Eight of my 10 best friends got married in the last three years. Skip the math and stay with me because that's not counting co-workers, casual acquaintances, cousins, ex-boyfriends and the like.
Somewhere amidst the blur of wedding chiffon and rose bouquets, I ducked out of the American Dream, thus becoming the tongue-in-cheek title-bearer of, "That friend who has left the state/country and you never know when or if you'll see them again."
This was bestowed with affection, of course. But after only a few months of traveling, I started to become increasingly aware of the weird (and totally unnecessary) spirit of competition between these two lifestyles. I noticed my unmarried friends dropping the word marriage as if it were a word meant to be chased down with pickle juice and a lick of salt. Unbearable. Smothering. Less worthy.
I'm sure I'm not the only 20-something with a newsfeed featuring people poking fun at their friend's married lifestyles, posting statues like, "Everyone's getting married, and I'm over here like, 'Who wants to day drink?!'"
My question became this: Why do we need to tear one lifestyle down in order to celebrate another?
So you're 24 and you're not married. Congratulations. You're 24 and you have a husband or a wife. Congratulations.
I don't think either lifestyle needs to be compared to, or in competition with, the other. Instead, I want to talk about six things I learned about marriage from the time I spent one year traveling across three continents, single as a Pringle.
If you ever needed proof that marriage and high-strung singlehood can indeed co-exist, read on.
1. No matter how far you travel, you can't run from yourself.
Surprise! Problems at home and in your heart will follow you until you choose to face them. I crashed head-first into this realization two weeks into my year-long escapade.
Anyone walking through the public park in Negotin, Serbia last September would've seen a girl sitting on a bench drinking vodka out of a paper bag, wondering why her problems hadn't magically evaporated in the shiny light of international adventure. A smart man once declared, "Wherever you go, there you are." Why not take the time to explore your motivations, instead of letting them catch up to you later on? (And they will. And they will sack you. And you will be very unprepared.)
2. Even the most independent people still long for community and relationships.
There's a reason things like hostels, bars and festivals exist en masse overseas. The hotel and restaurant industries know something we don't: No matter how far away we get from home, we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Exploring Hindu temples or celebrating Holi Festival wouldn't be the same without the presence of others. At our core, we were created for community. Leaning into that desire and building friendships, no matter how short the interaction, will stretch the expanse of your heart and create a home right where your feet are.
3. Marriage truly may not be "for you," but there's a good chance it's just "not for you right now."
I don't think it's any coincidence that the guys and girls who protest marriage the loudest are the ones who, deep down, crave devotion the most. And yet, as with all things, singleness is a season.
Don't miss out on the opportunities you have as a single guy or girl because you're too busy watching Betty Sue say "Yes to the Dress," or staring into the blue glow of your Pinterest wedding board. Whether companionship is priority level one or level 901, live the life you have now as if you'll never get this day back -- because you won't.
4. All the money and travel in the world can't buy happiness.
I have a fellow backpacker who finds one couple in every country to ask, "What is the secret to a happy marriage?" The best answer she got was, "I've fallen for several men with money, who could provide my every whim. But I married the one who was my best friend."
I've been in situations where I've had more money than I could spend, and situations where I went to bed hungry. But when the going gets tough, when angry Asian Tuk-Tuk drivers try to scam you, when you're bent over the squatty potty barfing up last night's dim sum, money won't hold your hand.
Loneliness is universal, and can't be healed with cash. Bear this in mind the next time you see the object of your affection citing status as a reason for talking down to another person or wielding a credit card like it's gonna bippity-boopity-boo your communication issues away.
5. You can learn to love literally anyone.
Traveling in a group is a lot like entering into an arranged marriage. Even if you have the opportunity to select every person on your journey, there will come a time when you will look at that person and wish they would get caught beneath a stampeding herd of wild elephants.
As ironic as it is, traveling as a young single is some of the best prep for marriage you will ever get. You learn how to engage in uncomfortable conversations and reach resolution. You learn the importance of open, honest communication and you realize that some of the best relationships are ones that didn't just "happen."
Choosing to love a person on good days, bad hair days, sick days and every other day in between will teach you how to one day choose one person over and over again.
6. Casual sex and dating will never be comparable to the relationship of marriage.
A lot of articles circulate these days either celebrating or unmasking the "Friends"-type of single lifestyle. Personally, I lean heavily toward the latter, and I feel fine saying so because I've been on the other side of the coin.
If you want to spend the time you have as a single individual savoring the freedom of casual relationships, I'm not here to condemn you. Meeting and falling for people is how we learn not only who we are, but how love works.
Just be careful not to put your experiences on par with a lifetime of monogamy, or use your stories to paint a picture of a "more ideal" life to committed couples. Odds are, one day, you'll be that couple listening to a younger version of yourself in different skin, grinning and thinking, "Ah, young Padawan. If only you knew."