We met at a high school football game: him painted blue head-to-toe and me wearing pigtails. Outside uncomfortable albeit acknowledging eye contact in hallways, we didn’t communicate again until college. Our relationship thereafter spanned four years, in six apartments and two dorm rooms, during three of his siblings’ weddings and one dehydrated, hungover drive through Death Valley. We named our imagined children the classics – Jason, Sean, Christina – with the middle names of our parents and grandparents – Andrew, Ann, William. We planned a life in Dallas, a wedding in the spring. We told strangers and my stepsister we would soon be engaged. Then we broke up.
I remember 22, the way my frequent Twitter updates reeked of desperation and cheap vodka, when morning began at noon, when morning began on my mother’s living room sofa. I had the demands of a child: attention and affection (from boys much below my standards), immediately. Somehow – and it’s embarrassing, really – after four years living on my own, shaking hands with my university’s dean, publishing magazine articles, I garnered worth from likes on an Instagram selfie.
I would like to take this time to issue a formal apology.
Dear Every Man I Met Between March 2011 and December 2012: I am sorry. I required more love than I had ever learned to provide myself, and you were on whom I relied. Before meeting you, my existence was defined by a boyfriend, my future consumed by holy matrimony and wifehood, never adulthood and independence. My decisions did not consider me, but rather, us, and once us dissolved, it was me plus the boy I met at a nightclub, or me plus the guy cattycorner from me in writing workshop. You were a placeholder (and other times, victim) to my adolescent ideals of love and accustomed subservient lifestyle. I did not know what I wanted, but you were smart for not wanting me.
My college years did nothing to procure me pride and self-reliance, and once the degree was earned and the loan payments initiated, those years did not procure me a husband, either. So, no, Susan Patton, author of Marry Smart: Advice for Finding The One due out next month, I would argue the cornerstone of my happiness will not be a man – nor could I ever wish it to be. I lived that life. Three years post-relationship, while I split my bed with a notebook, a novel and no less than three pens, sharing my six pillows with no one, I could not be more satisfied with myself. A husband – or, more realistically, a boyfriend – is a positive addition, not the utmost requisite.
Patton argues that a woman’s formative college years should be devoted to the pursuit of husband, not career. Her writing conveniently omits the research concluding that the younger you are at marriage, the greater the chance of divorce. Of course I understand my experience with husband hunting is unique, and one could argue the demise was of my crafting. That said, I am certain my time (ahem, tuition) would have been better spent had I used college for that which college is designed. I am not referring to education exclusively – I should have taken the time to find myself. I fear I am perpetually behind on the learning curve of those who prioritized knowledge and casual, short-term dating over marriage. Instead of teaching young women to depend on a man for lifelong happiness, we should shift our focus to self-respect and the pursuit of our individualized and even unconventional needs. As a friend said the other day: “I lost my job and I lost my boyfriend, and I have never felt more alone in my entire life. But what is one thing I still have? My knowledge, and it’s the only thing nobody can take away from me.”
Marriage for romantic love amassed popularity only 200 to 250 years ago. Before then, marriage assumed a business-like importance, specifically for inheritance and building family alliances. Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, found that the shift from an agricultural to a market economy caused love and sexual desire to be a justification for life-long commitment. In 1840, Queen Victoria wore a silk-satin, white gown, initiating our romanticized standard for fairytale wedding days. According to research by Helen Croydon, author of Screw The Fairytale: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Sex and Love, because of the Enlightenment, young people began viewing human relationships with rationale and justice, not force and birthright. Additionally, it was not until 50 years ago that a spouseless woman could open her own credit card or apply for her own loans, transforming marriage into a partnership, not a reliant union at the woman’s expense. Patton’s argument – “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career,” as she wrote in the Wall Street Journal – is as antiquated as every view held by the Westboro Baptist Church.
I am not anti-marriage – hell, even I, the self-proclaimed cynic, have a Pinterest board dedicated to the occasion. I also cannot deny the biological clock, though I recently decided on sperm-donor motherhood if need be (but this is another topic for another essay). I am simply of the party: Wait To Get Married.
And man, it is quite a party. Choosing myself brought me to New York City where I live as a writer, a dream I constructed at 17 years old, pre-boyfriend. And where will I go from here? In short, anywhere I damn well please. My freedom is palpable, and when time comes to settle down – or rather, when the right one as opposed to the right time enters my life – I can offer him myself, not the fraudulent version of me I think he’d prefer. According to Nate Bagley and Melissa Joy Kong, two near-strangers who launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Loveumentary.com, the happiest couples consist of “two emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals,” or what they refer to as practicing self-love. Self-love and independence can occur at any age, and putting love on a timeline negates the natural chemistry of it.
Imagine the pressures of 18 in life according to Susan Patton: choose a college major to which you will devote your life’s work, plus, and more importantly, understand your needs and desires intuitively and instantaneously – without employing time for exploration and mistakes – as to find the man to whom you will commit until death do you part. I don’t buy it. By reducing marriage to husband hunting, we have made an institution with the best of intentions into that of a game, and with consideration to divorce rates, a game of trial-and-error. Perhaps I am selfish. Perhaps I am pessimistic, admittedly believing the whole institution obsolete some days. But, if nothing else, I am not a woman reliant on a man or otherwise for once upon a time happiness. How about we bring that lesson to the classroom?