Why I'm So Grateful I Didn't Get Married In My 20s

by Zara Barrie
Studio Firma

It finally happened. Yours truly graduated from the wild, salacious, manic sh*t storm of her 20s. I'm now a smug, fully-realized 30-year-old woman. I've officially crossed over from the ratchet, hellacious side of life to the soft, ~sweet~ side.

It's no secret that I'm a wildly dramatic girl creature, so naturally I turned my 30th birthday into a giant excuse to embark on a harrowing, soulful "life reflection." Yeah, I've been doing a lot of thinkin' and drinkin' about the last ten years. And whenever I toss back the wine and feel those sweet sulfates go down my throat, my brain circles back to the same question: Do I have regrets?

Well, yes. I regret cutting my hair into that god-awful unflattering bob that made me ugly for a year, and of course that one time I almost OD'd by mixing Xanax and speed (my parents really didn't deserve that one).

However, there is so much more that I DON'T regret. Like the colorful meltdowns, the temporary triumphs, the endless embarrassment, the rejection, the times I packed up my sh*t and started over, the bad dates, the bad sex, the brutal hangovers and, most of all, the sea of beautiful, screwy, wonderful people I fell in and out of love with.

The other day, I overheard a 24-year-old muster up the following sentence: "Well, I need to start at least trying to meet the one NOW so I can be married BEFORE 30! NO ONE WANTS TO BE UNMARRIED BY 30!"

I swear, I was so taken aback by her words that I almost spit out the $12 cold-pressed juice I'd been drinking.

What is this, the 19-f*cking-50s? I thought to myself, horror-stricken that women still think in age deadlines.

I have this problem that when I'm deeply horrified by a conversation, I can't help but chime in and insert my totally unsolicited opinion. So I blurted, "Getting married in your 20s is f*cking stupid! You don't even know who you are! DON'T DO IT!"

PSA: Do not voice your opinion on marriage to strangers, especially when those strangers happen to be perfectly coiffed sorority sisters. The Alpha-Beta-Whatever tribe doesn't screw around, and hell hath no fury like a sorority girl on the husband prowl. Before I knew it, a bevy of blow-dried babes were throwing me a collective gaze of death so severe, it almost knocked me off my chair.

Sheesh. Lesson learned. Next time, I will keep my thoughts and opinions to myself (and the Internet).

I made a swift exit before their mean girl gazes triggered old feelings of being the 12-year-old lesbian freak hiding in the library at lunch and took a cab uptown. As I watched New York fly past my mascara-adorned eyes, I really tried to imagine my life if I HAD married in my 20s.

As a kid, my mother viewed getting married before 30 as a sin so bad, it would make you worthy of being cut out of the will.

"Zara, if you get married in your 20s, you're NOT get anything from me when I die. And I know you're vying for my vintage Cartier watch," mother darling would purr.

"Why?!" my younger self would ask, ready to be educated by the queen herself (plus, I really did want that watch).

"Because you need to be FREE in your 20s. Darling, you haven't even scratched the surface of WHO YOU ARE in your 20s. You think you're ready to meet your life partner? COME ON. Don't be daft." Her English accent sounded like honey being poured onto crispy, golden toast.

I was a kid, but I knew in my gut she was right. And I'm so damn grateful I didn't end up marrying in my 20s.

While the raw essence of who I was during my 20s has remained solid, my hopes, dreams, desires and even my sexuality have been fluid and ever-changing throughout the last ten years.

At 20, I dated a boy with a heart of gold who rode a bike and listened to death metal. He was a superstar chef who bestowed me with one of the greatest gifts of my life: a deep appreciation for food. He taught me to always order whatever the "chef recommends" and that the best way to explore a country is through its culinary palate. He singlehandedly helped me get over the screwed-up notion that food was the enemy, and instead presented it as a gorgeous art form.

I can't imagine the girl I would be without him.

But as I reached 21 and 22, I realized that while I loved this boy, my animalistic, raw, deep-rooted lust and love would exclusively lie with girls. I realized, Oh sh*t, I'm a dyke!

After this great epiphany, I was alone for a really, really long time. I moved from sunny LA to dark, romantic London. I met people, but nothing really stuck. I didn't have many friends, and I had no family to lean on.

Was it scary and dark at times? Hell yes. I was in a depression so black that I didn't think I would ever see the light again. And I went through it all as single as a dollar bill. I had no knight in shining armor to pick this hot mess off the floor.

But, you know what's so awesome about being single in the thick of your messy 20s? You learn how to clean up the mess yourself, and you discover the great freedom of knowing the only person who can rescue you is you.

Sadly, there is no shortcut to this lesson. It's a f*cking painful, brutal lesson, but it's one you gotta feel and experience in full if you want it to stick. Sometimes you have to think just in "I" and, for people like me, people who are deeply loving and tend to give, give, give to the people we love, it's impossible to think fully in "I" when we're in a committed relationship.

I entered my late 20s pretty strong. I moved to Florida and ran a theatre. I acted in movies, plays and commercials. I moved back to NYC and became a writer. I fell in love. I had my heart smashed into a million little pieces twice.

Each of these relationships taught me so much about who I am, what my standards are, what I'm willing to put up with and what I'm not, and the kind of person I want to end up with long term. Whether the people I dated sparked up my sex drive, showed me another way of living or broke down a steel wall, they helped shape me into the woman I am today.

And I like the woman I am today. I didn't think I would ever say that. But I'm here. No love is more powerful than the relationship I was able cultivate with myself. And that's a relationship that couldn't have flourished if I was married.

So now I'm 30, and I know that I'm totally f*cking fine on my own. Marriage will be the icing on an already pretty f*cking amazing cake.

In my 20s, I was afraid of love because I was so afraid of getting crushed and hurt. But now that I've been crushed and hurt many, MANY times -- and survived -- I'm not at all afraid of love anymore. I know I'll always be OK, and that changes the love game. It makes you fall in love for all the right reasons.

I will never, ever, ever be with someone for security. I will never, ever, EVER be with someone to fill the empty voids. I did both in my 20s, and now I know the difference. Plus, I'm secure. I filled the empty spaces myself.

I will only ever marry someone because I want that person. Not because of a deadline, or a fear, or loneliness. And it's because of the wild, single, heartbroken MESS of my unmarried 20s that I got here.

I like it over here. In fact, I think I'll stay here.