When my boyfriend and I returned from a trip to Paris in December, we were asked the expected slew of questions: “How was the food?” “Did you see the Mona Lisa?” “Did you go up the Eiffel Tower?”
My answers: “Incredible.” “Yeah, it was whatever.” And, “I don’t want to talk about it, but we kind of mixed up our dates and missed our scheduled time slot.”
Then there was the question that began with the drawn-out, “Sooooo …” before the person would glance at my hand to look for the tell-tale sign of love everlasting.
Much to our surprise, some people we know lost bets over this. And to my shock, my grandmother and aunts were mad. Yes, mad. Fortunately, they hid this from me, but apparently my mom got quite the earful.
Growing up I was never the little girl who dreamed of her big wedding day and her perfect Prince Charming. The idea of standing before a bunch of people in a too-tight dress and sharing my intimate feelings for someone makes me sweaty. I’d always known I would get married one day, just like I always knew I’d go to college. It was a given. But as I’m getting older, seeing my peers split off into little pairs and drift away into the unknown called “forever,” I’m realizing I don’t have to follow these guidelines and norms.
This month, [name redacted] and I celebrated our seven-year anniversary. We’re super-duper ooey-gooey in love and all that gross stuff, and yeah we want to get married one day, but we’re not in a rush. When I was younger I used to think my parents dated for too long (four years) before getting married and I thought the ideal length of time to date before walking down the aisle was two years. Two years!
Now I can’t even imagine that. I know it works out fine for some people, but in my twenties I’ve learned that I want to become more comfortable with myself before I permanently tie myself to another human being.
The thing is, I’ve never doubted [name redacted] – he’s been endgame since Day 1 – but I’ve spent a lot of time doubting myself. I’ve struggled with who I am and what I want. I’ve felt myself get lost on a path of expectations with no clear idea of what actually mattered to me. I’ve always been a rule follower and a “good girl” (barf), so I’ve never strayed too far from the path. And honestly, the path has started to look more like a trap to me.
A couple years ago I started feeling anxious that I was destined to become a suburban mom with a nice husband and a good job. Again, I’m not knocking anyone else’s life choices, but for me it all seems too manufactured. I don’t want to become a robot who just falls in line and follows the blueprint. I want to make my own choices.
Before our Paris trip, I heard some of the “you know he’s going to propose, right?” stuff, to which I would reply that he wasn’t. People would either tell me I was wrong or would ask how I knew.
Honestly, the latter reply really leaves me flabbergasted. How wouldn’t I know? I’m not looking to be surprised by an engagement out of left field. [Name redacted] and I talk about these things and discuss what we both want. If he had proposed in Paris I would have been mad because it would have meant he’d been lying to me. We want our engagement to be a decision we come to when we’re both ready and on the same page. We’re not going to get engaged just because we live together and have been together for a certain amount of time.
The same goes for kids. A couple years ago I started to question if I even want kids. It had never occurred to me before that I could choose not to. I then started thinking about adoption and surrogacy and realized I don’t have to give birth just because that’s what’s expected of someone in a long-term committed relationship. Knowing this is so liberating.
For my entire life, the unknown has scared me (and it still very much does), but I think that’s the best part of not following society’s expectations. I don’t want to know how this all turns out. I know life throws unexpected curveballs, but other than that, I want to be in control of my life and make the choices that feel best for me when I’m ready.
And maybe that means I’ll choose to be a suburban mom with perfect blonde children and a picket fence, or maybe it means [name redacted] and I will elope and disappear to Europe to become nomads. Whatever we choose (and honestly, it’ll probably be somewhere in the middle of those two ideas), it’ll be a choice made out of joy, not fear and pressure.
Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.