She found me next to the growing pile of crock pots and kitchen sets. I was seated near the bride, half praising her newest pair of plush monogrammed bath towels, half wondering if a fourth glass of champagne would be overdoing it.

She perched on a wing chair and turned to me. “So. How are you and the boyfriend doing?” Her eyebrows were arched and her lips pursed expectantly, as if she knew I must have a juicy tidbit to share.

“We’re doing well,” I said vaguely, determined not to let this friend-of-a-friend pry into my personal life.

“You guys have been together a couple years now, right? Out of school for one? When are you going to get The Ring?” She giggled and swatted my leg as if to say, “We’re so bad!” Clearly, she was determined, too.

I’m not stagnating, people. Engagement and marriage aren’t the only way to progress a relationship after graduation – personal progress is relationship progress, too.

As I considered my response, I couldn’t help but notice that she unconsciously stroked her own left-hand accoutrement. She was going to be disappointed that I didn’t care to ask about that.

“Oh, we won’t be getting engaged any time soon. I don’t want to get married for at least another three or four years.”

Her face dropped and confusion set in. “Oh. Well … I’m sure you’ll figure it out…” She touched my leg again, this time with a pat of sympathy.

After I graduated college a little over a year ago, I felt as if the world was asking a silent but oppressively loud question to all the couples out there, one that necessitated not only a response but called for immediate action: What are you two going to do now? I watched as everyone fumbled and grasped and rushed to respond with: “We’re going to commit to each other forever!” or “We can’t handle the strain of the real-world, so we’re done.” There were engagements and marriages left and right, and an equal number of couples whose relationship crumbled under the pressures of life post-graduation.

And then there was me.

Instead of answering that overpowering question together, my boyfriend and I answered it for ourselves. We found separate but reasonably-distanced living situations, worked on finding jobs, and spent the last year individually figuring ourselves out a bit more – our personal goals, our career ambitions, what makes us each happy.

I’ve learned more about myself in this past year than I can say. I went from having no idea what I wanted to do to having a solid plan to achieve my life’s major goal. I’ve had fun. I’ve learned that being in your early-20s is one of the best, most exhilarating times in life, and I’ve been focused on letting myself enjoy it without too much responsibility weighing me down. But focusing on myself while also maintaining a relationship hasn’t always been met with encouragement. Apparently, I might not be allowed to do both.

The bridal shower acquaintance is just one of many women I’ve met who feel sorry for me. Who feel that because I’m actively choosing to focus on my career and my goals and to have fun instead of pursue marriage ASAP, there must be something wrong with me and my relationship. It’s like they’re thinking, “If you aren’t breaking up and you aren’t getting married, you’re clearly stagnating.”

Why do you, random-person-who-isn’t-invested-in-my-life-choices, feel that I need to make this decision right now? Obviously graduating college and entering the real world is a life milestone. And like any momentous occasion, it requires reevaluation of life’s priorities and goals and direction. But why is it imperative that I acknowledge this huge event with another huge event? Does it have to be that weighty and ominous? Do I have to sit down at the poker table and say, “Alright Universe, I see your GIANT LIFE TURNING POINT and raise you one ENORMOUS LIFE DECISION.” I really don’t want to one-up the universe.

I’m not stagnating, people. Engagement and marriage aren’t the only way to progress a relationship after graduation – personal progress is relationship progress, too.

My boyfriend and I are learning about the real world, figuring out what makes us passionate and what drives us to be better people. While we grow and mature, our relationship grows and matures.

What if I had jumped to answer that big question on Graduation Day? What if I’d pressed my boyfriend to marry me, or decided that trying to be together while figuring our lives out was going to be too hard? I’d have either prematurely committed to a huge responsibility or hastily ended a good relationship before I even knew myself well enough to make a decision.

I’m happy to keep learning more about myself and to make sure that my boyfriend and I don’t grow up and away from each other in the next few years. We could easily end up married, or we could realize in time that we aren’t right for each other. I don’t want to obsess about either possibility. Your early- and mid-20s define you, and I don’t want the rest of my life to be defined by a decision I felt unnecessarily pressured to make at 23.

Right now, at this very moment, I’m content with where I am. Just because the universe asked a question doesn’t mean I have to answer right away. Bridal-shower-girl and all the others who expect a decision from me can wait a while longer.

This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

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  • cece marie

    Newsflash!, not everyone wants to get married. I don’t. As a women and 24 years old, I want to focus on myself. Achieve my college degree and good paying career. I want to travel. I want to try new things. I can’t do that with a husband and kids. Maybe after 35, I’ll change my mind. I wish more people would respect other people’s choices. Please!

    • Emme

      Actually, if that’s what you want, you absolutely can do that with a husband and kids. I’m not telling you to go out and get married, but just keep in mind that all of those things are at your disposal regardless of your “status.”

      Just my two cents :-)

  • Kay

    Thank you college is already a huge life changing commitment!!! I know I’m not looking forward to that dreadful question I will be asked the day I walk across that stage ” what are you going to do next?” I’ll tell you what im going to do I’m going to have two maybe four or more drinks watch every season of every show on Netflix I possibly can until I don’t want to anymore while stuffing my face and then I’m going to get off the couch thank God for this huge accomplishment and try to find a job in this tough economy… Wow that felt good to let out

  • Back in May, The Couple (web-series) posted a question on facebook, “…if you found “the one” today would you be ready for a commitment? Or are you still working on school, yourself, career etc.” A lot of women, said that they where ready yesterday to get married; so they would not see the reason to wait. But I realize having been on both sides, being single (wanting the one) and in a relationship (finding the one); when you actually find the one you think is a good match does not mean you want to rush the experience. I will repeat one thing I said in response to The Couple question, I find it a fitting comment for this post. “…there is a natural progression that takes place in your relationship. You don’t have to force or demand anything. The challenge is making sure that you don’t allow outside influences make you question what you have or if what you have should slow down or speed up. Remember this is your ride, let them get their own.”

  • Natalie B.

    I’m older—soon to be 35- and I did college, grad school and career first and I have no regrets. I’ve been in a committed relationship for pretty close to three years, and I’m not in a rush to get down the aisle. We’ll get married when the time is right. The issue the author is having isn’t an issue with her relationship status, it’s an issue with not politely shutting people down regarding asking intrusive questions about her relationship. I stop folks dead in their tracks with a pleasant, simple, “Why do you ask?” when they attempt to pry into my relationship. It kills me how people you don’t even really know feel as if they have a right to ask you about your personal matters.