While Everyone Else Was Getting Married, I Was Busy Learning These 8 Things

These days, it seems like I can’t log on to Instagram without seeing another engagement announcement. I’m in the post-grad years and my single friends are dropping off like flies, lured into the prospect of monogamy by the shining promise of everlasting love and commitment. That sounds nice in theory, but I’m nowhere near ready to take that leap. As I watch all my friends pair off and tie the knot, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve learned by, well, not trying to get married.

What I really want in life.

I didn’t know what that was at 21. Being on my own means I get to keep exploring, keep learning and keep growing without the pressure of conforming to anyone else’s ideas of who I am or who I should be.

The world is full of crazy people.

And the world is full of beautiful people. Dating means meeting all kinds, and there are just as many stories out there to hear and enjoy.

How to adult.

All the little everyday tasks there are that pile up? Yeah, I had to learn how to do all that stuff alone. I don’t think my married friends necessarily have it any easier than I do in this regard, but they’ve got someone with them to help out when things get confusing. I’ve had to make do on my own, and it’s made me a more capable person.

How to enjoy the life I have.

There are always going to be things “missing” from my life, things that are less than the ideal the world keeps saying I should want. Flying solo has given me space to learn to love life as it is, right now, instead of focusing on how it could turn out in the future. Developing contentment now, where I am, helps me to be happy as I am.

What marriage is actually like.

Watching other people’s marriages, and talking with my friends who were married before me, showed me that I really didn’t realize just how much boring, time-consuming work goes into being married. If I had gotten married at twenty-one, I would have been a disaster of a spouse. I didn’t have the capacity to do the hard things and make the sacrifices that marriage seems to require. You have to be unselfish for a marriage to be healthy, but the early 20s is the time when I needed to be selfish, in order to figure out life on my own terms.

How to be alone.

I don’t deny wanting love of my own. But I think it’s entirely possible that marrying too soon could mean you never get used to really being alone. I don’t need anyone else to regulate my emotions for me, because I’m used to being by myself and having to depend on that. I’m comfortable being alone, so I don’t sacrifice myself for the sake of changing that.

The wedding industry is a monster.

But don’t just take my word for it. I’m not an expert, so I asked an insider for her take. Here’s what my wedding coordinator friend had to say on the topic: “I was a bridesmaid 8 times, a wedding coordinator, a photographer and even an officiant before I tied the knot myself. Every wedding was different. Every wedding was stressful for the couple, and at every wedding I thought, ‘I want this, but I don’t want that’ about one thing or another. When it finally came around to my own wedding, I was better able to navigate the stress and the decision-making with my fiancé. And we had the wedding we wanted: small, joyful and affordable.”

How to take care of myself.

This is something I learned by necessity, but it’s so important! Even if I someday marry, I can’t assume that my partner will perfectly take care of me, provide for me, or meet all my emotional needs. First of all, it’s an impossible set of expectations. And secondly, life happens. Illness happens, stress happens, all kinds of things happen. Knowing I can be alone gives me the grounding to dig deep and figure out how to be a team with a little less fear during the awful times.

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