Sex + Dating

Why I'm Incredibly Happy I Didn't Get Married in My 20s

Assuming I can avoid a horrific motorcycle accident and anything created by Russell Brand for another month, I will turn 34 in July. And according to global averages, that puts me about halfway around the board in the game of life.

Backing things out from the time I’m likely to croak, I find that where I am now rests squarely on the moves I made -- or didn’t make -- during a very particular time in my life: my 20s. And perhaps most specifically, my ability to be the man I am today is directly related to the fact that I didn't stroll down any aisles to say my "I dos" during that decade.

Your 20s are for transformation

During my mid- to late-20s, I changed in more ways than during any other stretch of my life. A close second is the 0–7 era, during which time I successfully scrapped “frequent pant-shitting” from my résumé, learned the fundamentals of math and religion, and discovered, explored, and regularly regretted my infatuation with women.

Not entirely in that order.

Right after college graduation, submerged in debt and void of any hereditary financing, I was forced to let go of a business I loved that I started with two friends. In its place, I got a “real job” and spent several years working no fewer than 60 hours a week. I made friends, lost friends, traveled alone, networked, schmoozed, started drinking wine, barely slept, and took great pride in acting like I knew what “stress” was.

Who you want in your 20s changes

On the brink of my 20s, after years of consistent rejection and resentment, I saw a spike in positive attention from women. I started getting laid, I stopped worrying about the molecular measurements of my dick, and I started feeling like I had options beyond the oiled-up end of my arm. As a result, my understanding of and confidence in sexuality took several big turns.

Those turns had profound impacts on my self-image and self-awareness, on my theories of compatibility, on distinctions between intimacy and investment, and on my access to empathy. I built up the strength to shift my priorities and developed a confident sense of what I wanted in a partner, what I needed in a partner, and what I’d have to improve if I ever wanted to hold on to either.

You realize your own mortality

In my 20s, I lost two of my best friends to a random act of violence, one to heart failure, and two former classmates to suicide. Over those same years, I attended more weddings than a Mormon matchmaker, got monthly tours of friends’ new homes and condos, and somehow accidentally configured my Facebook feed to only display pregnancy countdowns and babies wearing “funny” T-shirts.

As I recognized my own mortality, I also started earning more than a comfortable amount of money -- and right before my 30th birthday, I took an opportunity to move to another country for a new job and two years of a new life.

In your 30s, you suddenly know who you are

That decade-deep stew of infinitely taxing shit boiled down to a stern understanding of exactly what was important to me and exactly what kinds of risks I truly am and should be willing to take. From friends and family to time and travel, it developed in me a firm understanding of what needs to be sacrificed, when it needs to be sacrificed, and how much sacrifice I am actually able to endure. It confirmed the conditions in which I would jerk off or jump to, and it drew clear lines for me between inspiration and irritation.

My arm’s length from commitment gave me the gift of safely juggling romance and reality. It provided me with a clear lens through which I could examine and acknowledge the nuances of marriage, authenticity, and permanence -- and then admit out loud the shades of each in which I am willing to live -- and for how long I think I am capable of living there.

Getting married in your 20s hinders your evolution

There were certainly times when I felt like I needed someone with whom I could share a story, a laugh, a bottomless bag of popcorn, or a relentless boner -- and I certainly had girlfriends of every ilk with whom to share those things along the way -- but looking back, at no time would it have been wise for me to share my evolution. It was too consuming.

I have never had anything against the institution of marriage or the people in my past with whom I avoided it. There’s just no way I could have gotten here, crisis preemptively averted, if I had locked myself into a “lifelong” agreement to split my consciousness with one particular person who was likely to be wrestling transitions of the exact same seismic proportions at the exact same fucking time.

Of course, growing together with someone was an option. Many might (and probably will) argue that had I found “the right” someone, my journey to balance, self-acceptance, and certainty would have been similarly effective. To me, however, that argument smacks of the very inexperience it’s flaccidly trying to deny. Sure, everybody is different and there are plenty of marriages in which everybody is always afforded the most productive levels of comfort and exploration. But that’s not how things usually go -- we know this anecdotally, and we know this mathematically.

Had I dedicated myself to a tandem model, I wouldn’t have grown enough. I would have been scared to make radical pivots and embarrassing mistakes, and due to the formality and perceived gravity of the context, I would have been compelled to be some theoretical “man I am supposed to be” rather than figuring out the practical pieces of the man I actually am.

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Benjamin Mann is the author of the blogs This Is Your Brain on Dating, and Love Gone Cray, and the editor-in-chief for Stay tuned in six years for his next installment, "Thank God I Didn't Get Married in My 30s."
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