01/06/2014 10:35 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2014

In Defense of the "M" Word

Many of you may have seen the article "23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You're 23" making its way around Facebook and the blogosphere recently. Similar lists and some counter-lists have also begun popping up in response.

I never expected to be posting about relationships and marriage, but the author has raised an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I have several close friends who are under 23 and currently engaged or already married. I also have just as many close friends of the same age who run the relationship gamut, from never having been in a relationship to single by choice to those who have been committed to their partner for years with no intention of taking that "next step" any time soon. As much as I'm willing to defend my own relationship choices (I fall into the second, single camp presently), I'm even more protective of the friends that are making their own respective decisions.

I agree with the author's basic sentiment -- that you shouldn't feel obligated to get engaged young -- but you shouldn't feel obligated to NOT get engaged young either. There seems to be a growing social undercurrent, particularly for young females, to resist marriage as an old-fashioned institution and focus instead on building a successful career. My question is this: why can't you have both? There are more than a few successful professionals out there who married young. If you've met someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, and marriage is a feasible, desirable option, then why wait?

Marriage at a young age is not the "cop-out" that the author claims it to be. I certainly advocate developing yourself as a person outside a relationship and achieving a certain level of maturity, but personal growth doesn't stop as soon as you say "I do". From what I've seen and heard from my engaged and married friends, being legally bound to another person at any age presents a whole different breed of challenges and ample opportunities to get to know both yourself and your partner. Add children into the mix and you've got a whole lot of life lessons to be learned!

It's hard to take this kind of list seriously, not only because of the judgmental tone, but because marriage is not something that is guaranteed for everyone. It's not an inevitable life event, like death or a specific birthday. In fact, all of the 23 things that the author lists can be accomplished whether you're married or not -- though whether they are all things you personally wish to achieve is a different matter entirely. There is no right or wrong way to indulge the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your wanderlust.

The truth is that no amount of advice from a blog or magazine can tell you what will make you happy. Take some time to figure it out for yourself. Make your own list and then go do the things that mean the most you. If marriage isn't on that list, power to you! If it is, then I wish you every happiness and a cake that tastes as good as it looks. There's only one thing you should do before you get engaged: thoroughly think through the decision.