Why I’m Not Ready to Get Married

Originally published on YourEngagement101.com

When I was a little girl, I would wrap a white sheet around me, put on my plastic princess heels and steal wildflowers out of my mother’s garden to play bride.

Because I grew up an only child, my parents were forced to indulge my imagination: my dad serving as my grinning groom, my mom stuck as the minister. I would make my kind, patient father write and deliver vows and then I’d perform them as if it there was a studio audience that consisted of more than my wide collection of stuffed animals.

Getting married wasn’t the only thing I played make believe with though: I was also Indiana Jones, a secret spy solving a murder mystery, a woman finding her man cheating, a homeless person begging for pennies, a teacher and Lois Lane – just to name a few.

But of course, all of my adventures in pretendland always ended with a happy embrace, finding love, meeting that perfect man, having a family.

Happily ever after.

Twenty years later, a lot of things in my life feel unreal because they’ve turned out so much better than I could have dreamed up myself. I live in New York City, I’m a writer, blogger and an editor, I have the luxury to travel and explore, I’m blessed with friends all over the country, I’m healthy enough to run a half-marathon, and though I haven’t met the man I’ll marry, I’ve been lucky to fall in love a few times with some pretty great guys.

Part of me can’t wait to start that relationship – or to at least be reassured that this mythical creature actually does exist out there, somewhere, dating all the wrong women while I date all the wrong men. Part of me is afraid that I picked the absolute worst city to capture the right guys attention.

And another part of me - probably the biggest part of me – is nowhere near ready for marriage. Even if the average bride in the United States is 25 – it’s hard to imagine being wed at this point in my life.

I’ll admit it though – I scour through my Facebook friends walls, reading their engagement stories, liking all of the photos in their wedding albums. I smile at little baby bumps that grow into bouncing toddlers. I get excited thinking about when some of my best friends will get engaged and how I’ll be a bridesmaid and watch them take those sacred vows, joining together with boyfriends that I’ve started to call my friends, too.

There is no doubt that I’m a sucker for love.

It’s my driving force behind everything, and above all other things, it’s the one truth I’ll always believe in: love is powerful and it exists in so many different forms.

But it’s also something that I have faith will always be there and is never anything to rush into. As much as there is happiness and hope surrounding marriage, I think a lot of women also feel fear (I know I do): what if he doesn’t exist? What if this kind-of-okay boyfriend is really the best I’ll ever find? What if I wait too long to get married and can’t have kids? What if I really am too picky? With so much doubt and questioning, it’s easier to throw in the towel and settle down with someone who is good enough…

…but maybe not quite great.

Before I’m committed to someone, I want to commit to myself. I want to go through lots of difficult things as an individual that will make me brighter, stronger and happier. I want to be a whole person before I meet another whole person – I’m not looking to be completed by anyone else. Before I say “I do” – I want to say, “I do” to adventure and travel and experiences that don’t involve a man. Before I get into a relationship or put on an actual gown (and not a sheet), I want to know that no matter what, I’d be totally fine on my own.

Because there’s a difference between wanting a man and needing one. And I’ll know when I’m ready to get married, ready to walk down that aisle, ready to maybe change my last name when I want a partner, I don’t need one. Most fear, after all, comes from desperation, and most of our regrets are from when we were afraid.

So I’m single. I’m 25. I’m not desperate. I’m in no rush. I’m not ready to get married. And that’s better than good enough. It’s great.

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The Guy I Met at the Dog Park

The sun radiated over the Hudson River, warming my face and creating shadows across the pages. I tried to look up to catch a glimpse of the sunset, it’s endless weaves of orange and yellow hues luring me in, but the light was too bright, my eyes too sensitive. This was surely the best time of the day to be at Riverside Park, a place I frequent if not for its quiet beauty but for its proximity to my apartment. The dog run is just a few blocks away and on evenings like last night, when I was too tired to run and to curious to just sit at home on Netflix, reading with a latte while Lucy plays is just about the perfect end to a hectic workday.

I didn’t put any effort into my appearance, instead, I just slipped off my work attire and melted myself into sweatpants I’ve had longer than I’ve been with any boyfriend. I pulled my hair into a crisp, loose bun and with a quick dab of Chapstick, I was out of the door and in the park by 7:30. While the sun played hide-and-seek in between the trees and stinging my eyes, I cursed myself for not bringing sunglasses, and worried that my lack of view would make it impossible to save Lucy from the occasional mean dog who mistakes her for a plush toy.

Scanning the dirt field to ensure her safety, my eyes watched a shadowy figure enter the park. I couldn’t make out any features, but I could see the width of his shoulders, the length of his legs. He threw a tennis ball and a black-and-white puppy chased after it, and through the rays of sunlight, I could make out a slight, yet gleaming, smile. I immediately look to his left hand, searching for a symbol of commitment, but hoping for a sign that he’s single. I watch the dog scatter around the park, clearly not much more than a few months old, and as if she could read my mind, Lucy wanders over to the dog, happy and eager to make a new friend.

As I usually do, I hold my breath while waiting to see if the dog of the handsome owner will be kind toward my girl, but I relax when I see them start to play and smile as I hear the stranger with a face I haven’t seen yet, come and sit down at the bench next to me. He brought a book too, though I can’t make out the cover. He glances over at me and grins. I return the gesture. With my legs curled up underneath me, I shuffle just enough to make my stretchy everyday pants look somewhat attractive, and I return my focus to the book I can no longer concentrate on since there is a possibility just a few feet away. He calls after his dog – Cecilia – and Lucy follows closely behind, most literally chasing her pal’s tail. Without hesitation, I see my white fur ball hop into this man’s lap, and though I apologize for her sudden breaking the rules of the dog run, I also make a mental note to give her some extra treats for being such a great wingdog.

“Oh I’m so sorry! She’s too friendly for her own good,” I say, quickly standing up and walking to retrieve her.

“It’s fine, really. This one is a trouble-maker too…,” he responds, looking at me for the first time. His eyes are blue. My heart clenches onto a fragile piece of hope it hasn’t felt in a long time. Don’t let your mind create romantic visions, Lindsay. Don’t do it. You’ve only just met a man, he means nothing. Not yet. Maybe not ever, I remind myself.

But it was too late, I could feel the fantasy starting to brew:

They met at the dog park on a beautiful August day in 2013. She wasn’t feeling her prettiest, but then again, her mother always told her that she’d meet someone when she least expected it and especially when she wasn’t trying at all. He saw her when he first walked in but she was devouring her book, barely looking up and he had thought she didn’t notice him at all. He loved the way she seemed so comfortable and confident, like she came to this park every single day, just to read, perhaps to play. The dogs must have known it first, before either of them could sense the chemistry that was so easily evident between them. Once she stood up, he knew he’d have to ask her out. When she looked into his eyes and finally saw his face from behind the sunlit cloud, she hoped he’d at least offer to buy her a drink. And he did. Five minutes later, they were sitting at the Riverside Park Café, looking out onto the river that wraps around the city they’re not from, but a place they both love more than anything. It had taken long enough to find one another, but here they were.

… she’s still a puppy, actually. Trying to train her and it’s really tough,” he continued, breaking me out of my daydream and back to reality, where Lucy was kicking dirt on my leg while licking my feet.

Oh, do you take her to PetCo? I really enjoyed the program when Lucy was her age,” I offered and he nodded along, squinting up with the sun in his eyes.

“I’ll have to look into that. You must be a regular here, huh?” He grins, placing his hand above his brow to look at me.

We talk about the area and raising dogs, and something tingles inside of me, even though I really do know better than to read too much into meet-cutes. He gets up and we walk around, chatting about our lives in the city, and throwing the ball that Cici chases and Lucy then chases after Cici. I can feel the tension grow, and though I try my very best to never be desperate, I desperately plead with the universe to make the sunset last longer so the darkness doesn’t come and swallow away this beautiful scenery, in this beautiful span of time, where for the first time, in a long time, I’m actually entertained talking to a man.

“Mark!” I hear as his attention changes quickly, and I realize we hadn’t exchanged our own names, just our pets’ names. I brace myself – and cross my fingers – that I’ll see a sister or a mother when I turn to face whoever is calling his name. She’s a beautiful brunette, wearing the same running shoes that I have. She looks pretty, even post-run, and Cici jumps up to greet her, and she tells her to sit in between giggles, just like I would if Lucy did the same. He goes up and embraces her, and then introduces me to his…

..fiancé.

She shakes with her left hand – possibly because she might feel a bit threatened – and I admire her sparkly diamond. He tells her all of the helpful advice I gave him: where to get their dog groomed inexpensively, joints that allow dogs to sit at the bar stool next to you, where to get the best deal on training pads and waste bags. I nod through the conversation as his bride-to-be excitedly thanks me for all of the help, and just as quickly as it happened, they walk away, hand-in-hand with Cici… into the sunset.

Okay, not really – it was mostly dark by then, but it sure felt that way.

I knew I had two choices in that moment: I could get discouraged and disappointed that my almost-date turned out to be taken or I could remember that not everything is ever as it seems. Yes, they’re engaged, maybe they’ve even set a date. Perhaps he’s uncertain about their future and they don’t actual click in all areas of their relationship. They could argue every day and have mismatched sex drives, she could have laid down the law of the ultimatum, forcing him into engagement after several years of dating. They could be college or high school sweethearts that would rather get hitched than to figure out the dating life post-university, or he could be a terrible boyfriend that she’s settling by marrying. There could be a million things wrong with their relationship or nothing at all. But no matter of how it’s going or how it’ll end up or who those people are, I’ll never know.

And they’ll never know much more about me.

To Mark, maybe I was just an opportunity to talk to a pretty girl other than his girlfriend, or maybe as a new pet owner, he could relieve some anxiety from someone who has it – at least somewhat – figured out. I could be the symbol of freedom that he sometimes misses, no matter how satisfied he is with his relationship. He may see me as a younger version of the life he once had or wish he had, where he could just sit by himself in the park, passing time without being pulled away or distracted by anything than your own timeline, bedtime, deadline. He may envy the power of independence or long for one single day without wedding planning or trying to decide what to cook for dinner or being nagged to take out the trash. He may see some value in my current status that I’ll never see until I no longer have it.

Or it could have just been a simple, short and quite meaningless conversation on a Tuesday night.

But regardless of what it meant or didn’t mean, what it symbolized or not, the truth is that no matter what part of the pond you stand – the single or the taken side – the grass always looks a little greener. At least every once in a while, anyway.

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I Know Better

The second I saw him, I knew this night was a waste of a brand new dress from Urban.

I really did know better. I really had been here before. This, actually was precisely the reason I stopped going on online dates. It was why I deleted all of those accounts. I had met too many people who seemed like Mr. Everything on paper, er, on screen, only to spend five minutes before searching for the closest exit. But after a few months of duds met in real life, not the digital romantic playground, I decided to give it another go, let myself give clicking yet another chance to help me find someone I just might click with.

But again, I knew better. I knew how this likely would play out. And I was right.

We had spent the last few days texting up a storm. He seemed interesting enough– educated, tall, from the Midwest, new to the city, likes running and has a dog. He remembered to follow up and was somewhat funny, at least iPhone to iPhone. He suggested margaritas on Friday night near our respective apartments, and I didn’t need much convincing. It was raining when I arrived, appropriately five minutes late, and I saw him standing with an umbrella.

He wasn’t six foot. My shoulders were wider than his. He couldn’t make eye contact and didn’t hold the door open for me. He isn’t actually living in the city, but interning. He couldn’t hold a conversation longer than I could exhale out of nothing more than utter frustration. He didn’t ask about what I did or what I like to do, or anything at all, frankly. He kept talking about how he likes to get drunk, whipped through his drink in a hot second, and I quickly came up with an excuse to leave. As I walked back to the restroom, I stopped the waitress to ask for our check and something in my step, or maybe my tightly-sealed pursed lips, made her sense something wasn’t quite right. With a thick Queens accent she asked if everything was okay and I jokingly whispered that yes, except that I was on the worst date in a very long time.

She laughed as she offered, “I’ve been there. I’ll bring you a shot, on the house.” When I returned to my seat, there was a tequila and lime waiting. Without explaining to the terrible date, I took it down in one swift swoop, and I left that heaven-sent waitress a 35 percent tip in return.

After awkwardly leaving my date (without physically running away), I stopped at a place on my block for a drink. It wasn’t even 10:30 at night, and feeling ten years older than what I really was, I decided having an extra pint would satisfy my FOMO. Or at least, drown it. Plus this particular bar attracts a younger crowd that’s not common to the Upper West, and I wasn’t about to waste flawless makeup and a sexy dress on that pitiful example of a date. Maybe at the very least, I thought, I’d flirt with a stranger and feel like the night meant something after all. The only place at the busy bar was smack dab in front of the tab, smushed between two couples and looking over the discarded plates of naked chicken wings and leftovers of spinach and artichoke dip that someone didn’t finish. I took a deep breath and said my P’s and Q’s to sandwich myself in between, and as if I was a regular, I asked for their signature pilsner.

I really did try my best to salvage whatever night I had by looking interested in the game that was on. Or smiling at the very few men that were without women — and without wedding rings — at the establishment. I tried to look away from my phone, even as it lit up with words of encouragement and frowny faces from my friends about my no-good, terrible date. But with a little more than a gulp to go, I grew tired of the woman to my right throwing her hair in my face as she laughed at jokes that weren’t amusing, and the duo to my left who seriously couldn’t keep their eyes or tongues off of one another. I gave the scantily dressed bartender a dollar and headed — okay, hurried — to the sanctuary of my apartment.

And though I write about relationships and I’m generally level-headed and somewhat realistic about the dating scene in this city, the flood of disappointment, of frustration, of total annoyance came over me the second I was finally alone in that elevator, heading up to the 7th floor. I melted onto my bedroom floor, not even taking off my high-wedged heels, not even turning the air conditioner up in a scorching tiny space that’s only bearable because of the low setting I maintain for Lucy while I’m away. She jumped into my lap and cuddled herself around my arms, as she usually does, and with that first warm embrace all night, I let myself cry.

Just a little.

I let myself spiral around the tornado of  what if’s and the waves of jealousy over my friends, who spent their Fridays at concerts and beaches and double- dates and dinners with men that they not only love but men who undeniably love them back. I let myself curse that stupid bus where I met the last stupid guy I cared for, and somehow, I’m stupidly still affected by the aftermath of our breakup. I let myself mull over the fact that it’s been two years since I broke up with that guy, and two years since I’ve given a second-thought to or had butterflies with anyone else. I let myself consider what my life would look like or how it would feel if I was in fact, single and never married, never had  children. I let myself believe that I could muster up the courage to find a way to be happy flying solo, forever.

And then I let myself dream about that gentle, safe harbor that I often imagine when I’m feeling desperate, it’s my happy place where that handsome man, whoever he is, lives with our blue-eyed children in a brick estate with a thick, green lawn, where plastic-y toys, tiny shoes and love are spread about the house. I let myself shed that black cloak of professionalism and realism that I wear in the city that doesn’t value romance or blush-colored ideas about love —  because focusing on bigger, worldly issues is respected much higher than matters of the heart. Or of emotion. I let myself think about the things that a girl my age is far too young to think about when I have so much living, so much life ahead of me. I let myself let go of those fears that being happy in a relationship isn’t possible or that relationship is so far away that I shouldn’t waste time worrying about it now. I let myself believe that my next great love — possibly even the love — is actually much closer than what I predict. I let myself let it all go as I let myself fall apart…

Just a little.

And then I picked myself up off the floor and washed my face. I buried myself in my new white down comforter that I’m brave to buy with a dog. I settled into the stillness of the night, the quiet that’s so rare in Manhattan. I looked outside at the building tops that I’ve grown accustomed to, and I spread myself out in my Queen oasis that I’ve become comfortable sleeping alone in, often in the dead-center of the bed. And though I know better, I decided that tomorrow was another day. And the day after it, another chance. Perhaps the one that follows, another man. And even if I know better than to believe in love after so many signs pointing to never-happily-ever, I’d rather have faith in what I don’t know than in the thoughts that bring me to the harshness of a hardwood floor on a Friday night.

I do know better, but I don’t know enough to give up.

You’d Figure It Out

What if you find yourself 40 years old, single, living alone in a tiny apartment in the West Village?

What if you search high and low, put up with the jerks, the gems — and everything wild and beautiful in between — and somehow, the man of your dreams, is just that? A dream? What if he really is just a figment of your imagination? What if you don’t actually ever cross that finish line to the altar and you spend years waiting for your chance to sprint? What if you watch everyone around you pair up, pair apart and pair up again, while you idly wait for your turn to take a chance? To make a loving mistake you’ll one day cherish? What if you never, ever fall in love again? What if you were meant to only get a taste, not a glass? What if you become one of those women that for whatever reason, don’t end up with a soulmate, or maybe never had one to begin with? What if you aren’t meant for that one, huge, great, amazing big love after all?

You’d figure out how to love yourself even more.

What if you do happen to meet someone kind of amazing? But he doesn’t fit that description that MASH spelled out for you, or the background or the paycheck or the height that you’d hoped for?

What if you meet him and don’t instantly know in that all-telling, fortuitous gut of yours that you were meant to be? What if you don’t meet in a way that’s fun or encouraging to tell your grandchildren? What if it takes more time than you’d like for him to come along? What if it takes even longer for you to get over yourself enough to let yourself love him in return? What if he’s bald? Or divorced? What if he doesn’t have that body that really gets you going, but instead has a heart that lets you finally rest? What if he is perfect for you in every way and though you don’t doubt he’s the one, you find yourself anxious about settling down? What if you aren’t completely sure, even if you actually, kind of are?

You’d figure out how to fall in love with the man, not the idea.

What if that dream job, the one with the fancy corner office, the shiny gold name plate, the cushy salary and the pretty life that comes with it… isn’t an option?

What if everything you’ve always known about yourself and what you’re good at and what brings you happiness, one day, doesn’t anymore? What if those bylines stop meaning as much or they mean so much that the pressure all becomes too heavy to carry? Too difficult to run toward, so you stop? What if you never publish a book, never open a bakery, never have more than enough money, and yet, just enough? What if you don’t get the chance to lead something or someone or some place and spend your life being led by other people? What if all that time spent editing your resume and surviving on next-to-nothing with a side of Ramen doesn’t actually pay off in the end? What if you don’t hear those precious two words — You’re hired! — that sometimes feel more important than the infamous three words? What if you don’t find what you’re looking for, after all?

You’d figure out how to let go of the path you paved so you can be brave enough to lay out a new one.

What if you never fit back into those size two jeans that you did sophomore year of college?

What if you never experience what it’s like to prance the beach in a bikini, fully confident, fully mesmerized by how you great you look? What if your boobs are never big enough, your skin never clear enough, your teeth never white enough, your hair never straight enough, your stomach never flat enough? What if you don’t drop the baby weight right away — or all of it? What if you can never actually run that marathon or even qualify for it? What if you don’t ever get that smokin’ hot bod that you want (and sweat to earn)?

You’d figure out how to feel comfortable and yes, radiate in the beautiful parts that make you gorgeously imperfect.

What if your five year plan takes eight years to complete — or never happens at all?

What if you are set off course by a bump here and a stumble there, keeping you always within arm’s reach of what you want, but never close enough to actually touch? What if you find yourself continuously surprised and effortlessly amused by the decisions you make and ones that are made for you? What if you end up far from where you came from and yet, closer to your heart than you’ve ever been before? What if nothing goes according to the map you mapped out with such care? What if you find yourself so happy with the life you created, even if it’s not carved out just as you thought it would be, but somehow, it’s better?

What if your future is so unpredictable — as amazing things often are — that you can’t figure it out before you get there? Whatever it is, you know you’ll be able to take it as it comes, solve the rhymes and the puzzles as they happen and tangle themselves up into your pretty little pictures of idealism. Because the truth is —  you don’t always get the guy. You don’t always have an incredible marriage. You don’t always get the storybook tale you want to tell. The awesome career comes with sacrifices you might not want to make. You’re always going to get a zit at a bad time. You will probably change your mind one hundred times about what you want and what feels right. You can pick lovers over babies, and babies over freedom. You can try until trying is doing, and do it until you have to try again. There are no guarantees and no way to plan it out. There are no right answers and no way to reassure yourself that it’ll all work out.

No way to actually figure it out with complete certainty.

But what ever life throws at you — or doesn’t — you can figure out how to make it work. How to be happy. And one day, it won’t feel like you’re figuring anything out — it’ll just feel like it’s happening how it was supposed to all along.

Another Friday Night

One more stretch, you can do it, I encouraged myself early last Saturday morning, listening to the off-beat of my feet in Central Park. As I often do when my body can’t keep up with my racing thoughts, I become my own mental cheerleader and professional negotiator.  If I make it to that lamp post, I can have the large iced coffee instead of the medium at Dunkin Donuts. If I make it to the east side of the park, something amazing will happen.

If I make it. Something. Will. Happen, I told myself.

With a race in a week and not enough running logs in the last few weeks, I challenged myself to push more, even if all I wanted to do was curl up in my corner of the Upper West Side, far away from the city below. Far away from those unfortunate feelings I unfortunately still battle.

Last Friday night was a rough night. And even the splendor of a pretty park run that next morning didn’t get the negativity out of my sight. With my friends unavailable and spending weekends with their boyfriends, I was left to my own company to attend an engagement and birthday party. Though I was exhausted from the busy week at work, I put on a lace top and heels, ready to flirt and celebrate. But a handful of vodka tonics later (and one pickle back), I found myself staring down the bar, sad and defeated by the NYC dating scene I write so frequently about.

It’s not like it was the first night I wasn’t paid any attention by a man or the first time I wasn’t bought a drink. It wasn’t the first time I had a massive zit right next to my nose, while I watched tall, slender girls with dewy complexions march into the bar, turning heads and stealing attention. It wasn’t the first time I worried about how I looked (Pretty? Thin? Sexy?) or how I came across (Too nice? Too closed off?).

And though I know it’s silly and even though I’ve written about self-love so many times I can recite my own words, I felt invisible. Not good enough. Ugly. Unwanted. Like all I wanted to do was run home.

And so I did. I tried my best to hide the tears on the train and then again on my walk to Dunkin, to claim my iced prize for making the extra mile. While sucking up the tears, I listened to my mom tell me it’ll all work out. But it just doesn’t have the same effect when it hasn’t worked out… like, at all.

It’s funny advice that people who have found love always tell you: it’ll all work out! It’ll just come together! It’ll be so easy and so fast and it’ll feel right. You’ll just know. It’ll happen when you least expect it. It’ll happen when you aren’t trying.

It’ll happen when you find love in yourself first.

It’ll all work out… After you get through all the work of dating and flirting and bar hopping and profile shopping and having good (and bad) sex and getting your heart broken a few times and getting your hopes up and learning to get your hopes down and having an amazing first date and never hearing from someone again that you thought you liked.. and this and this and this…

And that. And on and on. And on. 

Logically and intellectually, I understand the advice. I accept it even. But emotionally, nothing could be more discouraging than promising things will work out and come together in some magical beautiful way, when currently, it’s anything but. Maybe somewhere deep down I know they’re right, but after playing the game and making the rounds for years… they’re suddenly just words to me.

Ones that aren’t facts or proven truths. Ones that show up when dates or love go sour. Ones that become an old adage I don’t look forward to hearing. Ones that make me feel less accomplished or less worthy or less something for having difficulty believing them time and time again.

But it’s when Friday night has pissed me off and I’ve pissed myself off the next morning by still caring that I do think of those words. Even if no one says them. Even if I don’t tell anyone I was upset. Even if I don’t actually trust them like I did three years ago. I just remember… It hasn’t worked out. Not yet. But maybe. Just maybe, it will.

After all… There’s always another Friday night.