One of the really excellent parts of the last few months at APW has been getting to know brand new editor Maddie better. (And better, and better. Girlfriend is coming with me from Brooklyn to New Orleans this month, thanks to the magic of Amtrak.) When I announced that I’d hired Maddie, I joked that she was like younger-Meg. And I still think she kind of is (in the awesome ways only, obviously), plus she’s a super talented photographer and whole lot of things I’m not. So! I really want all of you to get to know Maddie too, and I’ve asked her to write for you once a month. You’re welcome. Today’s post is a beautiful mediation on how sometimes we’re not even in charge of the parts of our lives we pretend to be in charge of (like our relationships), as well as being about how marriage should be (if you ask me). Plus, the more I think about it, of course Maddie got married young. There may not be a single more rebellious choice you could make in New York City… so our iconoclast did it (with a ton of grace).
Having gotten married as young as I did, you might be surprised to know that Michael was not my first boyfriend. Actually, my first boyfriend was named Patrick and we dated for two years in elementary school (we broke up before sixth grade because I didn’t want to be tied down in my new junior high environment).
Still, despite a string of monogamous relationships that started when I was nine years old, when I found myself engaged at twenty-one, I Freaked. The. Eff. Out. To the extent that my first phone call after Michael proposed was to my best friend (I called her repeatedly at work until she thought somebody had died, whoops) to whom I breathlessly choked out, “I’m engaged, is that ok?” Because despite being thrilled with the prospect of marrying Michael, the thought of being that girl who got engaged in college terrified me. And if I’m being honest with you, the idea of being someone’s wife scared the sh*t out of me too.
You see, Michael and I had been dating since we were eighteen and fifteen, respectively, and in the five years we’d been together we worked very hard to avoid the trap of high school romances. We went to different colleges, traveled alone, then waited to move in together until we’d had a chance to live by ourselves (ok, fine, mine was during college, but it’s New York City so it counts). We were unique individuals. Mother-freaking snowflakes. And I was convinced it was the thing that made it possible for us to get through a long-distance relationship without any breaks or indiscretions.
So when he proposed to me while I was still in college, before we even had a chance to move in together, all of my safety nets came crashing down. I was worried that I’d have to abandon my sense of individuality for the sake of a partnership, and I was worried that I’d end up some Stepford wife who never had a chance to experience her youth. So you know what I did?
I didn’t get married.
Well, I did. But I also didn’t.
I guess what I’m saying is that even though I ended up marrying Michael (first at city hall and then a year later on the beach), I took my damn time getting to the wife part.
With the smallest of baby steps, I slowly acclimated to the idea of being Michael’s partner. But it didn’t happen quickly and it certainly didn’t come easily. I can promise you that I skirted almost all of the responsibilities that one normally associates with a marriage, and I mostly carried on as a single person living in a household with another person to whom I happened to be faithful. (God, does that make me sound awful?)
Actually, looking back on it, I think the answer is yes. I was kind of awful. There were traces of my young age in a lot of my actions during the first few years of our marriage. (There were more than a few nights when I called Michael from a coworkers’ apartment, explaining that I was going to sleep over because I’d stayed out too late playing Rock Band with the boys and drinking Malibu Diet Cokes.)
But I think that this is exactly why it’s so important that we were married during this time. Because when you enter into a promise to be devoted to each other, in good times and bad, you accept the fact that there are going to be times when you need to give each other space to grow as individuals. Michael and I learned this as kids when we were dating through puberty for goodness sake. So with the safety net of marriage, I was able to act stupidly, test my boundaries, all while knowing exactly where to draw the line. In short, because I was given the space to explore my freak-out, it turns out that there wasn’t really anything to freak out about to begin with.
What’s even better is that rather than holding me back from doing all the amazing things you’re supposed to do in your twenties (I kid. Don’t even try to tell me they’re awesome. I’ve seen your tweets. Thirty is where it’s at, right?) I’ve been able to do things at this young age that I wouldn’t have been able to dream about without the support of my husband. I started my own business, moved across the country, and I am currently living out my fantasy of working from my front porch (on the farm, no less). It’s different than what life would have looked like otherwise, and a part of me is a tiny bit sad for the what-would-have-been that I gave up to be here, but it’s not bigger than the part of me that is thrilled to be part of this awesome new adventure.
Now that we are approaching our fourth year of marriage (if you count city hall, which we didn’t for the longest time, but I guess, er, we should?) we have settled into something that sort of resembles my definition of a marriage (you know, the one I was so scared of). On the one hand, we have a dog. On the other, we do have a roommate. But we’re still in no hurry to prove our young marriage to anyone, or to define it, or to let it define us.
When we were first engaged and people found out how young I was, the concerned looks I’d get quickly became the standard. I’m sure there are some people reading this who are still worried that I’m too young to understand the commitment I’ve made. The foreverness of it all. And I get that (I’m thankful for it really). But the thing is, that concern treats marriage like it’s an institution that takes away. And with that, I’d like to respectfully disagree. Marriage doesn’t have to subtract from the core of who you are, and it doesn’t have to be about what’s being removed from your realm of possibilities. Marriage is addition. However, the thing about growth is that we need to make enough room for what’s being added, or else we get maxed out. I’d like to believe that if we leave enough space for growth and change in our young marriages, if we loosen the definition of marriage from one of unchanging permanence to one about transition aided by togetherness, then I’d like to think that we’d also leave enough space for the graceful process of growing old together, into the people we were always going to become anyway. Just, you know, with a few extensions added on.
Photos by: Engagement & elopement photos from Maddie’s personal collection