I'm at that age where my friends are starting to get engaged.
Once I hit my "mid-twenties," these announcements trickled in slowly, and then, all at once. Sometimes it seems like not a week goes by where I don't hear about someone I know getting engaged and/or married.
While I was a little jolted at first (Just a few years ago I was drinking cheap beer out of Solo cups in a dimly lit basement with that person, and now they're grown up enough to be engaged!?), I am no longer surprised when another one of my friends announces their plans to wed.
By nature, I am a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. So when I hear that two people have decided to spend the rest of their lives together, I am genuinely happy for them and excited to watch their relationship progress.
But somewhere, buried deep beneath the idealist, there exists within me a realist.
And that realist looks at divorce rates and at human nature and wonders how so many people still decide to embark on this crazy little adventure called marriage. It's certainly not for everyone, and for some, it takes more than one try to get it right.
The realist in me believes that nobody who promises their life to another person actually understands the enormity of the decision they are making. Nobody does -- because marriage is something you cannot understand until you actually live it.
The decision to spend the rest of your days with someone is like signing up to run a triathlon without knowing anything about the course ahead of you. Without knowing anything about the weather that day. Without knowing anything about the state you will be in by the last stretch of the race.
The decision to marry someone is, in many ways, an act of blind faith.
Nobody can truly prepare us for the curve balls life will throw at us. No amount of self-help books or marriage advice from other couples can prime us for the unique path our own marriages will take. Nobody can tell us who we will be or who our partner will be decades down the road.
I look at my parents, who were just a few months older than I am now when they got engaged. I wonder if they ever could have predicted then what their life would be like now. After more than 31 years of marriage, they have remained at each others' sides through career changes, caring for sick parents, the loss of their parents, the birth of their children, the process of raising children, location changes, financial ups and downs and a lot of other things that I, as a 24-year-old, can't begin to understand.
In our twenties, we think we know what love is. And to some degree, we do. Most of us have let go of the ideals we clung to as teenagers. Most of us have learned by now that love is a promise and an action -- not just a feeling -- and that relationships are hard work.
My idea of love is much different at 24 than it was at 18, but I also know that in just a few years, that idea will have evolved into something entirely different. I can't begin to imagine what love will look like when I am my parents' age.
The realist in me knows that signing a contract that binds you to another person for more than double the amount of time you've even been alive is preposterous. The realist in me knows that it is like diving headfirst into a pool with no idea how hot or cold the water might be. The realist in me knows that statistically, only about half of the engagement announcements I see on Facebook today will actually turn into lifelong unions.
And yet... and yet...
And yet I look beside me at the woman I love, and the hopeless romantic in me knows that hers is the face I want to wake up to day in and day out. The hopeless romantic in me knows that I will still want to run my hands through that thick mop of strawberry blonde hair when it is peppered with gray. The hopeless romantic in me remembers that my Mom said she knew she had found her forever love when she and my Dad (both just 22 at the time) spent all night talking and laughing in her driveway -- until they woke up her parents, who were sleeping in the house. The hopeless romantic in me smiles because I knew I had found mine when my girlfriend and I spent an entire day just talking and laughing on her couch -- until we suddenly realized it was 9 p.m. and we hadn't eaten dinner yet.
So the realist in me knows that promising to spend more time than you've even been alive with one other person is completely irrational.
But the hopeless romantic in me? Well, she knows something else.