I remember that toward the end of high school, I made the plan to get engaged by 26 and married by 28.
Where did I come up with this crazy idea? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I was probably influenced by my parents, who were married in their early 20s. I was likely also inspired by the Disney movies I'd seen (on repeat) growing up. After all, I'd longingly watched Jasmine fall in love with Aladdin in less than nine minutes and Ariel fall in love with Prince Eric even faster than that.
I based my perceptions of marriage on the things I saw around me. It seemed as though getting married sometime after college was the thing to do — the line between believing it was the best option and wanting to actually get married felt blurred.
Looking back, I can see that my marriage plan was much more of a social strategy than a personal one. I mistakingly figured that if the people (and characters) surrounding me could find love and companionship so easily, I could "settle down" by the time I turned 28.
But now, I'm a 29-year-and-three-week-old adult who knows that life doesn't always turn out according to plan. It isn't as though there's a shortage of amazing women. I've just never met the "right" type of person because I didn't know who she was, since I didn't know who I was. As I contemplate my failed marriage strategy, another thought comes to mind...
Maybe I shouldn't get married at all.
There are plenty of wrong reasons to get married:
I shouldn’t get married just because my parents want grandchildren.
I shouldn’t get married because of the amount of "likes" there are on the engagement and wedding photos in my social media feeds.
I shouldn’t get married because many of my close friends has tied the knot with their life partner.
I shouldn’t get married because I might not be young enough to play sports with my kids if I wait too long.
I shouldn’t get married because of what society, the media, or my own crazy thoughts upstairs might be saying.
I should only get married if I know that marriage is the right decision for me.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen lots of people get married for these external reasons. They're settling down because that’s what they think they're supposed to be doing at their age. They feel like failures, like something must be wrong with them, if they don't.
Recently, I had the privilege of connecting with an incredible woman who had just ended a six-year marriage that began in her early twenties.
She told me, “Looking back, it was clear that I liked the idea of marriage more than marriage itself — I didn’t even know who I was then.” Then she mentioned that, although she knew she had to leave her marriage, it was not an easy decision since so much of her self-worth was wrapped up in the unhealthy relationship. I doubt she's the only one who's ever felt this way.
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
I don't think that getting married early is a bad thing — I have plenty of twentysomething friends who are happy that they did so. But I do think that it’s important to honor yourself and find out who you really are (something that might not even be possible in your twenties) before jumping into "until death do us part" with another human.
There's certainly no right or wrong way to live your life. There's just your way.
I realized the importance of living life on my own terms, instead of those that society prescribes, shortly after college. I felt extremely unsatisfied at the time, and it wasn’t until I began sifting through some old-school self-development books that I began to ask myself the not-so-obvious questions: “Is this the life that I actually want to live? Do I really want to be doing this kind of work? Do I really want to pretend I’m someone else so that I can fit in?”
Write and speaker Krishnamurti phrased it best when he said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." I realized that I was trying to do just that. I was trying to adjust to a society that was sick.
If we are going to pave our own path, it’s important to check out of societal expectations and check in to what’s going on inside. I’ve managed to do this with one simple question.
A few years back, I began the regular exercise of writing, “How do I want to live my life?” on a piece of paper and jotting down a list of whatever comes to mind. I didn’t need to come up with the answer right then, but I just dedicated myself to 5 to 10 minutes at a time to this practice.
The exercise led me to better understand what was most important to me and made me consider who I wanted to spend my time with, what I wanted to learn about, what philosophies I valued most, and what experiences I most craved.
Since we get only one shot at this game, why not trust ourselves to go after what we actually want? I’m not saying don’t get married or have your 2.5 children (even though the 0.5 part might be a bit challenging). I’m just here to remind you of the choices that you still get to make — all of them.
So if you’ve been playing this life game by someone else’s rules, you have the option to shift and make a different choice. Not right, not better, just different. I invite you to create your own rules, maybe even ones that make you feel slightly uncomfortable, yet alive inside.
Cheers to you, rule breaker.
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