The South is a conservative place. Crop tops are abhorred, everyone's a "sweetheart" and serious relationships pepper the social climate. It’s for that reason, I suppose, that engagement occurs frequently on our campus.
Let me throw a fat disclaimer on this one: I do not intend to criticize or devalue the timing of anyone’s monumental life decision, I only wish to share why I could never make that decision for myself at this point in my adolescence.
When I came to college, I was a completely different person (maybe not completely different, but I had a shoulder-length haircut and said “you guys” instead of “y’all,” so for all intents and purposes, I was from a different planet).
I wasn’t sure what type of career I wanted to pursue, I didn’t know shampooing your hair every day was bad for it and I absolutely did not know very much about myself. Here’s the kicker, though: I thought I did. I was living in a state of ignorant, 18-year-old bliss.
Why’s that, you ask?
Because when you spend the first 18 years of your life in Northern Kentucky with your parents then move eight hours south to an entirely new lifestyle to live alone and pursue your education (and beautiful Southern boys), you realize the world’s a little bit bigger than you thought it was.
For the first time, I was exposed to people who thought radically differently than I did. I met young men and women from completely different backgrounds, and each one changed me just a little. My mind was opened, my ideals were questioned and my life was, to put it bluntly, made fuller and more colorful.
These transformative years are beautiful. They are riddled with challenge, self-doubt, self-discovery and, ultimately, fulfillment. They are, in my opinion, years most optimally experienced alone.
When I say alone, I don’t mean in a literal sense — after all, the tapestry of personalities you’ll experience (both exciting and difficult) is what makes the changes thrilling. When I say alone, I mean legally single.
At the age of 20, I change my outlook approximately every half hour. Some days I wake up, throw on a tennis skirt and hope that I’ll someday be a Tahoe-driving, Lululemon-wearing mom of two blonde girls named Ella and Eva married to a lawyer named Charles living in Buckhead.
Other days I scoff at the idea, and think, “I’m trying to get in a Range Rover, not a relationship,” apply for a few internships and online shop for pencil skirts.
The relief-laced fact of the matter is that this type of personal wavering is crucial to genuine self-discovery. You’re allowed to vacillate, toy with alternate realities and change your hairstyle accordingly. Who knows, I might be a completely different person two weeks from now.
The only thing that can really prevent this type of authentic personal growth is a ring: Not because there’s anything inherently stifling about the admittedly awesome sacrament of marriage, but because when you enter into a real partnership with another person you’re agreeing to always put them first.
When you vow to value someone else more than yourself for the rest of your days at the age of 19, you’re cutting your discovery years short.
For those of you fuming at your laptops, screenshotting this post and firing off “How dare she!” texts, pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir and hear me out: If you already know the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life at age 20 and you’re ready to commit that entity to someone else for the next 70 years, then good for you. You are much more self-aware and developed than most of us.
I believe that “when you know, you know.” And what I “know” at this stage in my life is that I love what I’m learning, I love where I go to school and I love the prospect of my future as a big, blank canvas that is subject to whatever exploits I decide to smatter on it.
I’m not saying your experiences would be cheapened if legally bound to someone’s side, but they’ll never truly be yours. They’ll be the two of yours, together. For some, this thought is comforting. For me, this is limiting.
At the end of the day, though, there’s one thing I believe in more fiercely than independence: the prerogative to call the shots in your own life, and handle the consequences as they come.
The biggest takeaway I’ve gleaned from my college experience is that everyone has a story, and few situations are black-and-white. Every life is different. While the thought of a giant rock on my left hand leaves me feeling panicked and reaching for my résumé, it might be the most joyful and fulfilling thing you can imagine.
I wouldn’t know, though, because the love of my life thus far is still the Sonic Peanut Butter Fudge shake. Well, and the new Range Rover. I’d put a down payment and a ring on that any day.