30,000 to use for college or a wedding. I decided I would split those funds between the two options. Since I went to local state schools and didn’t stay on campus, I got my BA in Psychology for about $15,000. Yes, I graduated without a single penny of student debt. You can hate me, I understand.
College was an eye-opening experience. Although I was a C student and had little interest in school prior, I flourished in the higher learning arena. Being able to pick out my classes and tailor my schedule lead to me being more active in the classroom. While I stuck to the curriculum needed to obtain my degree, I also took writing classes for my electives. I got straight A’s my first two years.
Choosing to spend the money on college instead of a wedding was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Having my first taste at freedom made me also realize that my boyfriend was controlling and his fantasy life was from the mid-century. I broke up with him sophomore year believing that ending the relationship would simply set the plan to get married back a few years.
Side note: He was married and had a child with someone else before I graduated.
After Graduation & Before Turning 30
Within two years of getting my degree, I met the love of my life and we have since married and had three beautiful children named Not, Even, and Close. In the decade following my undergraduate graduation, I:
- Moved across the country twice.
- Spent the other half of my college/wedding funds on a master’s degree.
- Traveled to 7 percent of the world.
- Had three serious relationships point to marriage and end.
After every wedding-bound relationship ended, I thought, “I’ll just get married later.” New loves and heartache ebb and flowed for years until just before I turned 30. It was then I was determined to commit HARD AF to my relationship. We moved across country together, merged our finances, and started picking out baby names.
But somewhere between fights about money, sex, and paperwork over a course of 3 years, I realized I was living someone else’s concept of life. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone just because it was time or my biological clock was ticking. I looked at my boyfriend and thought, “I can’t do forever with you.”
A marriage is what you make it. I know several happily-married women, stay-at-home moms, and divorcees who would still do it all again. God bless.
However, it’s taken me a long time to realize that I may be a bachelorette for life. I’m not going to settle just to settle down. I want someone who earns, loves, and participates at home as much as me. I don’t just want a husband; I want an equal partner.
There is something sacrilegious about a woman saying, “I’m okay without a husband and children.” But, for me, it’s true. I like living alone, I support myself, I buy myself nice things, and I take myself to wonderful foreign places. I’ve grown up to be the man I want to marry.
While it is entirely possible that I will get married at some point, I won’t be disappointed if I do not. I won’t get into a legally-binding relationship for the sake of societal pressures or procreation. I’m not sticking to a blueprint anymore. I’m making up my own plans as I go.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken