When my boyfriend and I were 24, the topic of marriage began appearing before us everywhere. There, at our dinner-table, the word ‘marriage,’ as we sat talking. ‘Marriage,’ on my lips as we sat on the couch with a glass of wine. Everyone says “you just know” and I guess that is true, but there is also a lot of just “yeah, it does feel right.” Then falling—sure you’ll be caught by clouds.
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So one Saturday when we were 24, he asked me to go to the top of the Sears Tower in an acting voice a decibel too high to be believable. I knew what was up. Feeling my chest splotch pink, I agreed. At the top of the Sears Tower is the 103rd floor, enclosed in large glass windows, overlooking the whole city. The room isn’t very big, and we walked in slowly, looping over and over for what felt forever. He was visibly nervous. Finally, he got down on one knee, the afternoon slipping into a gold-peach fire behind him.
24 is young. “Too young.” But what does that mean exactly? That we will f**k it up? That it won’t last? During the first few months of marriage, I stacked hours worrying about the future. Will we be married when we’re old? Like really old? Will I have three more husbands? Would we move to the suburbs and spontaneously combust?
As pop culture wisdom goes, you need to go through a process of “knowing yourself” before even thinking about a serious relationship. Yet self-awareness isn’t a linear process. You don’t jump through hoops labeled things like “sexual repression” and “anger at parents” then—ta-da—graduate ready for a relationship. Self-awareness is a life-long, ever-morphing process. Marriage may happen along the way. I think that what you do need to know before you get married is not ultimately who you are as a being, but who you are as a spouse. What kind of marriage do you want? What style of communication? What will you do when things get tough? How you will handle each others defenses, sore spots and patterns?
According to marriage historian EJ Graff, there are a set number of reasons people have married throughout time: 1. Property 2. Kin 3. Money 4. Order 5. Heart. When people find out I’m married, they often ask me—why? As though there is one solid explanation to any marriage ever, other than maybe “Greencard.”
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In my even-younger days, I thought maybe relationships were for those moments that make you feel alive, the adventures that make you know in your bones: ‘I will remember this.’ I dated to feel shaken up, to experience life. And when I met my husband, I knew this was someone I would have many adventures with. I also knew it would be safe. That our marriage would be about having a home-base, a place for repletion, for planning and making goals. There was order, there were shared finances, there was a future father figure for maybe future kids. But maybe more than anything, of course, was my heart—open and full. And yet, to all those semi-strangers who ask me why—I’m not sure I can answer. I am still understanding it myself, still seeing the many layers of my relationship, the multitude of things my partner means to me.
As I lost sleep during those first few months of marriage, I realized that as much as I want our relationship to last forever; does it really matter if it doesn’t? Is being together until you are 80 the only way to make a “successful” marriage? I think it is very human error to confuse now with forever or ruminate about the future. But all we have is now. All that matters is that our relationship is currently a source of growth and happiness and that we are putting in work to further that.
My husband and I are really young. But we jumped together, for so many reasons—reasons that all kind of culminate into the cliche that it just “felt right.” And together we are not forming a singular puddle of beliefs. I am shocked that even a few years into our marriage how much we have grown separately—that’s the other thing about getting married at 24. A loving joke of ours is to ask: if we met now, would we still get married? And lucky for us, we seem to be more into each other than ever. My husband has only become more himself as he ages, more authentic, and getting to know him more and more, I feel more for him.
But marriage has a TV sitcom, negative connotation. And just as I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are not out clubbing with slinky tops taped to your boobs a la “Sex and the City,” know that I’m not making potato salad and tedious conversation with in-laws a la “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
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It is not really that I think all the death-bed and ball-and-chain jokes are unwarranted—it’s just that marriage hasn’t caught up with where we, as a generation, are. Feminism has freed us from a lot of what Graff names as typical reasons for marriage. We are also looking for partnerships that are about extended romance, we are looking for someone who shares our goals, we are looking for a best friend. And as we look to marriage for more and more things, I think the next important layer is to remember that another person is never going to fix you or make you whole. And expecting that from anyone to will ruin a relationship.
So, I promise to learn, to push, to see if it is possible to keep that feeling of never wanting to let go. To try new things in my relationship and different ways of being a couple. Marriage can be about opening doors rather than closing them. Even at 24.