Although I have since changed my major I remember the feverish hysteria of applying to nursing school--refreshing your email repeatedly, asking friends, and frantically calculating your GPA at ungodly hours of the night. When my acceptance came in I announced the news to friends and family with all the candor of your average collegiate. I was met with well wishes, congratulations, and interrogations on the program's rank, size, etc. Then, unexpectedly, I was met with something else.
"Well Natalie, that's great! And you want to know why?" Enthused a family friend.
"Because my hard work finally paid off?!" I asked cheerfully.
"No, because nursing school means working in a hospital, hospital means working with doctors, and doctors mean marriage material!" She said with a laugh.
I remember the off-putting feeling that I got as the friend went on to talk about meeting her husband in college and how often people meet their spouses in their classes. I was a bit insulted because of the effort that I had put into getting accepted--meeting eligible bachelors or bachelorettes was far from my goal--but it also made me wonder why people so often brought up marriage when I brought up college. The average age of Georgian women getting married is 26 and I'm not necessarily close to considering that milestone. It's not that I was against marriage, but I had little desire at the age of 20 to pursue it.
As I acclimated to my small Southern university and made friends I noticed that a lot of my new friends seemed to share nearly the exact same article with barely varied themes or diction that was generally written by a pleasant looking white college girl or boy from the south. The title was, "An Open Letter to My Future Husband/Wife." I'm serious--if you haven't seen one of these articles then you haven't been on the internet. They are everywhere. There were different types, but they were generally pretty similar.
The religious woman might include that she is looking for a "prayerful" or "God-fearing" spiritual leader to help guide her household or encourage her in times of insecurity. The secular man might include admissions of lax personal hygiene and requests for steamy nights-in and affirmation from time to time. Yet, the common thread here was the youth--and singleness--of the writers (I'm assuming that if you're dating someone seriously then you can just tell them to their face what you need them to be/expect).
I have become a self-professed romantic ever since I met my girlfriend. I think that when you meet the right one even the biggest skeptics, such as myself, relent to a bit of mushy-gushiness. But I'm also very ambitious and career-oriented so I know that marriage isn't something that I will have time for, at least for a couple years. Some of my good friends and family members have married young and that isn't what I seek to condemn here. What really unnerves me about these articles is both the expectation and the lack of fulfillment that these articles instill in their readers.
Imagine being a single girl who is crushing on the cutie lab partner in Chemistry. You've followed him on Instagram and friended him on Facebook. Things are progressing nicely and you even have a date lined up!
One day he posts an article on Facebook entitled, "10 Things My Future Wife Must Know." She excitedly reads it, seeking to know everything about him. Number one: "I seek a girl who knows her worth and who hasn't let a million guys tarnish her purity before me. A woman of God knows that her body is her temple." The girl sits and thinks to herself, "All right, I've had sex with 3 guys--will that be too much for him? Jeez, I mean, I still respect myself and hold myself to high standards. Let's see what the next one is." Number two: "Understand that I'm going to have some baggage. I'm not perfect, I'm a fallen human and I have issues like anyone else. I will need you to encourage and uplift me regardless." The girl isn't sure if she is glad to know that he has baggage in advance or kind of wishes that she just found out naturally over time. Number three: "I promise that I'll kiss you every day like I did on our wedding day. When you walk down the aisle I'll probably get choked up. I can't wait to see you in your dress and sweep you off your feet." The girl gets a little nervous. "I can't even choose a major, much less a husband. Is he really ready to get married soon, because he is thinking about it a lot for a single guy." The list goes on to include essentially a Christmas wishlist for a wife: hilarious, can enjoy a craft beer, but doesn't get "trashy drunk," and loves his family and his flaws.
Do you see where I'm going with this? By the end of the article the girl reading it either feels a bit pressured to change or downplay some aspects of herself--all before the first date. My best first date happened when I had no preconceptions or expectations from the date at all. If you want to warn your future husband or wife about all your issues or let them know what you expect from them spiritually or emotionally then there will be plenty of time to discuss those naturally as your relationship advances. But don't write off aspects in people or promise things before you have even met someone.
When these articles are written by someone who is engaged I understand that a bit more--you are actually about to be married, so I get why it's weighing heavily on your mind and you know the strengths and flaws of your significant other already. But before you believe a single line about how she plans to always let you watch your favorite sport without complaining or how he will always be supportive of your decisions, try a couple months or years together. ("You're choosing ESPN Sports Center over a visit with my mother?" or, "You want me to work more so that you can pursue a law degree?") These lists create a lot of expectations without any substance. It's fine to have standards, those are important, but it's not fair to put all of them out there before the person even knows your favorite color.
I know the importance of choosing a husband or wife if you decide to get married. But take life a day, month, or year a time. Don't live in a perpetual state of waiting--waiting for your boyfriend, then husband, then father of your kids. Enjoy each stage of your life and make each stage beautiful in its own way. I will admit that I enjoy looking at pictures of pretty weddings and thinking of marriage sometimes, but I am not in the financial, academic, or emotional state to even want do that right now and that's okay. So right now I just enjoy my travels, studies, hangouts with friends, dates with my girlfriend, and hobbies. I can think about my marriage checklist later, but for now I'm content to just enjoy late night Steak N' Shake runs with my friends.