When I was 28, I received a letter from myself from 10 years prior that I had written as a college assignment. Since I had been a pain in the ass overachiever trying my best to feign a casual vibe, my letter was a mix of shallow observations about what my life was like ("It's awesome living in a dorm!") tempered with exacting lists of what I should have achieved by that point in the future. (No, I was not popular in college. How did you know?)
The list included:
- Write a book
- Move out of my parents' house and into a city
- Get in the New York Times wedding section (with a note that said, "But not till you're 30")
So here I am at 30. That letter, for reasons only a therapist would understand, has haunted me since. I only achieved #2 on the list -- and even then, after five years of city life, I escaped to the suburbs that surrounded the college where that letter was written. I'm engaged, so I kind of fulfilled #3. However, as I look around my cramped 1-bedroom apartment, I could feel my younger self judging me.
Here's the truth: Even though I am in a very happy relationship with someone who is my best friend, we would never, ever, ever make the NYT wedding section. But the obsession with the NYT wedding announcements dates back to even before Carrie Bradshaw called them the "single girl sports pages." To my younger self, trying to form an identity, it was an instructional guide to becoming the "right" sort of adult.
Here we are, not being the "right" sort of adults in my office.
To be listed, you needed to go to the right schools, have the right families or have contributed something to society. Failing that, you have to have a remarkably interesting "how we met" story. (Bonus points if it involved international aid work and/or being 80+.) Failing that, you could make it in there if you had an extremely magnificent or extremely creative wedding.
Here is how we stack up:
We didn't go to the "right" schools.
We first met at a no-name private school whose only claim to fame has been starring in an interior location shot for the musical "Annie." Also, they gave Jon Bon Jovi an honorary doctorate. That's about it.
Our parents are not prominent people.
My grandmother, however, was a member of the TomKats, a Tom Jones appreciation club. She met him once and was so starstruck she could not speak. (A true rarity.) I've been tempted to invite him to the wedding, but I am sure he doesn't remember that life-changing encounter.
We are not people of impressive means.
My fiance has proudly owned a pair of cargo shorts from the Clinton Administration, which he happily wears whenever the temperature reads above 50 degrees. Our wedding budget is not so much a budget but a punchline to whoever we call to ask about booking anything.
We haven't contributed anything lasting to the culture at large.
I've written a series of letters called "Please stop leaving the cabinet doors open." He's responded with "Please stop buying kale, we both know that tastes like sock-flavored cellophane." Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning we are not.
There isn't a touching, heartfelt story behind our union.
We didn't speak to each other for six years because of a misunderstanding around a mutual acquaintance asking me out. Once we did start talking again, we immediately started dating. Done and done.
Our proposal wasn't viral-worthy.
He lead me to a stretch of boardwalk on a misty evening. When he proposed, my stunned response was a mildly alarmed "Are you sure?" I repeated this over and over, while he lost confidence. For a while after that, he wasn't 100 percent sure we were actually engaged. I am very glad this moment wasn't recorded.
In short, we are pretty average, as far as couples go. Our achievements can't be measured in newsprint. But I've accepted that I haven't done the things I thought I'd do when I girlishly wrote that letter. I haven't chosen an "important person," I haven't written a book and while I have been on TV, it was to awkwardly show the world how to clean their carpet with shaving cream. On weekends, I am clad in yoga pants like every other suburban lady, running my errands. It takes the threat of entertaining to get our house to look like adults live there.
It's a really happy life, if a quiet one. Was this what I pictured 12 years ago? No. But then again, my definition of happiness has changed dramatically since then.
So, if I could ever respond to my younger self via letter, I would say this: Shut up.