On being 23 and NOT being engaged

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We are at dinner, and no one is talking. He breaks in abruptly and tells me…”you know when I was 23 I had just gotten married.”

 It goes around the circle. My biological family, sitting there making me feel like I’m failing because I’m sitting alone in my side of the booth.

I’m getting increasingly used to that look. When my best friend got engaged. When I ran off on a weekend trip for yet another wedding of yet another beautiful friend. And now, in the midst of what really should have been a happier day. It’s the appraising eyes, trying to find the flaws in me. It’s the sympathetic head tilt that reminds me of a Chicago Cubs fan “wait ‘til next year” …that kind of thing. It’s the quick dart of the eyes down to my left hand.

“why are you not married yet?”

I want to be clear: I am 23 years old. Barely. I am in graduate school. I have a job that I adore. I have friends. I will have a doctoral degree before I am 25. And yet every time someone announces an engagement, there’s the sidelong glance at me, wondering how I’m ‘dealing with it”. I wonder, sometimes, why this question so often comes from Christian circles, but I’m used to it. I get it all the time.

There are separate Bible studies for young marrieds and singles. Because apparently I have more in common with an eighteen year old college freshman and a 40 year old divorcee than I do with my best friend, who will be married in November. Because I’m single, and I need to hear another sermon about waiting for my Boaz and making a list of qualities for a future mate. I can only assume the young marrieds class is talking again about training a child in the way he should go and Ephesians 5. Maybe I’m wrong. But I wish we were both standing here talking about pursuing Christ. About loving our neighbors. About the ways we can learn from our differences. We have so much to offer one another.

I’d like to tell you that I’m fine. That I read your article about why you got engaged before you were 23. That I see your point. That I’m not judging you. That I am, in fact, capable of being happy for you. They joke about how no single girl is ever truly happy when a friend gets engaged. But I am. I’m not fronting.

I guess I’m just wondering if you can be happy for me. If you can look at my incredibly distant from engaged life and see value. If you can understand me the way you’re hoping I can understand you.

I do want a family. I want to be a mom, I want to be a wife, I want to adopt and foster and do all sorts of family things. But I’m waiting.

Not in the way you’re picturing. Not like some pitiable image of Ms. Haversham, standing in a white dress alone in the dark. I’m waiting in a car full of friends, laughing and singing Justin Bieber. I’m waiting in a crowded, noisy room where my laughter doesn’t quite rise above the sea of voices. I’m waiting in the clinic, holding the hand of a child walking for the first time.

I’m waiting on God’s timing to begin building the kind of family where I’m the mommy. To begin building the kind of ‘household’ that you buy in pieces from Bed Bath and Beyond. But I’m not waiting to start a family.

My family is here, all around me. Is flung across Oklahoma and Texas and further out, around the world. My family loves me so well. Encourages me so much. Cries with me. Prays for me. Celebrates with me. Needs me. Is there for me. Lives, and I live, and we keep each other together. And someday, probably, I will invite some boy to come and join it. To join in the laughter and tears and bored conversation. Maybe I’ll wear a white dress, and maybe we’ll have cake after. Maybe we’ll bring some kids into the picture, and maybe we’ll even get a beagle and a fence.

But those won’t be the pictures of me starting a family.

Those will simply be the new branch of this crazy, random, bear hugging family of people that I already have. That I already love.

I’m 23, and I am not married. I am not engaged. And I’m not planning on either any time soon. But I love a bunch of people already, and have been loved in return. Before you give me that look, before you feel sorry for me…

…don’t. Don’t try to set me up or convince me to rush into a relationship. Don’t feel bad when I’m a bridesmaid for the fourth time. Don’t give me books called Captivating or Redeeming Love and pray that someday a boy will come along and marry me, and save me from this woeful singlehood.

I’ve been redeemed. I’m not Ruth, gleaning in the fields until Boaz comes because He’s here. He has been here. He is the center, the heartbeat of this little family of friends. I’m not Cinderella standing here, waiting for the Prince to bust me out of the basement.

I’m a 23 year old girl who has been given a great deal of grace. Who has had opportunities that I could never have deserved. Who is trying to figure out how to give back out of the incredible number of things I’ve been given. And whether you’re married, engaged, single or whatever, there’s room for you in this family of people trying to figure it out together.

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