Society convinces us that we’re old by the time we’re, like, 25. And instead of enjoying the fact that we’re getting wiser and more inspired and more sure of ourselves, we’re being forced to stress over our “fading youth.” Instead of turning to marriage once we feel like we have a good grip on who we are as an individual and who we are in a partnership, we’re expected to turn to marriage before our youth and beauty and attractiveness waste away.
We’re taught that there is a right age to get married. Maybe according to your mom it’s 26, and according to some magazine you should shoot for 29, and according to most television shows it just needs to happen before we’re 30. The point is, everyone tries to give us a specific number, when it should be about our mental and emotional state. We should get married when we’re ready to make a commitment to building a life with someone else. And that can happen when we’re 22 or 36 or 41.
Marriage is made to feel like an accomplishment on a checklist, not a special partnership between us and our companion. Instead of people congratulating us on finding the right person, we’re congratulated on the event we’ll be throwing.
Our lives have always been about following a pattern. First we graduate high school. And then we go right to college. We do internships in the summers. We graduate college. We start a job. This is how we learn our place in the world. Our hobbies and passions and interests are forced to take a back seat to things that can be measured, like grades and salaries and promotions. Our newfound passion for sailing is not something that is tangible or something that can be measured. But a ring on our finger is.
Because, weddings. They’re beautiful. And glamorous. And joyful. And so much goes into the planning and organizing and preparation that it’s an easy way of distracting us from the question of whether or not we’re actually ready for the whole marriage part.
When we’re not dating anyone, people ask us why not. They want a specific reason as to why we’re single. They’re basically implying that there’s something wrong with us and that there needs to be an explanation for why we’re currently living as an individual and not as part of a couple. We’re made to feel like we’re not living our life the right way until we’ve found another person to validate our own existence.
…and when we finally do find someone we’re happy with, people don’t ask us if we’re enjoying ourselves or what we love most about that person. They don’t want to know how we met or how we feel about the other person. They just want to know the next step. When are you getting engaged? When will you set a date? When will you start a family? When will you follow the next step in a perfectly laid-out process that everyone expects you to go by?
Because sometimes we spend three hours in a row watching Say Yes to the Dress, and then we look up and wonder what we’re doing and if we should currently be planning a wedding, even if our fiancé doesn’t exist.
Because weddings have been ingrained in our minds as the climax of our existence. The most important day of our lives. The greatest thing we will ever do.
…instead of what they really are: a very special day with the most special people in our lives, celebrating the fact that we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our lives trying to building something meaningful with another person.
It’s impossible to forget the expectations people have for us, especially as twenty-somethings, because engagements and weddings are showing up in our newsfeeds practically every day. Beautiful photos. Joyful announcements. Exciting well-wishes. It’s hard not to be happy for two people that look so in love and so excited, and it’s hard not to feel the anxiety of wanting that for yourself at some point.
An engagement is obviously a very special and beautiful moment in a couple’s relationship. And in the modern world, we’re capable of witnessing pretty much the entire process, from pictures of the engagement, to a pre-wedding photoshoot, to the wedding itself. Even recorded speeches of the Best Man and the Maid of Honor. Every single part is documented and shared with the world, making it hard not to wonder if something is wrong with you just because you haven’t gotten engaged yet or wanted to get engaged yet.
We’re often made to feel like a successful career or an intense passion are just temporary fillers until we find a significant other who will take their place. As in, sure, it’s nice to have a stable career or a successful artistic endeavor or something else that makes you excited, but you’re not actually going to be happy unless you also have romantic success.
People can keep track of us now in a way that they couldn’t ten years ago. Our personal situations used to be known only by our family and closest friends. Occasionally some coworkers. Maybe a rare catch-up phone call here and there with a long-lost friend. But today, everyone knows everything about everyone else. So the longer we stay single, or even just in a relationship but not engaged, the more we feel like everyone is watching us, wondering what’s wrong or when something’s going to happen.
When we return home from the holidays, we’re often reunited with people we don’t have much in common with anymore, like great aunts or our parents’ friends that we haven’t seen for five years. And often, once we’re out of school, they don’t know what to really talk to us about besides our jobs or our dating life. So oftentimes, going home can sometimes feel like a long series of social engagements where all you do is explain why you’re single or why you’re not engaged to your significant other yet, instead of talking about things that are actually of interest to you at the moment.
Because we’re tired of going to weddings and having older people pointing at us and saying “you’re next!” And we want to just get it over with already so they’ll STOP.
It’s exhausting to have people giving us pitying looks when there’s nothing to feel pity about. We’re happy where we are. We’re trying to take our time. We’re trying to take this seriously and really think about what we’re doing. So when people speak to us in a patronizing tone, telling us to hang in there and that it will happen eventually, it’s not reassuring. It’s just tiring.