I was made for marriage and motherhood. I knew it when I was tiny, as little girls do. I was in love with my dad, a tall, handsome, navy doctor, and wanted to be my mom, who stayed at home and filled our lives with books, art, music, and enchantment. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this was the path for me, and I would live it sooner rather than later.
Imagine my dismay, then, as I completed birthday after birthday in my twenties with nothing but a few first dates, if that, to mark the passage of a year. I wondered what was wrong with me as I watched so many friends and siblings pair up and say those beautiful words to that one beautiful person: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
And I was not alone. So many of us in this generation wander, confused, through our young adulthood, working on careers, meeting friends at happy hour, and going home to Netflix. Why do some people find their soul mates so easily, while the rest of us spend so much time searching? One can’t help but wonder, is this really fair?!
As happily-coupled people tend to do, many friends offered wisdom and perspective on my search. You’ve heard the same little gems: “Love finds you when you’re least expecting it” (okay, so don’t look for it?). “You have to actively pursue love” (oh, so do look for it). “Get involved in more activities – you’ll meet people with your interests” (but wait – I like to read). “Go online and date as many people as you can” (umm – I’m an introvert). Use the three-date rule: “if you still don’t like him by the third date, then you can move on” (okay, this is just torture). And my mother’s favorite – the one I loved to hate because it was true but left me with nothing to do: “It just takes one” (well, fine).
So what does a young woman who’s unmarried with no little babies to take care of do?
1. I embraced a personal goal. I taught language arts in a thriving Catholic school, where I was able to throw my whole self, all my talent and energy, into the project of becoming the best teacher I could be. And there was something magical about these years. I had no real distractions. I could let my imagination loose when planning lessons, often late into the night. So much of the love I had to give I poured on the kids I taught, forming real connections with them as I watched them grow as students and people.
2. I cherished my friendships. I also lived with girlfriends whose friendships I treasured. We talked and talked about relationships and our different views on life. We started new work-out and self-improvement regimens. We supported each other in managing our finances (my least favorite past-time), buying cars, and applying for jobs. I got to know their families and boyfriends and heard about their days at work. We analyzed human behavior, our own and everyone else’s, and planned the lives we wanted.
3. I spent a ton of time with my family. I loved going home to my parents’ house on the weekends, where more often than not I found siblings and nephews. Here I spent the hours reading, watching good movies, going for runs through the woods, and making pumpkin bread. In the early morning, my dad and I would meet in the quiet kitchen and I’d tell him about teaching – the kids, the books we were reading, the families I worked with. On Sundays, everyone in the house would go to church together and we’d talk about the music and the homily over pancakes back home. And there was always good, though-provoking conversation.
During these single years of my twenties, when I was often frustrated and lonely in my search for love, I couldn’t help but grow. I grew in my understanding of the world and my faith – to me there was something so comforting about being in a church when I felt so lost.– and I suspect that I grew in my character and humility, becoming a better future spouse myself.
We are all gifted with the precious gift of time and every couple has a unique path and timeline in love. My younger brother met his wife when they were 19 and 20, and they were married and pregnant in a few short years. Their path was to start their life and family together young, almost to grow up together. I married my husband, my best friend and soul mate, when I was 30. Our path was to experience a little more of life alone before starting our adventure together. I had to wait longer than I had planned to meet my future husband, but I’m happy to say that my life before marriage was a time of growth—not a waste.—and I know my husband was worth the wait.