Within the tiny little bubble of life that I knew as an 18-year-old, I did have it together. I was responsible, sensible, and fully on board with putting my life on fast forward to be the perfect wife. What could go wrong?
Seven years into our marriage (ten into our relationship), we were like strangers occupying the same home. We had both grown up, but we were not who each other thought we were when we got married. How could we be? Each of us was not even the person we were the day we exchanged vows!
I was a kid. He was a little older, but still just beginning his life voyage. I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life, who I wanted to be, and what was important to me. I am confident that he also believed he “knew it all” and was prepared to take the plunge. The problem is that neither of us had lived any life before making a lifetime commitment to another person. How could I know what I was meant to do, what I was capable of, and what really worked for me when he was the only serious relationship I had ever had and I only knew life from the perspective of my sheltered existence in one town my whole life?
Some couples have succeeded in this scenario. I wholeheartedly congratulate all of the high school and college sweethearts out there who discover one another at a young age and make it work for decades. Some people have the capability to literally grow up with another person. Many others realize after it’s too late that maybe they should’ve heeded the warnings to wait and not rush to wed too early.
I now have teenagers…when do teenagers ever listen? Seriously, they think every adult is overreacting and doesn’t really know what they’re talking about; so, clearly an adult wouldn’t understand that they are really in love and truly prepared, and know what they’re doing!
So, if I had the opportunity to speak to my teenage self in a dream, I would tell her that any love that’s meant to be will wait. It would’ve been fine to start college like all the other 18-year-olds and let him finish college and begin his career. If he really loves you, he’ll wait, and you’ll find a way to make it last, even if it becomes a long distance relationship.
I would tell the younger me that it doesn’t matter what his aspirations and potential are because she will need to stand on her own two feet, be educated, and be able to support herself with or without him. Even if he remains devoted to her the rest of his life, what happens if his life is cut short by an illness or a car accident? She should know that she can take care of herself no matter what.
It also doesn’t matter if she does have her whole life completely figured out, because chances are that her very young husband will still have some things to work out for himself.
I would tell her that youth is fleeting, and there is no need to rush headlong into adulthood! Travel, live in different cities, meet people, take every opportunity to taste what life has to offer to really know who you are and what makes you tick. Once you marry, have a career, and become a parent, going on adventures and focusing on yourself becomes immensely more challenging and your priorities will change.
I will tell her that she should date more than just one person before choosing a life partner. This bit of advice is not all about “more sex” or “going crazy,” because, God knows, there’s many things that can go wrong from being promiscuous. My suggestion is more about the need to learn relationship skills, know what you do and do not want in a partner, and perfect what she is able to bring into a committed relationship.
I will go further to contend that as much as I would rather not see pregnant or promiscuous teens, I would rather see young people figure their relationship skills out -safely- before jumping into bad marital matches that result in devastating divorces later in time (that will probably involve children and be even more destructive).
I am confident that if my first marriage would have been allowed to play out as simply a serious first relationship, we would have eventually realized that we weren’t compatible enough to be linked for life, and the worst either of us would have suffered was a sad break-up before going on to find our true intended partners.
As it was, we were together and wrong for each other and I ended up enduring his infidelity and eventually abandonment when he realized that he wanted something completely different out of life. By the time we split, he discovered he didn’t even want to be in a marriage. He wanted to live alone and have a chance to find himself.
I am now a mom to two and a stepmom to four kids. I will plead with all of them to wait until they’re in their mid to late 20’s before they marry. I will tell them to go to college, see the world, and live some life first before saying “I do.” If they happen to meet their Mr. or Mrs. Right in high school or college, I will advise them that true love will endure if it’s meant to be. They must first know and love themselves before they will be equipped to be devoted husbands and wives. I hope that they will all marry and find beautiful, lasting partnerships for themselves. I think they will appreciate the right mate more with the perspective of some life experience.
My first marriage brought me pain and disappointment, but it wasn’t a complete loss. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of in the dark moments. I have sweet memories, and also sad ones. In many ways I wish I could erase my choice to marry him and not go through what I did, but I am the only me I know how to be as a result of that experience. Should my children ignore their mother’s advice, I will still love and support them, and I will just hope that they will have more success than I did.