You always know when the next one is upon you. You log into Facebook and your newsfeed displays a picture of somebody’s hand on her boyfriend’s chest. Otherwise known to single people as the Hand of Death. You don’t have to read the caption. You don’t need to see the “Congratulations!” posts. You know what this hand means.
So these people you know or sorta-know are engaged, and your typical post-engagement behaviors start to kick in. Zooming in on the picture, checking out the ring, texting your friends, resisting the temptation to leave a comment that says, “So you agree, you think you’re really pretty?”, making a list of the reasons why you’ll be forever alone, etc etc.
But when you think about it, you can’t really remember when you decided that marriage was something you wanted. There was no day where you just magically knew that an engagement should be the next step on your path to adulthood.
Rather, a switch flipped at one point and suddenly everybody was pairing off, getting engaged, planning weddings, and then actually having them. What was once an insane and unbelievable thing – “What? They’re engaged?! How? We’re all so young!” – has suddenly become the standard thing amongst people your age, because you’re not twenty-two anymore and this is just what happens.
You don’t feel like that much time has passed since the start of all this, since the first peers, that you knew personally, got engaged. But now everybody’s doing it. In your childhood, it was all about Tomagotchi’s. In your teens, your life was about braces and uncomfortable group dates to see Pirates of the Caribbean.
But now, in your twenties, the focus has shifted to finding a partner with whom you can make a serious, lifelong commitment. It sounds romantic, but if you’re alone, sometimes you’d rather still be an awkward teenager, sitting in that movie theater while the kid with the spiked hair tries to touch your non-existent boobs.
It’s an overwhelming thing to experience – everybody rushing to pair off and start a life together – and it often makes you feel like that’s what you need to do next. You don’t even have time to think about whether or not it’s what you want right now, because the feelings of urgency and panic have erased any sense of logical thinking in your mind.
Often, the only thought you’re left with is This happening for everybody else, except me. I’m screwed.
It’s hard not to be consumed by it – by the never-ending what-if’s and the worry that you’re going to end up alone. You forget to live and instead start revolving your life around the happenings of other people. You feel hopeless, lost, listless. You feel like you no longer have a chance at happiness in this game.
But here’s the thing: this is not a game.
Nobody is going to win. Nobody is better than you for getting married. And you’re not better than anybody else for not getting married. Marriage doesn’t make you needy and dependent, and being single doesn’t make you independent. Measuring your life up against anybody else is a waste of time because you will never be them and they will never be you.
It will be tempting to try to find something that makes you feel superior to others. You’ll want to label people. They got married too young or That couple will be divorced in less than ten years or Well they’re married, but I’m out living it up or At least I’m having fun.
You’re allowed to feel weird about the fact that it feels like everyone else is getting married except for you. But you’re not allowed to use another person’s situation as the bar against which you should measure yourself and your life.
Marriage changes a lot of things, but it also doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t validate your existence. It doesn’t officially make you an adult. It doesn’t mean you’re successful. But it also doesn’t mean you’ve succumbed to society’s norms, or you’ve given up your independence, or you’ve decided to to become boring.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, but it will not complete you, and it will not fix you. Right now, it seems like all these newly engaged and newly married people are oozing with happiness, and they probably are. But just like all other adult things, marriage is hard. Marriage is work. The rosy glow will fade into something that – while still special and sacred – eventually just becomes part of everyday life.
Accept that sometimes you’ll feel weird, or uncomfortable, or uneasy. Accept that this is a hard time for you. And then move on. Because it’s not like all the single people are on one side of the fence, unhappy and depressed and worthless, and all the married people are on the other side of the fence, blissful and free of worry and completely at peace.
Married or not, everybody has issues, everyone has worries, everybody has things that keep them up at night. Marriage, for the most part, will provide you with a partner that can support you, but it will not fix your problems. It will not validate your life and your purpose. It will not give you meaning.
You must find that meaning in yourself. You must learn to love your own company, learn to appreciate the simple joy of existing, learn that you have dignity that exists with or without another person’s love.
Learn to love yourself. Learn to love existing. Watch how much joy will come into your life the minute you stop trying to copy someone else’s life path. Perhaps, when you do this, love will come. Perhaps not. But either way, the minute you learn to stop measuring your life up against ridiculous and pointless standards, happiness will show up. Maybe not in the form you expected. But it will be there.