I never imagined I would get engaged in the middle of my college career.
In May of 2019, I certainly did not think that I would come off a Disney Cruise as an engaged woman, but when my boyfriend of four years got down on one knee in front of a portrait of Cinderella’s Castle off the coast of Cuba, I said yes.
I had been engaged for almost three months when I went back to school in the fall. The excitement, while still present, turned into something less blissful upon my return to UNC-Chapel Hill. For me, not much had changed. I didn’t really feel different, yet one simple piece of jewelry on my finger seemed to suddenly change how people looked at me.
People thought I wouldn’t notice their eyes widening when they caught a glimpse of the diamond on my left ring finger. They would look away quickly when I glanced back at them.
This was not the case with my friends, who were all supportive, but these looks and judgements came from random people across campus, people who knew absolutely nothing about me.
These people did not know that my partner and I had planned a long engagement; we did not plan on getting married until October of 2021, nearly six months after graduation. They did not know we had been together for four years, and, by the time we are married, we will have been together for six. They did not ask me what I planned to do with my life, they looked at my ring and deemed me a stereotype.
I would assume, although I have never confronted anyone, that the looks came from those placing me into the stereotypical category of a white, straight Christian female who was getting married “young.”
But in my mind, I wasn’t really that young, and even if I was, why was that wrong?
I tried to let it slide off my back. I ignored the looks of disapproval when I was talking to a friend about it and someone overheard. Truthfully, I didn’t really talk about it that much, even with friends. I was not in the planning stage, and I didn’t see the need to let the topic fill every conversation.
I remember one day, sometime in the fall semester, I was in a communications class, and we started critiquing this college girl’s engagement pictures. I could feel myself sinking back into my chair as they tore this girl apart, mocking her for not having career goals, or letting herself down. Honestly, there was so much more said, but I blocked it out.
At this point, I am sure I was red in the face, sitting on my hands so no one would notice the ring I was wearing. I was not ashamed, but angry that my whole class was tearing a girl apart based on a false perception. This was a choice that she made for her own life, and they were judging her for it.
We live in a world where we empower women to “do it all,” so why do we belittle them when they make marriage and family a part of that?
I imagine people think that because I am engaged, I am only going to be a wife and nothing more. What they don’t realize is that career goals and ambition do not fly out the window when a ring is put on your finger. I am still doing all the “normal things” a college girl is supposed to do. I am still taking a full course load, living near campus, signing up for the GRE and making career plans for after college. Now, I am just doing a few more things, like picking out floral arrangements, tasting cake and deciding on a venue.
I have always considered myself a woman of ambition, and I can assure you I am not just sitting around on Pinterest all day looking at wedding cakes. Although, I have done that on occasion and will continue to do that, because who doesn’t love Pinterest?
Sometimes it is overwhelming doing both things at once. It is hard to make the decision to spend the rest of your life with someone, and I think that’s why people look down upon doing it earlier in life. But, is it really that impossible for me to have found the person I want to spend my life with, and also be a career woman? No. So why does everyone think that getting married young is so bad?
Maybe it’s because millennials and Gen Z’ers in general are getting married later in life. A 2019 study from Pew Research Center found that the average age for a woman to be married was 28-years-old. Sometimes I think people believe that my fiancé and I are not ready for marriage, that we are not mature enough or that we are making this decision on the fly. I can assure you we are not. Marriage is a serious thing, at any age and we have taken it all into consideration. But then again, you have never asked.
And yes, we are still learning, every day, we are just doing it together.
Getting engaged in college has not led either one of us to give anything up. My fiancé who graduated last spring still had a college experience, and as I prepare for graduation in May, so have I. I don’t think either one of us would even imagine asking the other to give up their career or educational goals. Life is about pushing one another, not holding each other back.
Not everyone has the same experience in college, but for me, getting engaged was part of mine. That was my college experience, but it doesn’t have to be yours.
I am not asking you to get married. I am not even asking you to support that I am, but I am asking you to respect the decision enough to stop judging me.
The thing is, I am choosing both. I am choosing to finish college, go to grad school and have a career, but I am also choosing marriage. While I may be choosing the last part a little earlier than my peers, it does not make my choice wrong.
So yes, you might look at me as a stereotype, but I am doing what is right for me, and so are you. Why can’t we just have mutual respect for that?
Getting engaged in college is not for everyone. Getting engaged at all is not for everyone, but it was for me, and I am okay with that. Why aren’t you?