In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.
- Proverbs 16:9
When I was growing up - a kid, a teenager - I always thought I'd marry in my early 20's. Mom and Dad married in their early 20's. So did everyone else's moms and dads. When I went to weddings, that's how old the people getting married were - early 20's. By my late 20's I'd be entering parenthood, perhaps even twice over. I'd have a house and a couple cars. And a couple dogs. I'd be happily married.
This was the way the world worked, and this was my reality. This was how my life was going to be.
I still remember the first day of college. My aunt drops me off, gives me some cash, made a wise remark about how I probably was more than ready for her to leave, and then she took off. And I was left there, surrounded by a couple thousand mostly Christian girls. For the next 4 years.
How I screwed that one up, I'll never know. And yet somehow, before it all began, I already knew...
Later that morning at the first general assembly, the ancient dean of students crowed for us her centuries old mantra: "Look to your left, look to your right, your future mate may be in sight." Or something similar. It rhymed, I remember that much. She told us 80% of us would marry a fellow student of the institution. For many of us, that meant that, although we hadn't met them yet, our future mate was sitting in the same nervous room with us, at that very moment. Probably with their parents still sitting next to them too, helping them make their way through day 1. Not me, though - I was on my own, standing in the back of the auditorium, not knowing a soul in the room, and ready to do this college thing. And I was also vehemently opposed to the idea that I would be marrying someone I met there.
To this day, I don't know why that was. Perhaps it was just the rebellious streak I was on at that age - I wouldn't be grouped with the herd - I suppose. But, deep down, somewhere, I knew that my future mate wasn't going to be someone from the 4 years to come. I knew it right then and there. And time would prove me right. But it still took time for my preconceptions about my future to change.
Being surrounded by that many girls, and being free from an upbringing that had made girls all but taboo, and being the generally attractive single guy I was, I was soon dating. I enjoyed it, having a girl actually interested in you as a person - you above any other guy walking around that place. Someone to sit with at breakfast. Someone to go to the movies with, someone to study with. Someone to talk to on the phone when you were lying on your bed falling asleep, a few hundred yards away from her on hers. It was nice. And I still knew that I wouldn't be marrying someone from there. I had my doubts at times - but for the most part it was straight knowledge, strong as the first day, standing alone in the back of that auditorium. I think maybe it was somewhere around the middle of my college experience when I first started to realize that I might be in my mid-twenties when I was getting married, not the early 20's I had always imagined.
Pretty soon college spat me out, the same way it took me in - completely alone and ready to take on the next thing coming my way. Senior year went way south for me in the relationship realm - you can't go much lower than a painful breakup with the girl of your dreams. For one thing, you learn to stop having those kind of dreams.
I knew coming out of that storm that I needed to be single for a while just to get back to a healthy emotional state. I had been pretty heavily invested, so it took me a while - maybe a year or two. Not more than two, I don't think.
Around the end of that second year out of college, I moved to the NYC area and began another new chapter. Still alone. Busy with life. Not really thinking about the fact that I was fast burning through my mid twenties. And then they were gone.
I woke up this morning and I was 28. Officially in my late twenties, and as alone as I was 6 years ago leaving college, and as I was 10 years ago starting college. Every bit as far from where I thought I'd be in life as I was from it back then, before reaching the preconceived age. Probably a lot further. I'm not saying I wish things had worked out differently - I wasn't nearly ready for marriage in my early 20's. But now I sometimes wonder in passing whether or not I'll be married in my early 30's. There's almost zero chance it would happen before then, and if it doesn't happen by then, chances are it won't happen at all. Now, 10 years wiser than I was when I knew there was no one in that auditorium for me, I wonder if there's anyone out there for me at all. I don't know if there is or not.
Somehow I'm ok with that. Its not an easy thing to explain, quite frankly. I am content with life, but I still feel there is something missing - and not in that way like I'm missing out on High Def television or a leather couch or something else I could go out and buy. Something missing in that way that makes each life experience - waking up, going to work, eating and drinking, relaxing and playing, going to sleep - makes each of them feel somewhat incomplete. And I believe they really are, because we get the most complete joy out of anything when we can share it with someone.
Now, even if there is someone out there, it will be different from what I always had imagined. There won't be the more carefree vitality and animated passion of young love. I'll be older, I'll have seen more of the world, I'll have been an adult on my own - longer than my parents ever were. And unless she's a younger girl, she'll likely be much the same way. Its like this: the other day I sat on the side of my bed and put my shoes on the way I always sit on the side of my bed and put my shoes on. And then it just kind of hit me - I realized that, if she's out there, she'll likely never lay there and watch me and love the fact that this is just what I do - the way she might have if she had been with me through the twenties and seen me sit there to put my shoes on every day. She'll have her own things like that too - maybe the way she puts her makeup on or answers the phone or folds the laundry - things that I might never stop to love and appreciate about her because we missed younger years together. We'll have missed out on at least some of what we might have imagined.
You do lose your imagination with age. I never used to believe it - its just a little at first but then it starts to go faster. Reality replaces it - cold, hard reality. You realize that your ideas about the future are probably much more accurate, but you also realize something else important. You realize that the you of 10 years ago had absolutely no idea where you would be in 10 years. And dangerous hope springs from this, because that means the you of right now might just - despite all its lost inspirations and gained substantialities - it might just not have any idea where the you of 10 years from now will be.
When I was growing up - a kid, a teenager - I always thought I'd marry in my early 20's.
Boy was I wrong.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
- John 3:8