I'll never forget sitting across from the dean of my department, one week away from college graduation. It was May 2008. I had just turned 21 the week before. It was only my third year of college, but I had racked up enough credits to graduate. In fact, I was there in her office to pick up my Summa Cum Laude tassel and talk about my academic performance. She marveled at my ability to cram a year's worth of courses into summer school and overloaded semesters, somehow graduating a year ahead of my peers.
She looked down at her folder, then back up at me. "Surely," she started, "You rushed through this last year so you could start your master's program early, right?" I smiled because, for all of the records she had in front of her and all the files she had in the cabinet behind her, she didn't know everything about me. She didn't know that I'd been engaged since the November before and I was thick in the process of planning my wedding, which was set to take place just a few months down the road on August 30. Exactly five years from the day my fiance and I went on our first date.
"Nope," I said with a smile, "I'm getting married!" I showed her my ring and she gave me a terse grin in reply. I was expecting a diatribe about why I was too young, why I shouldn't rush into it, why I should be like the rest of my friends, who were all in their dorms getting ready to go out for Thirsty Thursday at the local Western-themed dance saloon. Instead, she just closed my folder, gave me my tassel and told me she would see me on stage on Saturday.
The thing is, she didn't have to say anything. I had heard it all before. Your twenties are for your friends. They're for finding yourself, making those big mistakes, taking those leaps of faith, traveling as much and as often as you can, learning to navigate personal finances, staying up late, finding your footing in your career. They're for discovering who you really are, what you really want, and whether or not your hometown is the best place for you anymore.
I wanted to do all of those things. I just desperately wanted to do them with the love of my life.
I met my husband in high school; he was a junior and I was a sophomore. Our first date in August 2003 was the first time we'd ever spoken in person. It was the era of AOL Instant Messenger (may she RIP) and MySpace, where a single away message could mean the end of a relationship or the beginning of one. We chatted online for months, avoided each other in the hallway at school, and he finally asked me out to eat dinner, play Putt-Putt, and watch a movie at his house.
A few weeks later, it only took one big band concert on the lawn of the local library, under the stars one balmy September evening, and we were irrevocably intertwined.
I've never looked back. When he went away to college, I followed him to the same one. We created a mutual group of friends who would go to the dining hall together, stay up late cramming in the same book stacks, and chat on our futons until the nighttime turned into the sunrise. It was bliss but it was also really hard, sometimes- because there are pretty girls on campuses and pretty boys, too. We were both insecure and immature and it takes time for your heart to realize that jealousy only breeds contempt. We never split up, except for one weird summer when we ditched all labels, yelled at each other that we would do whatever we wanted, could see whoever we wanted, and might not get back together once the summer came to a close.
Those were just words. That lasted about a day. We spent the entire summer together anyway.
We married when I was 21 and he was 22. Since then, we've had a decade of memories together.
I've helped him train for a marathon, try new homebrewing trends, discover his innate ability to create any restaurant meal from scratch, and plant a garden every year in the same spot in our backyard. Along the way, we've changed careers a total of six times. We rented, then bought, our favorite little cottage in all the world, just miles from both of our parents. We've welcomed two babies and poured every ounce of love we share into our little family. In two weeks, we'll celebrate 10 years of wedded bliss, and 15 years of togetherness.
Do I regret marrying early? Not for a single second. The way I saw it, we already knew we were made for each other. I didn't need to get anything out of my system. He didn't want to sow any wild oats. We just wanted to get our lives started as soon as possible.
Is the route we took for everyone? Absolutely not. Do I think it was the best decision for us? Completely.