Being a typical girl, I often fantasize about my future wedding, husband, children, and life. I catch myself daydreaming about the reception, looking at engagement rings and dresses and thinking of my big day. I daydream about it more often lately, maybe because I always have my boyfriend by my side.

I've been with him for almost two and a half years, so we often get asked when we will be taking our relationship to the next level. We've talked about it, and we both know that we want to spend our lives together, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are ready for the next step. Getting engaged is a big deal, and we want to do it on our own terms.

I love him, he loves me, we want to grow old together, blah blah blah. We know we want to commit, that is not an issue. He respects me and understands why I am not in a hurry. I respect him and want to fulfill his wishes of moving forward. But in order to do that, there are some things that I need to do first.

In today's society and growing up in the South, you see a lot of girls starting their families young. There is no problem with that and I respect it completely. However, that is not what I want right now.

I want to get my degree before marrying a man. I've told my boyfriend from day one that I wanted to get married AFTER I received my first degree. Why? Just a preference. I want my last name on that diploma before taking his.

I want to travel by myself. The world is so vast and while I do want to explore it with him, I want my own travels as well. He has had his, and I want mine. Even if it is one solo adventure, I want to say that I did so. My aunt told me once that I need to go on my own "big girl" trip before I settle down.

I want to figure out who I am. He has always been so supportive of me and my goals. Not only have we grown because of our relationship, but I've grown so much as a person just because of life. He has allowed me to grow, giving me space and support I need, but there is some monumental flourishing that I need to do before I am "wife-ready."

My dad always told me, "In order to fully love someone, you must first love yourself."

I feel that I need to commit to myself before I commit to him.

I want to figure out what I want. Life constantly throws us curveballs. You can not plan everything, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Nonetheless, it is important for me to create goals, discover my interests, and determine my career. He has always known that I have my own personal goals, and that is something that he loves about me. Therefore, I want to curtail these goals into a foreseeable future.

I want to lose my independence. Yes, you read that right. I am very independent, I don't like asking for help, and I like having my independence. But I know that in order to make a marriage work, you must work hard and compromise. A marriage is between two people becoming one family. In order to make that work, I need to be willing to accommodate not only my wants and needs but his as well. I will still be independent and stubborn as hell, but I will be more focused on our goals and our needs over my own.

Last but not least, I want to be mentally prepared. Marriage is hard work. While there is a lot of love and happiness and other great aspects, there are also a lot of challenges. There is a lot of forgiveness, sadness, hard times, and work. It is not easy at all, but it is worth it with the right person. I know that I want all of this with him, but I don't want to let him or myself down. There is a lot that I need to do in order to be mentally ready to put him and our family first, and I don't want him to ever receive the short end of the stick.

Now, with all of this said, I know that he is the one. There aren't words to describe how I feel about him and how right our relationship is, but I know that it is. I want to marry him and spend my life with him, no doubt about it. But I want to give him the best version of myself when we do. That is the least that he deserves. And I know and am actively working on bettering myself, not just for him, but for myself as well. Bringing my best version to the table will not only serve him but service myself. It is out of respect and my love for him that I want to wait to say "I do."