Where were you, Vanessa, when I needed you? A response to her article “23 things to do instead of getting engaged when you’re 23”

Travel Blogger and Huffington Post Contributor Vanessa Elizabeth posted a very honest (and well-written) perspective piece about the benefits of staying single into your 20s and 30s, and featured a list of the “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged When You’re 23”.  It seems all around her, single friends are dropping like flies. They are “copping out”, “afraid to face this scary world alone, and using marriage as the answer to make it all go away.

She shares the voices in her head (Quote: “Should I be thinking about marriage? I’ve never even had a serious boyfriend? Is there something wrong with me? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME AND WHY HAS NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT IT FOR ALL THESE YEARS!?”) and her resilient internal response (“But then I look at my life, my relationships, and my future… and I realize that, I’m fucking awesome. It literally isn’t me, it’s them.)

The institution of marriage has downright polarized Vanessa into simultaneously patting herself on the back and punching herself in the face, declaring her singledom a shiny badge of honor like a younger Liz Lemon.


Yup, this pretty much sums it up.

I was one of those girls almost 30 years ago. I thought I was confident, wild and free (as a small town girl from Michigan could be), but found myself walking down the aisle at 23, staring down bridesmaids in fuchsia dresses and fake flower bouquets held together by hot glue and satin ribbon. I remember sitting alone in the annex before the ceremony, eyeing both the door to the sanctuary and the door to the outside… back and forth… and back again. Everyone was waiting for me, and “it was time for me to settle down.” Six years later, I was divorced, with a newborn and a new business, just having turned 30.

My ex-husband’s not a bad guy. We share a gorgeous now 24-year old daughter who I can’t imagine my life without. I’m remarried now for 21 years to my best friend and business partner and we have an 18-year old son, and I don’t regret a day of my life after 30. I’m here to tell you, as the perfect example of the outcomes her post suggests, and she’s awesome for sharing with the world her confidence and moxie. I do wish we were the same age years ago and we could have been friends, so she could slap my face and shake my shoulders like in the movies and yell at me to “SNAP OUT OF IT!”

But she wasn’t. And life happened. So I am here to (slightly) edit her list of “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged When You’re 23“, adding to it my extra years of time and experience I’ve had in this world to be delighted, disappointed, crushed and uplifted. Hers are first, and mine in italics:

1. Get a passport. Totally agree. In fact, I would urge all parents to run out and get passports for everyone, no matter how young. You never know when the opportunity will arise to venture out and explore this amazing world. Don’t delay in seeing this world, perspective is a rare and beautiful thing (see #2).

2. Find your “thing.” I say “Find your ‘Things’”. Tastes change you will surprise yourself with new “things” you can do. I am learning Portugese in my 50s!.

3. Make out with a stranger. Make it 25 strangers and you’ve got a deal.

4. Adopt a pet.  Yes, and love it until it’s time for them to visit the proverbial farm in the sky. Then grieve hard, and adopt another one. Pets are blankets for the soul.

5. Start a band. I’m not sure about this one. Not everyone’s a leader, or Jack Black. How about “Sing Karaoke both drunk and sober.” That will satisfy anyone’s need to be on stage and feel like both a rockstar, and the warm up act at a nursing home supper.

6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.  Baking can be fun, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I’d suggest finding an amazing bakery, buying the most luscious cake they have, and take it to your friend’s shower pretending to have made it. I’m not saying you gotta lie, I’m just saying when they ask you if you made it, just nod and smile and pretend to not hear the question. Also the phrase “Have your cake and eat it too” as an idiom means to “have it both ways”, like, to not sacrifice something. I think it applies more to #2.

7. Get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than a marriage. Yes, and when you’re middle aged, this may not be a good thing. Dolphins and unicorns and rainbows and kitties make sweet tramp stamps in your 20s, but add 30+ years of mileage to that and it starts to look like E.T. (That’s an 80’s film reference: This was a movie about a lovable alien with an LED in his finger who couldn’t get home.) I actually can’t speak for myself; even now I can’t think of any image I’d want inked onto my body forever. I’m way too fickle.

8. Explore a new religion.  Don’t stop at just one. Look into them all. What I’ve found is that there are mean-spirited, stressed out and really sweet, kind, loving and generous people within every faith on the planet. I’ve resigned myself to humanism – all for one, and one for all. (Or maybe that’s Three Musketeerism?)

9. Start a small business. Yes! This something I’ve done twice in my life, and being your own boss is RAD! It also sucks ass. But for the most part, RAD. Nothing teaches you responsibility, compassion, sacrifice and commitment more than being a small business owner. Being in charge of the livelihoods of a staff is one of the most humbling, rewarding and irritating experiences on the planet.

10. Cut your hair.  Sage advice and easy to pull off in your 20s. But then let it grow. And don’t get bangs at 44. I made this mistake and add it to the “WWIT” (what was I thinking?!) column of my life. Take vitamins and sweat in it and treat it nicely, it might choose to stick around longer (unless you were referring to unwanted facial hair, which WILL grow back immediately after plucking/tweezing/shaving/waxing/lasering/cursing it away.)

11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face. I’m not sure I’ve got that kinda energy. Why not just keep them as strangers and make out a little? That would take two away from the 25 person total in #3.

12. Build something with your hands. Oooh! Maybe one of those fancy clay pots like in “Ghost”? (Another 80s movie reference #2: The hot boyfriend of young Demi Moore is killed and comes back as a ghost to make pottery with her.) The best thing I’ve ever done with my hands is hug my kids, my greatest accomplishments.

13. Accomplish a Pinterest project.  I think “Pinterest” is Internet speak for “everything on here is absolutely undoable and if you try you will live in self-loathing for 10 years.” I think I’d have more fun burning a pile of Martha Stewart Living magazines (ma-ga-zeens: Monthly books printed on paper filled with anorexic women and more “How-Tos” and “If You’re Not Thans” than Pinterest. In fact, I’m pretty sure Pinterest was what happened when magazines and the internet had a baby. Nailed it!

14. Join the Peace Corps.  I can think of better ways to get over a breakup. But do go out and be a stand for something. Have opinions. Make your voice heard. And give like your life depended on it.

15. Disappoint your parents.  Done that. Inevitable too that your kids will disappoint you. Circle of life and love.

16. Watch Girlsover and over again. I’ve seen Season One but not Season Two. Don’t spoil it! I’ve definitely seen enough of Lena Dunham’s tatas. It’s comforting to know an entire younger generation of snark is coming up the ranks.

17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting. Aaaannnddd… then run 500 miles to work it off, or not, but most certainly never, ever, be able to smell hazelnut again.

18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places. Already do that without even trying. BAM!

19. Sign up for CrossFit. I respect that you stopped at “Sign Up.” that in no way implies “attend” or “finish”. I like the way you think.

20. Hang out naked in front of a window. Any takers? Which window are we talking about here?

21. Write your feelings down in a blog. Hey, I’m doing that right now! It does feel very liberating.

22. Be selfish. I totally agree! Being selfish is not a bad thing – it literally means “taking care of yourself.” I will do that right after work, feeding the dog, fixing dinner, doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, finishing more work, and getting ready for bed. I’ve slotted the glorious time of 10:58 and 11:02 to relax in sweet bliss and finish off my bottle of wine. 

23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year.  I would love to! The truth is (and I’ve found this to be true of all my hot, fabulous moms/friends my age) is that somewhere deep inside our foggy brains, we’re all still really fun. We love to laugh – mostly at ourselves and the stupid things we do that we never would have said out loud in our 20s. Please raise a glass for me while you’re there; I’ll do the same to you from my couch most likely watching a DVR’d episode of “Game of Thrones.” Xin Nian Kuai Le Goeffry!

Thanks, Vanessa, for inspiring this gal to have a bit of fun. In my research for this post, I realized we’re already following each other on Twitter! Kindred spirits I guess. Cheers 🙂

Click to grab your own copy of my book “Be Your Creative Sexy Self”.

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