(Guest Post By Ashlee Bratton)
Let’s talk about happily ever after.
Several years ago I created a list of 30 things I wanted to do before turning 30 years old, a bucket list, if you will. When I originally created this 30×30 list and gave my dreams to God, I had no idea that I would be blessed to cross off 29 of those 30 items. God is good.
To be quite honest, I almost put “get married” on the list. Almost.
A happy, healthy, long-term relationship–sounds like a normal thing for a twenty-something girl to want, right? So why wasn’t it on the list? If it’s something I want someday in my future then that seems like a natural thing to put on the list, right? But as I thought about it, I wanted to put things on my list that were within my realm of control and my sphere of influence. I didn’t want to limit something so monumental and life changing to a number and a check on the ol’ to-do list. Why would I want to set a deadline that would put undue and undeserved pressure on something that I was only 50% part of the equation? Getting married is not a “to-do” item. That is a season of life all its own that will come naturally and in its own time. Who am I to put a deadline on that?
There have been two times in my life that I have had to make some tough decisions regarding entering into that commitment and that season of life, and with God’s guidance, twice I chose not to. With all due respect to the men from my past, the relationships were intriguing, they are remembered fondly… but I am grateful that I didn’t marry either of them. If it’s not right, it’s not right. If all I wanted was a ring on my finger I could’ve had that. But I don’t just want a ring, I want a happily ever after given by my Maker. My girl heart was wired for it. As beautiful as entering that chapter may be, I also know that my life does not begin with that ring. There is life before happily ever after.
It seems more acceptable to have been married and divorced at this age than to not have married at all.
I don’t generally get accolades for choosing to not enter into something that wasn’t right and for not being a divorce statistic… typically no bravos for making good choices up to this point. Sometimes it takes more strength to walk away than to stay.
Too many people get married just to get married, forcing something that deep down they know better. They do it because they think that’s what’s expected of them, or because that’s what’s supposed to be next, they don’t think there’s anyone better, or because they’re afraid to be alone. There are a lot of reasons why people get married, not everyone does it for the right reasons. We’ve all seen it. It never turns out well. Heartbreaking.
Refusing to settle for “right now” is not anti-marriage or being too picky… it’s being strong enough to know where you’re at and being stable enough to be selective about who is in the seat next to you throughout life’s journey. Choose poorly and the journey is going to be an extremely rough one.
I’m sure there are some people reading this right now that might admit to themselves, “That’s me, I’m in that category.” No matter what choices we’ve made or what poor situation we’ve gotten ourselves into, there is One who can turn it all around if we trust Him to do so. His timing is perfect. He is the Ultimate Matchmaker, and He’s got a personalized plan for each individual no matter what’s in our past. We’ve just got to give up our plan for His.
So I left that little item off my 30×30 list on purpose, and I am so glad I did.
There is a spontaneous streak in me that can be dangerous at times. I know this about myself. In order to avoid panicking and the temptation to do something rash–like wake up in Vegas or order a mail-order groom—I decided instead to leave that particular life’s desire off the official list and leave my heart up to my Maker and his timing… and not Vegas or the mailman. But just because I purposefully chose to take the pressure off myself and be released from that numerical deadline doesn’t mean everyone else was okay with my decision.
I’ve noticed that my singlehood can make people uncomfortable.
They want to “figure it out.” I’ve even had a dear co-worker sincerely ask, “Why hasn’t anyone scooped you up yet?” True story. Try answering that one at the water cooler. The look on his face and his puzzled expression was priceless. There’s this weird and unspoken underlying expectation in society that if I’m to be considered normal, by the time I turn 30 I’m to get a degree, get a career, get a car, get a husband, get kids, get a house and oh, by the way, look and feel the best in my entire life. Is anybody else’s head spinning from the pressure?
What happens if all that doesn’t happen in that short ten-year time frame? Ten years seems like such a wee amount of time to fit so many momentous things if I hopefully have multiple decades to live on this earth. What if I don’t have all those things or do all those things in my twenties, am I a failure? I may want them or desire to someday have them, but if they don’t happen in the allotted time frame of my twenties, is there something wrong with me or did I not do something right? With all the amazing things and blessings I’ve experienced in my life, why am I judged on that one thing?
Not everyone meets that special someone in college or within the first five years after high school. If you did and that’s your story, congratulations! I love my friends who did and I have had the honor of standing in many a wedding celebrating their next chapter. But if you didn’t find that special someone early on and you’re still waiting, trust me, you’re not the only one. God has an individual plan for each and every one of us and it does not look the same or like anybody else’s personalized plan.
Growing up my mom used to smile at me and say, “You certainly break the mold!” I’ve heard this more times than I can count. I don’t know if I break any molds, but I certainly don’t fit into one. My story is not the standard stereotypical story. It never has been. Honestly, I would probably be disappointed if it were. Just because I’m okay and have peace with the twists and turns in my journey does not mean everyone else does.
People can get weird about this.
Sometimes I dread the standard introductory questions when first meeting new people because I don’t have a standard introductory answer that’s comfortable. And since I work with the public, it happens a lot. “Are you married?” seems to surface almost every time. My standard answer usually falls somewhere along the lines of, “Not that I know of,” complete with a smile and a giggle to match theirs. Often times I can see it run across their face even if they don’t say the words. “Why not?” I can see them sizing me up, internally asking themselves “I wonder what’s wrong with her. She looks normal. Seems like a good catch. Pity.”
This is not in my head. I’ve actually had a gentleman in a coffee shop sit down next to me and say that very thing after less than three minutes of conversation. No joke. I’ve also had a perfect stranger ask me if I’m gay right after asking me if I was married. People need to put me in a box, they need a label. I can’t blame them, they just don’t understand. I’ve become quite excellent at changing subjects.
Leaving that off the 30×30 list was intentional.
Putting “have a marriage more beautiful than the wedding” on the newly created Next List was too. God blessed me with the inspiration of the 30×30 list and then equipped me to accomplish 29 of those 30 items. He’s even more involved with this Next List, because I’ve asked Him to be. As I create this new Next List, I have a new trust and faith that I didn’t have before.
Will there be items on this Next List that are unanswered prayers? Maybe. But that’s a risk I’m going to need to be willing to take. I am choosing to live life off the couch and out of hiding, choosing to give all the fears and insecurities to the One that holds my past, my present, and my future.
There is life before happily ever after. Timing is everything and I trust that my steps are ordered and that God will keep me moving in the right direction. He’s got this whole thing covered. Eventually that direction will be dancing down an aisle and into a happy, healthy ever-after relationship, but until that day comes I have a lot of other fabulous goals and adventures to keep me engaged until then.
When it comes to the man in my life, I know he’s worth the wait. Extraordinary takes time. And if somehow he’s reading these words right now, he’s probably smiling. Cheers to the Next List, my God-given ever after, and all that comes with it!
Ashlee Bratton – author of the book “Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket” is a professional photographer and freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and master’s degree in business administration. Along with completing 29 of the 30 things on her 30×30 bucket list, her writing contributions include numerous publications such as Vail’s EAT magazine, creating a 56 page Visitor Guide for a mountain ski town, blogging and guest blogging, being featured in multiple newspapers and e-zines, and various other projects. Her next book, “Life Before Happily Ever After” is currently in the works and set to come out next year. Currently, she keeps her camera in hand in Southern Colorado, is a complete and total foodie, and takes plane rides for fun. She likes things that go.