From the second I said yes, I knew I had made a mistake. I accepted the ring, my fingers trembling, panicked anxiety sinking into the depths of me, into that place behind your intestines that aches when something REALLY bad happens. I was 21 years old, three quarters of the way through college, and I was engaged. My anxiety was apparent. Moments after the question that changed everything, eyes locked upon my finger, my recent fiancé said “You can say ‘no’ if you want.” “No, No” I replied, more to myself than to anyone, “I want this”. I want to want this.
I wanted this someday, but I certainly didn’t want it at 21. Regardless, we moved into an apartment together for our last year of school as planned. I refused to discuss any details of a wedding, look at venues, or even set a date. Bridal magazines made me nauseous, Khloe Kardashian’s wedding special made me cry. The tension between the two of us rose. It was a fight between the future and the present and I began to resent him for proposing, for changing everything and putting the pressure on me. I told the outside world, “We’re still in school, once we graduate we’ll think about a wedding.” It was a convenient and plausible line.
So what to do? How to make the two parts agree with each other: The part of me that wanted to be married and the part of me that wanted to act like a 21 year old? I did what I like to think any immature person would do- I tried to have both lives. I stayed engaged, thinking I would “grow” into it, but found an escape through weekend (and eventually weeknight) excursions with my high school friends, leaving my fiancé and “other” college life behind. Route 495 became my lifeline- travelling the 73 miles from North Central MA to my hometown at least once a week to live a different life, to be a different person. And I was. Soon enough that life became my real life and I found myself rationalizing its development. All parts of my “escape” had become better than the reality.
My quarter life crisis had nothing to do with my career- that part of my life was great. My quarter life crisis was the development of this other person- the person I acted as to escape commitments I should never have made. At a certain point I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was now two completely different people. I hated one of them and resented the other. I needed to stop wallowing in Jimmy Eat World and Fall Out Boy lyrics and make a decision. I had to bring these two people back together, and become ONE person- a person I was proud to be.
So one morning over iced coffee and pop tarts, I left. It was no surprise, no secret that my relationship was not working. We fought during the majority of our engagement had already decided who would get what of our shared possessions. But actually doing it – taking off the ring I had worn for over a year and leaving- was a shock. I couldn’t believe I had finally done it. I was proud. After a car ride of hysterical crying and meowing (obviously, our cat came with me), I found myself moving into my younger sister’s bedroom at my parents’ house (my own had long since been turned into a sewing room.)
What I was left with, besides a relatively substantial amount of guilt, was the opportunity to redefine my character and the components of my life. To define myself as one person whose life had all the aspects I was looking for, hopefully none of which would make me feel anxious and the need to escape. Two years later, I feel like I’ve done that. I am in a great relationship based on honesty and being open with each other about what we want and need, both now and in the future. My relationship is part of my social life- I am no longer running away. I am the same person holding myself to the same standards seven days a week.
One of my many takeaways from the great debacle of 2009-2010 is not to commit to things you WANT to want, but rather to commit to things you actually want. And yes, that line can be blurry. Sure, I still buy and immediately return the occasional shirt, but for the most part I make decisions that I’m committed to. I make decisions for myself. Not because I‘m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, or because I think it’s what I think should be doing. And that, that feels good.
Cait lives in Foxboro, MA with her boyfriend and stuffed animal cat (because real cats aren’t allowed there). She enjoys puns, audiobooks and studying the Titanic. Cait works in Public Relations for a global Life Science company based in Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter @CaitHealey
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.