Dear 40-year-old me,
There are a few things I want you to remember about what it’s like to be in your twenties. I’ve met some adults over the past year or two (somehow I still don’t seem to count as an ”adult” myself) who seem to think that life as a 20-something is easy. And compared to the stresses of children and a mortgage, maybe it is. But I never what you to forget how you felt in March 2012.
1. At 24, you felt old.
I got married before my 24th birthday, something I never thought you’d do. While most 24-year-olds are still living with their parents or with other single roommates, I’ve settled into a comfortable, happy married life. I’m also on the verge of stepping off the edge of post-secondary education into the working world. I’ve started thinking about scary things like debt, chronic unemployment or underemployment, never being able to afford a house, never being able to afford kids, never having the time or resources to actually enjoy life. Two years ago, one of my neighbours scoffed at me when I used the phrase “when I was a kid.” I may be young compared to you, but I don’t feel like a kid anymore. Don’t underestimate the worries of a 24-year-old.
2. At 24, you took a few risks.
I don’t mean risks like bungee jumping or taking off to Europe for a year. I have never been a risk-taker in any sense of the word. I tend to dig myself into ruts and stay there for a while. But I know how to take risks when it counts. I’d only been 18 a week when I picked up my life in Winnipeg and moved over 3,000 kilometres to a small town in New Brunswick where I knew nobody. Best decision ever. Before my 22nd birthday, I moved from a town of 5,000 to the biggest city in Canada. I went from a tiny university to a huge one. Master of Arts program? Piece of cake. As a young adult, it seemed so easy. I don’t think it will feel so possible by age 40. Don’t get too stuck in comfortable ruts.
3. At 24, you were idealistic.
Not just in the sense that, despite my cynicism, I want to believe the best of the world in general. But in the sense that there are certain ideals that guide my life. Most of these ideals are inherently optimistic. Like the concept that there’s absolutely no reason for my marriage not to last a lifetime. Or the idea that there’s still an important place for religion in the world and in my life, and it’s worth defending. Or, despite my current fears, that I can find meaningful work that I’ll love. It’s easy to get bogged down in stress, worries and practicalities, but that stuff, while important, can distract you from the best parts of life. Don’t be practical all the time.
Most importantly, always try to remember what’s really important.
A perfect example of stuff you don’t need to know to plan an awesome wedding. There’s only so much space in your brain - why waste it on this stuff?
Guess what’s been happening in my marriage lately?
Well, not exactly nothing. To say “nothing” and leave it there would be doing a disservice to all the little things that make up a marriage. Things like cooking dinner together, doing the dishes, talking about our days and watching TV. At this point, nearly nine months into married life, these are the things that make up our everyday existence. I don’t take them for granted - some days it takes a great deal of effort to coexist as two mature, responsible adults - but most of the time, we make it happen.
Sometimes, something happens to change the dynamic of our collective life. Last week I was on reading week. I was home a lot more, so Andrew and I got to spend a bit more time together. It’s remarkable how much it changed the dynamic of our relationship for that week. Instead of us each arriving home kind of crabby at the end of a long day, we both felt more refreshed and happy. I was more refreshed because I got a week to relax and catch up on schoolwork, and Andrew was more refreshed because I was. We both use our relationship as a way to unwind, but it works even better when we see each other just a little more often.
Of course, sometimes tensions can run high and minor crises can creep up. With both of us counting down the weeks until we’re done school, it’s easy to get mired in our own headspace. And sometimes, when we can’t see past the ends of our own to-do lists, it’s far too easy to snap at each other. It happens. When two people living such intertwined lives are also trying to forge their separate ways through the world, a bit of conflict is inevitable.
Andrew and I don’t fight very often, and when we do, it’s usually about the stupidest things you can think of. But when arguments happen, I never worry about them too much. Ninety-five per cent of the time, we’re perfectly happy. So when stress gets the better of us and we find ourselves fighting, it’s usually pretty easy to shout a bit, let our frustrations out and then get back to where we really want to be. Our relationship is more than strong enough to withstand an occasional spat.
This dynamic in my marriage reminds me of something we’ve talked about in a few of my classes this year. Public relations is about building healthy long-term relationships. Just like a good marriage, this takes time and effort. Strong marriages need constant maintenance and occasional tune-ups. Likewise, organizations can’t assume their relationships with their customers are strong; they needto do something to make them strong.
If a crisis happens, having a strong foundation can make things easier. An organization that already communicates well with its customers may be able to resolve a crisis more quickly and effectively. Better still, customers who are loyal and engaged with an organization may be more supportive and willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, even defending it against criticism. Whatever the crisis, working to build strong relationships can only help.
I’m not saying that everything about public relations is just like marriage. But when PR pros are trying to engage with customers, I think it’s definitely worth remembering that building a healthy relationship, whether it’s between a husband and wife or a customer and organization, will always be worth the time and effort.
Pride and Prejudice
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Charlotte Lucas)
"To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it,
Whenever you’re right, shut up."
Ogden Nash, Marriage Lines: Notes of a Student Husband
Let’s face it: not every bride-to-be wants to spend every waking moment planning her wedding. A lot of modern women who are focused on their professional lives simply don’t have the time and energy to obsess over a wedding while simultaneously keeping their sanity intact.
The thing is, weddings don’t have to be as time-consuming as you might expect them to be. There are emotional ups and downs, and certain tasks take longer than others, but if you don’t want your wedding to take over your whole life, there’s absolutely no reason it should.
So here are some tips from someone who is in no way a wedding expert, but who reluctantly planned a wedding and lived to tell the tale:
- Think about who you are: A wedding should reflect your identity as a couple. I mentioned in a previous post that your wedding is like your first public declaration of your “personal brand.” Focusing on your personal brand can help you filter out the stuff that doesn’t reflect who you are and what you want to represent. This may also help keep you focused when every person you’ve ever known is trying to give you his or her expert opinion.
- Don’t try too hard: There are a million cool wedding ideas out there, but they might not fit with what you want your wedding to say. Despite what TLC might want you to think, it’s not a competition to see who can have the most off-the-wall wedding (unless that’s genuinely your style). To be honest, my husband and I had a pretty ordinary wedding, but it was what we wanted. Your guests will have fun, but if they’re not talking about it in five years, does it really matter? You’ll remember it for the rest of your life, but nobody else has to.
- Don’t get lost in the internet: The internet provides more wedding resources than any one person could possibly navigate through. Unless you really, really want to wade through the muck of information out there, find specific websites and tools that will actually help and stick to them. Some social media tools, like Pinterest, can help you filter out the clutter and organize your thoughts. You can find tons of great ideas without having to visit dozens of different websites. I also highly suggest cutting the social media cord on the day of the wedding. No texting, no tweeting, no emailing, no Facebooking, unless it’s for strict wedding-logistics purposes. Enjoy every moment, but do it without a smart phone in hand.
- Look beyond the wedding: The build-up to your wedding day can be overwhelming. Many brides spend months or years planning, and the rush of emotion culminating in that one day is huge. But that high doesn’t last forever, and sooner or later you’ll have to go back to everyday life. Take this as an opportunity: relax, enjoy the freedom that comes with no longer being a bride, and start thinking about what it means to finally be married.
In the end, marriage is about so much more than a wedding. The details of your big day don’t have to define the rest of your life. Eventually, people will even stop asking you about your wedding. (I haven’t reached that blissful day yet, but I’m sure it’s coming.) After all, the wedding is only the beginning - it’s what you do for the next 10, 20 or 50 years that really counts.
“Some women don’t want to get trapped as the primary breadwinner. They feel they’re going to lose flexibility and choice in their lives — maybe if they want to stay home with the kids it’s going to be less feasible? They are getting their head around the idea that they’re providing.”
I can definitely understand that feeling.
Do we really still need to define women by our marital status?
"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to."
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941
"That quiet mutual gaze of a trusting husband and wife is like the first moment of rest or refuge from a great weariness or a great danger—not to be interfered with by speech or action which would distract the sensations from the fresh enjoyment of repose."