If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it soon will. You open up your social media for the first time during the day and there it is: the engagement photo. Maybe it starts with that girl you knew back in middle school, then a few acquaintances from high school. You are surprised at the high school sweethearts who made it this far (and skeptical of how long they will last).
I mean, that guy did cheat on all of his previous girlfriends. Then, one day, it will be a friend. You get that little shiver up your spine before pushing it out of your mind completely. It still isn’t completely real until — bam! It happens to your ex.
Yep. You open up your phone and see his mom, your mom and the whole community congratulating him on his engagement. Yikes. Now it’s real.
Meanwhile, you can’t even keep a cactus alive. You don’t know where you will be living in six months, let alone have anyone you’d remotely consider starting a life with. You still eat Kraft mac and cheese for dinner multiple nights a week and talk to your mom on the phone everyday. How on earth are people your age getting married?
Moments like these happen periodically throughout one’s life, but they just keep increasing in intensity until you reach what I have dubbed “the engagement epidemic." There is the first time one of your friends has a boyfriend, the first time one of them has sex, the first teen pregnancy and on and on it goes.
However, thus far, nothing has hit me quite like the engagement epidemic. It seemed like one day it was one person and the next I blinked and my whole Instagram feed was filled with shiny diamond rings and happy tears. I was left wondering whether I was falling behind, or if everyone else had gotten ahead of themselves.
I always hear people make similar judgments, too. “Oh, they got married way too young," and “they took things way too fast.” Or, conversely, “If they don’t get engaged soon, they are bound to break up," or, “If they don’t find someone soon, it will never happen.” It seems like everyone has an opinion on love and what the right course of action is when choosing your path.
Some say you should be single and live life while you are young and wait until your late 20s — or even early 30s — to get married. Meanwhile, others say it is better to find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with while you are young so you can go on adventures with them. Then, most famously, there are those who always say, “When you stop looking, that is when it will happen.”
Yet, when I look back now at all the moments where I have received contradictory advice or where I felt like everyone was flying by me while I was stuck in quicksand, I don’t feel like I missed out. Everything that has happened in my life has happened right on time for me. Everybody has their own priorities and own experiences that all shape who they will become and how fast they are going to get there. By the time my mother was 23, she knew she was done with players. She said she pretty much hated men altogether and had nearly resigned in her quest to find the perfect one. She met my dad that same year and said within just a few weeks she knew he was the one. She told him she was giving him one year and no longer to make up his mind and propose. I’ve told that story to other people who say, “One year? My parents dated for six years — one is way too soon.”
Maybe the truth is we should all reserve our judgments about those doing life at different speeds than us. This sounds like the “yeah, duh” answer, but aren’t we all at least a little guilty of thinking we are doing it the better way or, conversely, worrying we are doing it all wrong? We expect to follow a linear path put forth for us by Hollywood clichés or we feel guilted by family members who have exceedingly high expectations. We feel lonely, sad or confused by all that is changing around us and everyone we know that is moving onto the next stage of their lives.
We should feel confident, however, that we will get there. So many older adults have said it must be true: life flies by in the blink of an eye. We shouldn’t wish a single moment of it to move faster and we can’t slow it down. When we spend our whole lives looking forward at what we want or backwards at what could have been we risk missing the wonderful stage of life we are in at the present moment. Never again will we be so young or so free. At risk of sounding like a cheesy pop song, I say we can’t afford to always be living life with regrets. We all make mistakes, take detours and trip over our own two feet. And though it is not the path for all of us, most of us will wake up one day feeling like we have met “the one.” I am sure it won’t happen a moment too soon or a second too late for a single one of us.
Abbie Berringer can be reached at email@example.com.