I found this picture on Pinterest the other day. A friend of mine posted it to her humor board. When I saw it, I felt a lot of things. I mainly felt that pang of familiarity. I’ve seen this in real life. I’ve seen the wedding announcement go on top of the graduation announcement on the fridge.
Every time I see this picture, I am struck with the same thought. “Why is the one with diploma frowning?” I’m 99.9% positive the picture started as a joke, but behind every just kidding there is an element of truth. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one says: The diploma holding girl is disappointed in her accomplishments, when comparing them to those of her peers. Her graduation is not as exciting as the marriages or engagements of her friends. She had to finish school while her friends got married.
I was raised in a very conservative, Christian household. I had a good childhood. I’ve had supportive family and friends, but for the last 20-something years of my life I’ve been pushed to “grow up and get married.” I went to school, and was encouraged to do so, but mainly so I could have an education, “in case something happens to my husband and I need to provide for my family.”
As a teenager, I was excited by the thought of going to college and finding “Prince Charming” and getting married so I could be a mom and take care of my babies.
And then I actually went to college.
I went to a religious school, and from day one was pushed to date and socialize so I could get married. The first semester the idea was still fresh and I was ready for it. By my second semester, however, I began to change and my mind. I wanted to learn. I had mentors who pushed me to acknowledge my education for myself, and understand what a blessing it was to be in a place of learning. I decided that I should go to college for an education and not to find a husband.
I was paying for this right?
I began looking towards other goals. I contemplated going to Africa to work on a research project. When I presented the plan to some people I was close to, in a very serious tone one turned to me and said “Well, you are going to need to think about what that means for your future. You won’t be finding a husband in Africa.”
Marriage and family was and still is important to me, but is it so important, that other exciting goals (such as graduation from college) should be dismissed or seen as less worthy? Hell no.
When I graduated, I had the same conversation countless times:
“Are you dating anyone?”
“Are you going on a mission?”
“Oh, well, what is your plan sweetie?”
“I’m planning on working and travelling, because I’m done with school. And I’m young, when’s a better time?”
“Oh that’s nice” *Accompanied by a condescending pat on the knee*
Never mind the fact that I had graduated. I was 20, but unmarried. I was becoming a menace to society. My accomplishments wouldn’t mean anything “in the grand scheme of things.”
A close friend and I talk about this on a regular basis. He’s been pushed to go to school to find a career that will support a family, rather than pursue his passion. He’s a musician, and a talented one at that, but he feels the pressure to find something more, “family friendly.” He has no immediate desire to be married. He wants to travel. He wants to explore and discover the world, and is responsible enough to know that what he wants and what is expected of him are separate. He hasn’t gotten married because of the pressure and I respect him for that.
I’ve seen the separation develop slowly, but powerfully. I’ve seen myself draw away from the programs set up to “help me” find a spouse. Those things put in place to assist in getting me married off, have deterred me more than anything. I’ve watched as my goals aim in a different direction than most of my peers. It’s frustrating but I see it as even more of an accomplishment. I’m doing what many of my church friends haven’t or can’t do.
If I was living the life my limited society has set up for me, I’d have gotten married quickly and had children even faster. I have a friend who is living that life. She loves it. She was made for that. It is exactly what she wants. I don’t want the same things for my life, but that doesn’t mean that what I want is any less important.
Graduation was one of the most significant days of my life. I was on top of the world. This was my big day. No, I wasn’t wearing white. But I was wearing a gown I had worked my entire life for.