Nine years ago, today actually, I got married at the age of twenty.
Today I happened to click on a link to Justtaylord’s “24 Things to Do Instead of Getting Married Before You’re 24” post, which is in turn a response to “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23” on Wander Onwards. Both of these posts reference a culture where getting married young is frequent, maybe even common, and many of the commentors echoed that. For us, there was the world of our home town and families, where little was thought about our age at the time of our marriage, (our hometown National Guard unit had been deployed overseas twice in four years, so war brides happened) and then there was college, where using the word husband in conversation prompted a conversation derailing “How old ARE you?!” and being married was a very counter culture thing to do.
I didn’t get married at twenty to meet expectations or follow the planned course of a life. I also didn’t do it to escape or rebel. If I am honest, twenty-year-old me was afraid to get married at that time; I was afraid of what it would cost me, what I’d never be able to do. But we knew we loved each other, and the circumstances of our lives called us to commit to that earlier than we might have planned. I knew that if I loved him, I needed to step up and take the action that was best for our lives- how they happened and not how I’d envisioned or how anyone expected. By the time I was running through the pouring rain to the court house door, the fear was gone. Three days later, he was in route to Iraq by way of Georgia. We had given our relationship the US Government seal of approval just in case the horrible happened; none of the scenarios in which we would have really needed it occurred, but our lives were still pledged to each other when he got back, and when we went on to our next lives and worlds.
So my advice is not to get married, and its not to not get married. And its certainly not to make getting married on a certain timeline a goal, or to swear you won’t get married before a certain point on the plane of your life. My advice is to let go of expectations and assumptions about the way things will be, and embrace the way your life happens. Do what is right for the situation, the time, and the two (or hey, one) people involved. Your hypothetical marriage or single life won’t follow any rules. It will be a combination of what happens, and what you make of it.
To that end, here is a list of 29 things I did instead of not getting married until I was 29:
1. Visited an estimated six new countries, and at least twelve states and US territories – some as a couple, and some by myself. He also has a few boxes checked that I don’t.
2. Learned to (kind of) like and (somewhat) understand football. (If you don’t want this to happen to you, don’t immigrate to Texas.)
3. Sat alone with a wiener dog in my tiny apartment, playing Chrono Cross and eating sour Skittles until my mouth bled.
4. Moved to the city with no money left to undo it. Hated it, and then learned to understand it, then loved it.
5. Went drinking on Christmas Eve. Four years in a row.
6. Accepted that having a college degree would never guarantee the job or life I envisioned. Accepted that I might be a waitress forever and would have to find value in my life outside of my (lack of) career. Then started a new career in an industry (video games) totally separate from my degree (fashion design) and really learned the meaning of working towards a goal.
7. Decided that we’d rather travel/socialize/save money/buy something else than get a dinner table. Decided this over and over again. Stopped feeling the absence of a dinner table.
8. Went to five concerts in five days. Abandoned a car with a flat tire and caught a cab to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Drove to Austin and back one night to see Zola Jesus, watched Sixth Street melt in the rain, and made it back for work in the morning. Danced with strangers while Oakenfold played. Made out while The Cult played. Sang “It’ll be summer in Dallas before you realize..” along with The National, in Dallas. Saw The Lions at Double Wide before we’d ever seen Sons of Anarchy. Have seen more bands play than my nineteen-year-old self had ever dreamed of.
9. Faced the fear of saying out loud that my priorities had changed, that something different was important to me.
10. Learned to stop pushing against him for space. Learned to be responsible for maintaining my individual self. Learned to realize what I need and to communicate it in a constructive way. Learned that there is not a struggle between us for fulfillment, and he can pursue it without taking it from my, and I can pursue it without taking it from him. Also learned that sometimes its ok to let go of something if I’m only holding onto it to prove that I still have my separate, individual self.
11. Saw the incognito German Merlin make an orange appear out of nowhere and NOT steal our money outside a club in Reagansburg at closing time.
12. Got tattoos, even though Thom had talked eighteen-year-old me out of getting them. Got used to Thom getting tattoos. Got over being mad that he got one without telling me. Got a needle stuck through my lip one day after a drinking tour of the Ft. Worth Stockyards.
13. Changed. Watched him change. Got over feeling that I might get cheated out of something if he changed. Really, concretely came to understand what Al said at our wedding – that five or ten years from now we will not be the people that we respectively married, and we shouldn’t be.
14. Drove from Dallas to Albuquerque to Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon to Tucson to El Paso and Guadalupe Mountains in one trip.
15. Made friends with girls I met on the internet.
16. Gave myself a crash course in Castilian-izing my Spanish. Talked us through the trip, even though I realized too late that some of the time I needed Catalan instead.
17. Decided that I think I could be a good mother after all, despite my lack of experience playing with dolls. Decided later that I was ambivalent about having kids. Realized that I’d need to make a choice eventually or not making a choice would become a choice. Still haven’t made a choice.
18. Got really good at cooking; became a stickler for fresh ingredients. (Flashback to my mom’s warnings that I don’t cook or clean..)
19. Looked back at old pictures and realized that I don’t miss “young hot Thom” that I first fell in love with. I like the version I have now, older and wiser and less likely to fly off the handle, more open and more comfortable. He’s seen more since then, he’s done things that were valuable to him but not to his family, he’s learned from more sources, he’s followed more creative pursuits. Also he’s still hot, so that’s cool too. I also don’t miss sixteen/seventeen-year-old me.
20. Got detained by security in Amsterdam.
21. Went on a trip by myself. As in, no other human with me, no one I knew at the destination, but with the wiener dog.
22. Made pieces for a vinyl toy art show, even though I’d never done vinyl toys previously. (And they all sold!) Also made t shirts, jewelry, and other things, with the goal of making art that works in the lives of normal people. (Am I writing a resume here?)
23. Learned the value of investing in quality things and spending more money on less things.
24. Raised a puppy that other people can stand to be around. Let a stray move in with us. Got the largest creature that can technically be considered a puppy from the pound.
25. Wore a strapless dress to a no-shoulders wedding. Oops.
26. Mastered PC building to the point that when Thom’s last build had problems, I was able to troubleshoot it and get it working before he got home the next day. Even though he’s the one who taught me.
27. Had thanksgiving dinner with a second-generation Irish/Italian family. Had thanksgiving dinner another year with a Colombian/Mexican family. And another year we were introduced to southern-style Thanksgiving by the family of friends. Had Christmas dinner with a Christian family with small kids who I had never met before.
28. Stood in the wind on a bare rock face looking down at a mountain lake.
29. Enjoyed being friends with people who are not in exactly the same demographic/life stage as me. Watched people make various life choices and transitions, with varying results. Made friends that I feel comfortable with. Learned to invest time in people without giving more than I can sustain.