An Open Letter to My Engaged Teenage Cousin:

Recently, you announced to the world, via Facebook, that you are engaged. I thought you were joking, not only because you just celebrated your first boyfriend, first job, and 18th birthday, but because you’re regularly announcing engagements to your best girlfriends. But no, you clarified… this time you’re serious. There’s even a ring. I had a ring as a teenager, too. I didn’t say that, though. I didn’t respond at all, because I had a ring as a teenager, too. You are a brand new baby adult and there is absolutely no reaching you on this subject. I’m sure that your aunts have tried… your dad… your grandmother. My name was possibly even brought up as a cautionary tale.

If I thought you would hear me, I’d remind you of what you’ve surely heard in health class: that 60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce.* I won’t though, because you’ll insist (as did I) that your relationship is different. What I’d like to tell you, is that it isn’t. Your relationship is not different from any other young marriage, in that you are not the people you will be in 10 years… not even close. We live in a society where individuals are encouraged to grow the absolute most between the ages of 18 and 25. So, while you’ll grow as a person throughout your life, you’ll likely never change so much as in the next seven years or so. Everything about who you will be, who he will be, is unknown. You are working with unmolded clay, and the odds are infinitesimal that, after seven years, you’ll exist as two pieces who properly fit together. It is entirely possible that this teenage boy, through much influence from the world beyond his teen bride, will be molded into a screaming liberal, a soldier, a vegan, a drug addict, an online gamer, an Atheist, a smoker, a pro-lifer, a techie, a role player, a devout Christian, an alcoholic, a workaholic, a thief, a cheater, or an abuser.

Maybe you won’t be crying over another mysterious phone call, wondering where the Blu Ray player went, or icing a fat lip. These are obviously pretty extreme scenarios. Perhaps you’ll just find, at 22, that you love British comedy and sushi, have a strong passion for animal rights, and aren’t totally sure if you want to bring children into this world. Your young husband will grab a beer, sit down on the couch next to you, ask what the hell you’re watching and bring up the baby conversation again. You’ll look at the man you once considered adorable and see a simpleton… the reason you can’t join the Peace Corps or take that job out of state… the only adventure you’ve ever had. 

I know, I know. I’m jaded and broken, after two years of sleeping with my wallet in my pillowcase and wondering why the dog was bleeding. I’m hardly one to give marital advice. Maybe you’ll be just as in love at 28 as you were at 18. Then what will I have to say? Then… I’ll be happy for you. I’ll be thrilled that you don’t know the soul crushing effect of divorcing a monster in your early 20s, or the fear and nerves of going on your first Grown Up Date at 23, the awkwardness of stumbling over the “I’m divorced” conversation in a new relationship. However… I’ll still be thinking of all that you missed; like the vacation you never got to take with your girls, that trip abroad that wasn’t even up for consideration, the boy at that party you had so much in common with, maybe even the bachelor’s degree that got pushed aside when the babies came.

You can always get married and have children (pre-menopausal), but you can never undo the decision you’re making right now. You’re only 18, which means that you’ve never made any decisions that will effect the rest of your life and, happiness or despair, getting married will effect the rest of your life. You will make more choices, based on that decision, and they will effect the rest of your life. Perhaps the wedding won’t be soon, but then why even get engaged? Engagement is a time to prepare for marriage, not a pseudo commitment to provide security in a time of upheaval. Your life is supposed to be scary and unknown right now. I guarantee that it’s a lot more fun right after high school, than it is at 23, when everyone else is finding stability in the world.

Those are the things I would say, but I know they’ll fall on deaf ears. I know they already have as other family members have made the same points. If I could get just one thing across, though, it would be that they’re saying these things for a reason. They love you. They’ve watched people make this choice again and again. Maybe they even speak from personal experience. They want you to be happy, just as they wanted me to be happy. Your engagement announcement shouldn’t require the assurance that you’re serious, because you’ve barely outgrown faux relationship status updates to your best gal pals. It shouldn’t be met with cautionary tales and pleas to wait. Marriage, under the right circumstances, is a wonderful thing and your family wouldn’t warn you off a wonderful thing. It hurts them to see you make this mistake, just as it hurt them to watch me do the same. I just hope you don’t shut them out, because you will need them, if the worst occurs and your world falls apart, leaving you to start over as all of your friends announce that theirs are finally coming together. I wish you could understand this, but I know you can’t, because I had a ring as a teenager, too.

* http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/351

Holy shit, we’re grown-ups.

This New Year’s Eve, Gail and I rented a motel room in a town about an hour away, took a cab to one of the many popular casinos in the state, gambled the penny slots all night, lost more money than we made, ate quesadillas as the clock struck midnight, drank too much, and took a cab back to the motel.

Me: “‘Motel 6: We’ll leave the light on for you… but that’s about it.'”
Gail: looking around at the sketchy parking lot “‘Motel 6: It’s well lit… thankfully.’ We probably shouldn’t keep insulting it once they can hear us.”

motel 6 room

Me: “Ew. Someone’s been raped in this room.”

swill

Pre-drinking Smirnoff Apple and orange soda.

“Gail, the phrase is ‘apples and oranges’, because they don’t go together. This tastes like acid and urine.”

Throughout the night, as we gambled and drank, I recorded the quotes that made us giggle like maniacs in my phone.

My drunken lamenting over not understanding the appeal of gambling:
Me: “Gambling is gay.”
Gail: “You probably shouldn’t use that as an insult in public.”
Me: “It’s not my fault they’re gambling.”
Gail: “That’s not…”

Gail drunkenly complaining that we had to wait for the cab instead of being able to take the shuttle:
Gail: “We should’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn. They have a… a… thing.”
Me: “That’s great. You should be their spokesperson.”

I have no idea.
Me: “He could’ve gone home, looked in the mirror, and preened like a peacock.”

In the night, we slept on the Flinstone beds (slabs of rock) with our own personal blankets, because motel blankets are covered in semen and tears. I woke several times to down water and ibuprofen and call the desk to ask what time we had to be out, not that there was a credit card on file, because we paid in cash… like hookers.

Gail: “You know what’s awesome? We used our own money, rented a motel room out of town, took a cab to the casino, and gambled all night.”

I was more blunt with the same sentiment as I did my makeup.

Me: “Holy shit, we’re grown-ups.”

When Gail and I became friends, we were 15-year-old virgins, who couldn’t drive, or hold jobs, had never had a date or a first kiss. She used to make fun of me for loving the show Lizzie Maguire while we played old school Super Nintendo in her little sister’s bedroom floor. Growing up, everyone acts like you’ll just become an adult at a specific age or a particular milestone. So Gail and I each turned 18, moved out of our parents’ houses, got married, got pregnant… and it still never happened. Maybe that’s because we sucked at all of those things, constantly struggling. Three years ago, I was living in a motel, imagining the death of my ex-husband, through no intervention of my own, because that would allow me to be free of him. Gail was pretty much doing the same thing, only the sweeter version where he just leaves. Being an adult, or at least our version of it, sucked and we just felt like abandoned children, both having had no choice but to strike out on our own the second we graduated high school.

Then, we sold our wedding rings together, started dating, rented our first places of our very own with no one else’s name on the lease, put the bills in our own names, started our careers at entry level positions and…

holy shit, we’re grown-ups.

Being an adult is awesome now. My childhood wasn’t all that glamorous before my sucky early twenties. But now, no one hits me or manipulates me or steals from me. I don’t have to lie to my family to defend anyone and when I come home and the place is a mess, it’s my mess. I only have to feed me and if that means cereal, sweet potato fries, and orange juice for dinner, that’s my right.

I don’t always feel like an adult, however, even now. When I call my Gramma crying, because my mother’s acting like a lunatic again, I feel like the 14-year-old kid I once was. When I open a DVD and see the case is charred from a house fire he started, I’m 19 and my pets are dead on the lawn. When I call the credit agency to ask what this charge is for and they tell me it’s from the phone company when I was married at 21, I feel like the scared 23-year-old in the judge’s office, praying he’ll sign the papers. We were mislead as children. You don’t just suddenly feel like an adult. It comes in phases, like when I take a trip with my best friend. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I pay with my own money. I wake up and go shopping all day with my own money. I don’t wonder where that missing hundred is. I go home and have soup and pears for dinner and…

holy shit, I’m a grown-up.