You got married at 23, so what am I waiting for?!
So asks Julia Shaw in a recent article “I married at 23. What are you waiting for??”
I read the title and cringed. It pained me to read the next two pages. I knew what was coming. A whole lot of “we didn’t need money to be happy” and “barely making the electricity bill for the month brought us closer” and a few “sex is so much more specia’s”. I suffered through the overwhelming self proclamation of maturity and commitment, the self righteous prophesy that growing up together as a married couple is better than establishing a personal identity first. And in between the bragging about making it through a year of law school together and their undying commitment for each other and the joys of shared phone service plans, I began to feel bad for this girl.
From the age of 18 until I was about 25, my main priority was being someone’s girlfriend and eventually, wife. I had no sense of self, no sense of who I was alone, even though I had been basically single for a while. My sister was married, my friends were all in relationships, and here I was, bartending my way through life, traveling, having fun and writing hoping to hit it big. I’m pretty sure today, my extended family thinks I am both asexual and sterile.
The last breakup I had almost killed me. I was 25 going on 26. The depression that set in from my inability to separate my self worth from the feeling of someone else admiring me and needing me lead to a case of depression that was so bad, I almost committed suicide. I had spent so many years focusing on one thing; Marriage. I was determined to get married by 27, be someone’s wife, be the other half of someone. Couple that desire with the rat race that became my friends and cousins who were not just getting hitched but popping out kids at an alarming rate. I was falling behind. Why didn’t anyone want me? What was wrong with me?
When the last guy I loved – a baseball player in the MLB – ended things, I fell apart. I began to think I would never get married, and thus, my life would have no meaning. Who was I if no man was telling me he wanted me to be his other half? What good was I if my life wasn’t worth sharing? There was no ring on my finger to let the rest of the world know that I was SO great that someone actually wanted to spend the rest of their life with me.
I tied a noose with a belt and I sat in my exposed bricked room in my upper east side apartment and wrote a suicide note. I was going to hang myself from the pipe that ran across my ceiling.
I don’t know what exactly stopped me from doing it. Fear that it would hurt. Concern about my mother and sister. The need to see my best friend Karl again before I went. The guilt that my roommate/best friend would probably be traumatized when she found me. I don’t know. I was scared, and I was alone. But I couldn’t step off my window ledge. I unhooked the belt and stepped down.
I didn’t kill myself. Obviously. Instead, I booked a trip alone to Charleston South Carolina. I dipped into my savings account and treated myself at a five star hotel. Every day I wrote. I laid by the pool, went to the beach, ate the richest, fattiest foods and then I went jet skiing.
It was when I fell off the jetski – flung myself 10 or so feet off the side and lost my bikini bottoms - that I finally laughed for the first time in months. I got back on, sat in the middle of the ocean, watched the sun go down behind the marsh, took a deep breath and felt alive. This was life. This was how it should feel. And I didn’t need the baseballer or any other man to make me feel this way.
I went back to my hotel room that night, drank an entire bottle of Firefly vodka and I wrote a script. I looked back over the life I had lead the past six or so years and picked out the stories that mattered most, threaded together by the common theme that I had tended to date athletes. I hashed out the story line, the characters, my life in a treatment. The best trips, the biggest fights, the hardest parts, the greatest loves.
I sent the script and other material to an agent at William Morris Endeavor. They liked it, but had been representing someone similar so they passed. Knowing it had appeal, I kept going. On the third day of my trip to Charleston, I sat by the pool, again drinking sweet tea vodka and lemonade in my bikini and I Facebook stalked 50 agents from five agencies. I sent long, honest messages detailing who I was, where I was, how drunk I was, and why they should read my script.
Five agents responded. One changed my life. I signed with United Talent Agency a month later after I sat down for coffee with a partner of the company. I am now pitching my show in LA. I am a represented writer and whether I ever make it big or not, no one can ever take that feeling away from me.
Julia is sweet. She says, “the stability, companionship, and intimacy of marriage enabled us to overcome our challenges”. That she learned to be strong “for her husband”. What about strong for herself? Her husband was there for every problem, every hard time. She had someone, always. What would she do if she suddenly didn’t? How did she ever learn to cope alone if she never had to? She says people shouldn’t wait for their soulmate – they should just get married and hope God takes care of the rest. Marriage. Marriage. Togetherness. Two. Together. Companionship. Blah blah blah.
The real question is this – had she not met her husband, what would have gotten her through whatever challenges she faced in her future? To me, it appears that the only coping skill Mrs. Shaw has is the ability to cleave to her husband in a time of crisis. Try coming back from suicide watch on your own. Then we’ll talk overcoming challenges and what enables you to do so.
If I married the boyfriend I had when I was 20, I’d be divorced today. I am not the person I was at 20, now at 27. Had I married him at 21, as I planned, I would have missed more opportunities in my life that that marriage would have ever afforded me (or him). Writing that script gave me that clarity. Putting my life on paper and realizing how much I had done, seen, grown and lived through regardless of the fact that the majority of that time I was single, put my life and its meaning into perspective. I learned to suffer alone, I learned to grieve alone, and most importantly, I learned how to live alone. How to truly live, happily, without being someone else’s “other half”. I learned to be my own other half – I learned to be whole.
I am 27. In the last year since I had my breakdown, traveled to Charleston and wrote my script, I discovered this feeling that no man – no matter how much I had loved them – ever gave me. A sense of self. A sense of self that depended not on how someone else viewed me or felt about me – things I couldn’t control – but built upon my need to find something within myself worth living for. I built my self worth on a stable base of the abilities I knew I had with writing, my personal relationships with my friends and family who were the reason I didn’t hang myself that night, and the value of something I was able to create independent of someone else coddling me, catching me if I fell. I took risks that had no safety net, no husband to pick up the pieces. I spent so many years looking for a husband, my other half. What I ended up finding was me. Stefanie. And whether I meet my soul mate tomorrow and get married next year, or I am single until I am 90 having sex with athletes until I die, I have found a sense of purpose that does not revolve around someone else – it revolves around me. That life is invaluable, and yes, Mrs. Shaw, I will wait for a soul mate who is worthy to come into that life I’ve created. I am not taking the first penis who will have me just to have a warm body at night. My life is too important to risk that. I’m sorry yours was not. But hopefully God is in the details, eh?
I am 27. I am single. And I am about to embark on the most amazing journey of my life in the next year. I have traveled, laughed, loved, had my heart broken. I have fallen off a jetski, hit rock bottom, and climbed my way out. I have found purpose and enjoyment in things other than a husband. It took being single for so long for me to live a life worth writing about. It took a journey of God knows how many lonely nights, to figure out what was worth filling my days with. I have found a sense of self now that no man can ever break up with, no guy can ever walk away from, no husband can ever divorce from me. I will never lose this identity because it is not two halves, it is one whole. I do not regret being single at 27. I no longer feel a need to fill a void in my life with a man because I filled that void with my own accomplishments and experiences. And I do not mind being on my mother’s family Verizon plan.
At 27 I have lived a life. It isn’t a life I expected at 20. But it took being alone to truly understand how much it was worth. I could not have arrived here if I had gotten married at 23. I don’t envy a life filled with nights without heat or internet just to share a bed with someone. I do not envy a life lived untraveled just so I can share health insurance with a man. I do not envy not being forced to find strength within myself to pick myself up when I fell down, because I didn’t have a husband who did it for me. It made me stronger, better, and if and when I ever get married, it will make me a more capable, more independent, more in tune wife
My greatest hope – for many reasons – is that her husband never dies nor leaves her. She is a woman who clearly is so self conscious – despite her desperate bid for self confidence and maturity – that without the approval of a man – any old man, no soul mate status required – she does not feel life is worth living.
Life is worth living. And I am happy to be living it at 27 for myself and no one else.
I was not married at 23. What was I waiting for? Life. And it’s all happening now. Don’t ever settle. You will find it when you least expect it. And it comes from no one but yourself.