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Life Before Marriage: Why You're Not An Adult Until You Tie The Knot

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LIFE BEFORE MARRIAGE
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By Kristin Koch for YourTango.com

I never had any hesitation that Andy was the one for me or that we would spend the rest of our lives together. After six years in a monogamous relationship -- including two cross-country moves, economic upheaval and layoffs, career changes, and a six-month stint living with his parents (no easy feat) -- it felt like we’d already made our relationship official.

But, like most women who are single well into their 20s, I felt pressured by girlfriends who insisted, "Everyone wants to get married" and, "You’re just saying you don’t care because you haven’t been proposed to yet." As most of my friends plodded their way to the altar, Andy and I enjoyed years of blissful cohabitation without ever worrying about if and when we’d tie the knot.

Over the years, we attended weddings by the dozen. Eventually he and I were one of the last unmarried pairs standing. Still, I wasn’t compelled to demand a ring. We were content. Certainly, people in our lives thought there had to be something wrong with our relationship, but we didn’t care what anyone thought.

Even during my years as an editor at a major wedding magazine, my bridal instincts failed to kick in. Sure, I felt the twinge of “something missing” every time a new coworker announced her engagement and was met with loads of fanfare, but that didn’t change how I felt deep inside: Andy and I didn’t need a piece of paper to affirm our commitment.

It wasn’t until my 30th birthday approached that I began to feel the first real impulse to get hitched. My career was thriving, but still, I sensed a barrier. It soon became apparent that my unmarried status was preventing me from being taken seriously as an adult and a professional. I was trapped in relationship purgatory.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I was blatantly ostracized. I wasn’t sent to the kiddie table or anything. But my colleagues weren’t that much more subtle. Answers to, "When's he going to pop the question?" or the classic, "Why aren't you married yet?” were demanded of me, insinuating that something must be wrong with me if my boyfriend hadn't proposed after all this time. If I dared to express my ambivalence about weddings and marriage, I was often met with disbelief. And not just from colleagues, but from friends too.

Then it happened: Andy and I decided to get engaged. And what was a personal decision between two people became a signal that they were right all along: Every woman does want to be a bride. Some people were self-righteous: "See, I told you that you wanted to get married," they would say, as if they had possessed insight into my deepest desires. Others simply felt relieved. I fit in. I was normal.

Of course, my stock quickly rose as soon as I exchanged my scarlet "S" for a sapphire engagement ring. Just like that, the same people who once made me feel pathetic for being ring-less suddenly admired me. It was like the door to an exclusive club had opened up to me. And membership had its privileges.

Suddenly, I had celebrity status among colleagues, friends -- even bosses. I was the most popular girl at any cocktail party, work event or meeting, and it wasn't just because they were vying for a wedding invite; I was celebrated just as much by acquaintances.

Over night, the older women in the office treated me like an equal instead of a kid. We shared stories about our partners, workout classes, the diets we were considering, vacation spots and restaurants. Even in meetings, my opinions and ideas were given more credence, as if the rock on my finger had raised my IQ. Previously my boss was always hesitant to take me seriously in a management role. Now I was more qualified to make assessments and changes to strategies and processes.

And it wasn't just higher-ups and colleagues who started treating me more like a peer. I felt far more connected to my friends, both married and engaged, than I had in years. Wives and fiancees of Andy's friends, who had once seemed to merely endure me, suddenly wanted to be friends -- real friends, not just friendly when we happened to be at the same cocktail party.

Over night, both sets of parents gained a newfound respect for me. When, pre-engagement, I had mentioned my desire to start up a freelance business, I got an earful (in stereo). Post-engagement, when I brought it up again (and then actually did it), no one questioned my decision. Gone were the insinuations that I was being impetuous and irresponsible.

The decision seemed unanimous: I was far more likable, interesting and respectable now that I was engaged.

I’ll be the first to admit, that’s what I was going for. I still didn’t care about the wedding or even the ring (though I love it). Andy and I were already committed. I just wanted the title; the status change. If a piece of paper would afford me the ability to be a real player in my career and a respected adult, I figured, why not?

Had I known how quickly a rock on my finger would have made my life easier, I might have popped the question to Andy a long time ago.

Though we haven’t walked down the aisle just yet, I've come to think of getting married as more akin to college or high school graduation than a romantic gesture or the real-life fairtyale we're led to believe it will be. It's a rite of passage that marks a person's transition into adulthood. And although we may leave the nest and support ourselves long before we marry these days, whether we like it or not, society still sees marriage as the ultimate maturity gauge -- for better or for worse.

What’s surprised me most is how different I feel since becoming engaged. As ironic as it sounds, I do feel more legit having had a ring on my finger for a while now. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I'm pretending to be an adult. Getting engaged has made me feel more like an adult than anything else in my life has -- far more than a director title, a mortgage approval or parenthood (hey, a puppy counts, right?).

So, did I sell out? You be the judge. But I will suggest that if Andy and I are happy, and everyone else in our lives is relieved/justified/delighted/fill-in-the-blank-here, then you might say: all’s well that ends well.

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