Today on my lunch break I settled down onto Facebook to enjoy reading the notifications I had received. One was from my mother wishing me a happy new year with a lovely montage of Ron Swanson greatness. Another was from my brother’s boyfriend recommending an awesome sounding wedding band the two of them had danced to a week or so prior. The latter notification came to me, you see, because I am currently engaged to be married.
After enjoying these tidbits of communication from people I care about, I noticed a link on my newsfeed posted by a friend of mine from high school. The blog post entitled 23 things to do instead of getting engaged before you’re twenty three was written by a MISS (and don’t you fucking forget it) Vanessa Elizabeth on the blog Wander Onwards.
Vanessa states in the blog post itself that she would be confused if she didn’t receive some kind of online backlash for her opinions… since I’d hate for her to be more confused than she already seems to be about things like diversity of human motivations, I’ve taken it upon myself to respond to her belligerence as articulately as I can.
Allow me to preface by saying I didn’t get engaged BEFORE I was 23, so maybe I have no business commenting, but AT 23 feels pretty relevant seeing as it’s the number she’s pointed out, and regardless, my fiancé proposed before his 22nd birthday. I’ll also add the disclaimer right now that I’m not here to justify myself in my fiance’s and my choice to get married. Those who know us don’t seem to need such things, so I don’t feel that hoards of internet anons do either.
It’s not so much that Vanessa’s rant frustrates me because it hits close to home (though targeting one specific group of people and shitting on their choices is probably what makes THIS member of the group choose to write about it). It’s the depressingly loud, in your face way this one young woman is willing to scream to the world that she knows everything, she is right, and anyone who does anything differently from her is an idiot destined for unhappiness. And perhaps it’s the fact that her popular blog post is just the most overtly rageful of hundreds of sources ofinternet anger from single women to their engaged and married counterparts.
I’m not saying the pendulum doesn’t swing the other way. Tons of messages in our society condemn single and childfree women for being somehow inadequate. That’s not cool. If our culture didn’t preach such shame to unmarried women (regardless of whether they are single by choice or not), I highly doubt Vanessa would have anything to say on the subject. The fact that she feels a need to rally and remind her readers that she and they are not freaks for being unattached, speaks to an unfortunate cultural attitude that reinforces the opposite.
But using the logic “I’m not the freak; YOU are,” is tastelessly ignorant, rudely inflammatory, and unnecessarily hurtful to those she’s pointing her finger toward. “Anybody engaged before 23” is a hell of a broad brush stroke, particularly as she prefers to define the group she condemns based on grossly prejudicial stereotypes. She writes:
“I have begun to notice a common thread amongst all these young unions: inexperience. Inexperience with dating, traveling, risks, higher education, career direction, SEX, solitude, religious exploration, etc… and it’s insane that I have already experienced more of the world in the last 22 years than my married peers will ever experience in their life.”
I’ll grant us all a level of assumed intelligence and say we’re all decent at pattern recognition. We all kinda suspect that when two young religious high school sweethearts tie the knot at 21, it has something to do with humping and bible-thumping.
Inexperience, though, is a basic requirement of being young. You’re right V, the younger you are when you do anything, the less life experience you’ve got to your name. But who made you the authority on what types of experiences qualify as valid precursors to marriage (or anything for that matter)? While you are busy gaining life experience celebrating Chinese new year in the Philippines, your 22 year old classmate might be busy gaining life experience watching her mother die of breast cancer. Maybe another is busy leading a church group. Maybe another is having an orgy in Sweden. Maybe another is falling in love. Maybe another is having her heart broken.
And just WHEN does one have enough experience to make the choice about who (if anyone) they commit to being with for life? You have clearly deemed 22 an inadequate age for everyone, but presumably 90 year olds still have far more experience than 40 year olds. When does someone’s inexperience (since we’ll never escape such a thing… it’s impossible to experience everything in life) cease to be a problem in this decision making process?
Probably the most despicable part of Vanessa’s post, primarily because it comes so, so close to self-awareness before immediately diving into the depths of blind spite is the following:
“What inspired me to scribble down my feelings (so many feelings!) is The Facebook. I’m seeing all of these notifications that “X and Y” have joined in matrimony and instantly, these waves of anxiety start to flow over me. Should I be thinking about marriage? I’ve never even had a serious boy friend? Is there something wrong with me? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME AND WHY HAS NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT IT FOR ALL THESE YEARS!?
But then I look at my life, my relationships, and my future… and I realize that, I’m fucking awesome. It literally isn’t me, it’s them.”
On my first read, I actually thought this was where V was going to get slightly high minded. You’re right Vanessa, your friends engagements have NOTHING to do with you, and your life, and your choices! When two people decide to get married, sometimes it ISN’T for the stupid petty reasons YOU see (quote: “It’s cold outside… you want to cuddle and talk about your feelings… life after graduation is a tough transition… so why not just cut to the chase and get married, right? It’s hip. It’s cool.”). Sometimes people get married young because the experiences they’ve had (WHICH ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM YOURS!) lead them to believe it is the best decision for what they want to do with the time in their future.
Alas, no. This was where Vanessa dissolves into her tirade about how peoples’ engagements are about them and THEIR PROBLEMS. Because it would be preposterous to suppose that anyone getting engaged at an age before Vanessa is ready is ANYTHING BUT A PROBLEM.
Because guys did you know that the divorce statistic is high? DID YOU?!
Part of me has to wonder what offends women like Vanessa so much about other peoples’ potential to divorce. Is she really so worried about the sanctity of the institution of marriage for her children’s sake that she would hate to see the divorces of others serve as an example? Why is it that she’s directing her anger at those forming marriages instead of those dissolving theirs? Why does it matter if your facebook friend DOES get divorced in her first year of marriage? How does anybody else’s choice to marry or divorce affect your life in any way? The lack of an answer to this question is part of the argument we proponents of marriage equality often like to use, but apparently it’s not marriage equality Vanessa wants to see, it’s marriage only as it seems fit to lifestyle choices Vanessa likes.
For how much I would love to see a world where nobody is winning for getting a ring and nobody is losing for being on their own, it’s a serious shame that so many folks are dead set on asserting their own superiority. It’s sadder still that the superiority Vanessa is busy professing rests not on the genuine awesomeness of her experiences abroad, but on the jealous schadenfreude of her friends’ suspected marital failure.
Why does Vanessa find young marriages to be bad? Because they will probably fail. Or they will probably be boring. Or they will probably be awful and stupid and terrible.
But what about those few young marriages that are none of the above? If Steve and I don’t divorce and I don’t get “knocked up and fat” soon (V’s words not mine) doesn’t that still mean Vanessa believes I won this arbitrary game? Despite its slim odds of existing, by Vanessa’s logic, it sound like a successful young marriage is still her idea of winning. Sure, she’s happy that she’s getting a rockin’ consolation prize while all the other non-winners sit in delusion, waiting for their inevitable fall from the top, but isn’t she still arguing that the genuinely happy young married couple has what she actually wants (even if she believes that couple to be nonexistent)? Frankly, it’s hard not to read the post as a depressing barrel of the sourest grapes.
Jealous rants about one’s own superiority only reinforce the destructive cultural idea that what’s right for one person is right for everyone. I don’t know Vanessa at all and so I truly can’t say whether or not she wants to be married. Her jet-setting life abroad sounds pretty kick ass to me, and it’s likely made serious relationships a bit of a challenge. There are absolutely zero problems with that as far as I’m concerned, but Vanessa’s choice to belligerently rant her self-justifications does make me wonder what Vanessa herself sees as wrong with her life.
There will always be shortcomings to our circumstances. Nothing is truly perfect. Vanessa may not be getting married, but I’m sure not jet-setting abroad on her incredibly cool travels. When friends of mine from school post photos from their travels around the world part of me sighs with envy. But I quickly remember that I am where I am because I get to spend every day with Steve, the greatest person I have ever met. Both Vanessa and I are consoling ourselves about the things we lack with the wonderful reminders of things we have.
Do I think my circumstances are wildly superior to Vanessa’s? If I’m honest, hell yes. I get to travel the world with my best friend on earth (our honeymoon in Greece has me pooping my pants a little). When I think about tomorrow, it feels a little more certain that tomorrow will rock because Steve’s still gonna be there. But angrily putting Vanessa down for her choices would be ridiculous. There are no winners and losers in life and I’m incredibly glad there are people like her who have the courage to say “I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna go!” But I must admit I’m also disappointed people like Vanessa exist because it’s horribly small and destructive to rally the blogosphere with such a bitter and angry message of disdain for those who make different choices.
You said it yourself V, our parents “were raised with a completely different set of values, priorities.” Why then, is it such a foreign concept that your peers might have been too? Has jumping on a plane been tempting as hell? Oh yes, and the money was there. But my family, my friends, and my significant other all are more valuable to me than a single spontaneous opportunity for adventure, so I decided not to do it. You decided differently, which I suspect means our values aren’t equally aligned. That’s ok isn’t it? Right?
Oh sorry, guess not.
I wish you the best, girl, you’ve clearly got the chops to have one hell of a life. Maybe eventually your adventures will teach you that other peoples’ choices aren’t worse than your own. They are different because the people who make them are different. And if you don’t want your future marriage to fail you might want to stop complaining so much about that. It’s a pretty childish thing to do.