When my friends and I graduated from college last May, we walked up, got our diplomas, and wandered back to our seats, unsure of the future. But we didn’t really care too much about it in that moment of “Wheeeee! I’m done!” You don’t really think about what comes next when you’re busy cheering for friends with last names further down the alphabet than yours and protecting your light-sensitive diploma from a persistent drizzle.
You don’t think about finding a job when all you want to do is find those friends that you’ll never see again. You know the ones: the people you really like, you sometimes hang out with, but who aren’t within the tight circle of five or six that you know you’ll keep in touch with. You want to say goodbye for what really truly might be the last time.
And a month later, nothing feels much different. Personally speaking, I still didn’t have a job, and I knew plenty of others who didn’t either — and most of us were English majors. But we had just graduated, the future was waiting for us, and we knew things would change.
For some of us they did change, and for others, not so much.
It’s a sort of scary feeling when you realize six months out of college that you still live in your college town and still find yourself on campus way too frequently, and you have a job you’d leave in a second if it wasn’t the only way you had to pay your rent.
I know I’m scared. I know that the only thing keeping my heart from racing away in fear is the fact that if I get accepted into graduate school, I’ll have two more years of blessed escape from the strange, hard, real world. I have a feeling that a whole gang of my friends is feeling this same kind of bewildering fear as well.
How do I know? They’re all getting married.
By “all,” I mean that there are seven couples I know who got engaged within a five-week span around the winter holidays. I know these new fiancées are all in love. Some of them have been dating each other for upwards of four years — but what is it about being fresh out of college that makes them think this is the next step they have to take?
I think it’s fear.
I think it’s fear because that’s what I felt back in April of last year, when I freaked my boyfriend out because I kept talking about marriage. It wasn’t that I wanted to marry him so much as it was that I was panicking over what to do once I graduated, since I didn’t have a job or any sort of prospect for one.
My own mother, liberated though she may be, skipped her college graduation to marry my father. Though they remain together 31 years later, she has told me time and again that if she could go back, she’d wait. I know that it wasn’t marriage I was after; it was something to stabilize my fear.
Picture with me the following: you are an animal who has been running — sprinting — through life, one year after another, one big event after another, grade school, middle school, high school, graduation, college, graduation!
Running, running, running, leaping from one thing to the next, and suddenly in front of you is space — air — a gaping cliff that you almost rush right off of because no one ever told you it would be there (or if they did, you simply didn’t believe them).
As you leap off this cliff, there are several nets there that you can fall neatly into: the first is the job we want all neatly lined up, and most of us miss that one; the second is graduate school, but a lot of us thought we’d had enough of that damn “school” thing and we skipped over that right out of college (we know better now); the third is marriage, and some of us fall neatly into that net right away; the fourth is our parents, and we hate to admit it, but this is where most of us land; the fifth is the bottom, on our own, with bills, loans, and rent to pay, and maybe a job waiting tables or selling shoes at the Gap.
I landed in net number four, home with the parents, thinking it was just for the summer. When summer stretched into autumn, I panicked, jumped out of my net, and landed, not entirely upright, on the bottom. I’m doing okay now, but there are others, obviously, who feel they need more than the dusty bottom of a cliff. They are the ones getting engaged. At least that’s my theory.
Maybe it’s just my mindset. Maybe it’s because I’m not in a place where marriage is even a viable option — maybe if I was I’d feel differently. Maybe that’s the difference in me now and me last April. But then again, maybe it has a lot to do with how happy I am living my dusty little life on the bottom of a cliff, waiting to hear if I get into graduate school. If I don’t, maybe I’ll propose to some guy at a bar, but I don’t anticipate that.
But before anyone dis-invites me to their wedding, I want to state for the record that I’m thrilled for each and every one of my friends with a ring on her finger — and for those who put the ring there. I am thrilled — congratulations, all of you!
I’m not saying that the right reasons for getting married — love, happiness, and wanting to spend forever with someone — aren’t there for all these young couples. Nobody gets married only because they’re scared or don’t know what to do next. All I’m saying is that it sure seems coincidental that so many couples in the exact same age bracket, in the exact same positions in life, are up and getting hitched.
Isn’t there the slightest possibility that, from the outside, I see something they don’t? That I see them all getting married, when all they see is the blinding glare off the “sparkawing diamond” on their fourth finger? That I make the connection and see what they all have in common? That I suddenly feel like fucking Bridget Jones in the company of a bunch of smug marrieds?
It feels weird to be surrounded by so many couples who are getting married, thinking that I could be one of them and yet knowing that’s not for me — not now, not yet. I see how much there is that I want to do, how many places I want to go, and how nice it is to be harnessed only to myself.
And I sincerely hope — because these couples are all friends of mine — that fear is not a factor in their decisions, that it’s just an overwhelming love, a blinding knowledge that this is the one, and that that is the only reason for all the proposals and all the yeses that follow.
I want my friends to be happy, and to have long, happy, loving marriages. I’m just afraid that maybe I’m right, and that one or two of these seven couple will realize “My God, what have we done” and then it will be too late to turn back.
Or, worse, they still won’t realize it’s just fear, and they’ll rush forward together for the next step — children. And, oh, I shudder to think of it.