Going after experience instead of a ring, post-graduation

On the evening of her graduation from the University of South Florida, my mom's boyfriend became her fiancé. He asked my grandfather for her hand at the nicest steakhouse in Tampa, and he agreed. They celebrated with a $30 bottle of wine.

The only similarity my own college graduation shares with my mother's is that we both ate some decent steak after we received our diplomas. But while I dined at Cypress with my roommates and their families, there was not a man on one knee in sight. The banquet seemed to be a celebration of that very fact. Our house has big plans for the near future, and none of them involve engagement, marriage, or children.

I'm spending the summer in Prague at a creative writing program. (My mom made it to Europe only after having been married for a few years.) Avery is already bumming around Fiji and will be traveling the rest of the planet for six months with friends. Brooke is backpacking through Europe, and Katie is tackling the nightmare that is the post-undergrad corporate job hunt. 'Sup, Blackbaud?

Don't get me wrong, I've been having pangs of maternal longing since I was 17. I imagined the future holding a quirky cottage decorated with easels, journals full of genius scribblings, a set of red Le Creuset pots, and seven naked hippie babies playing in the garden. Instead, I was awarded with a bed in an all-girls dorm and a realization that it'd be many, many years before I'd settle down.

My mother was married in her backyard, amid a garden that her father had planted just for the occasion. It's heartbreaking to hear her describe her feelings as she parroted her husband's vows.

In The Graduate's final scenes, Benjamin arrives at the church just as Elaine and her fiancé are exchanging vows. He pummels the window and screams her name until she notices he's come to save her. My mom maintains that during her own wedding ceremony, she was hoping for the same thing, someone to swoop in and rescue her. She knew it was a mistake. But no one talked her out of marriage, and no one came. She spent nine years with her first husband, and only because she thought it was the thing to do.

And it was, for women just out of college. Most women were engaged or married by their graduation day. Birth control hadn't been made widely available, and believe it or not, they wanted to have sex. Female earning power was nothing like it is almost 40 years later, and ladies were dependent on men for financial support. Now, it's just the opposite, and I'm incredibly thankful. The shotgun wedding is becoming less and less common.

I often say that I won't even consider marriage until I'm 30, but I know it's not really about numbers. I can't trust myself to pick a bedroom set I'll like for a few years, much less a man to share it. In one of her more eloquent musings, my mother said, "I hope you fall in love a thousand times." At first, I thought she seemed flippant about men. Now, I realize that all she wanted for me was the time and experience to make a wise decision about a partner.

I've long believed that once one conquers singlehood, someone comes along and screws it up. Nothing is more attractive than a person comfortable with their own company and satisfied with their interests. The longer I'm single, the more I appreciate it, and I know the three coming years in graduate school will be more telling than any so far. It's a time to tick things off the list, to become more decisive about what exactly it is that I want. Right now, I'm positive that the degree I'm after is a MFA, not a MRS.

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