What it meant when I started my forever early

Our engagement seven years ago.

A few weeks ago, I came upon the gorgeous wedding photos of a girl who was many years my junior at UC San Diego. We became Facebook friends because she was a member of Kappa, but we were never in school together.

She is probably about 23? In many ways, her wedding reminded me of ours. Very traditional. Pretty silk bridesmaid dresses. Lots of toasts. Crazy dance party as a capstone. I couldn’t help but wonder where she and her husband will be by 30.

Getting married in my 20s was the best choice I’ve ever made, but it is a different choice than a lot of professional Los Angeles women. It’s fundamentally shaped my marriage. And given the chance to do it over, I would do it again. This is why.

In my college dorm room as a freshman.

1. We’ve known several versions of each other. We’re the same two actors, but we’ve played a lot of characters in a lot of different movies together. When I met my husband, I was a starry eyed optimist who was coming to terms with the idea that I might not grow up to be a famous novelist. My days were filled with books and poems and wrestling with languages. Week nights regularly hosted moonlit walks on the beach and late night parties in half built houses, makeshift costumes and cheap booze. Then after college as young professionals; working late into the night, worshipping Taco Tuesdays, reeling from cubicle culture shock, and mooning over million dollar homes we’d own someday. And as grad students; working and studying and taking breaks to bake and make out. Now we’re working parents in the city. We’re in a daily, passionate relay race, looking to drink the nectar of life as deeply (and efficiently!) as possible. It’s no walk on the beach, but it’s where I always hoped I’d be.

Exploring Europe a few years into our marriage.

2. We got to be married for a while before we had kids (and I’ll finally admit that was a good thing!) I knew that having kids would make our marriage more full and give greater meaning to our union. For this reason, I was always excited to become a mother. But I did underestimate how distracting it can be, and how much it would change our relationship. As many times as we get a babysitter and go on date nights, we’re never going to be that carefree couple at the table next to us again. Our entire association with each other has had to mature into something new. It’s wonderful and rich, just like before, but also a hell of a lot more complex. It’s never innocent or selfless. With our son, our fates are deeply woven together by this other person and that’s reflected, even in our pillow talk.

Our 2 month old in Chicago during Steve’s Prudential rotation.

3.We’ve always had to consider how work life, personal life and family life would go together. I think sometimes when people wait to have kids, they develop careers and self-oriented personal lives that are completely untenable with kids. When it’s finally their turn to become parents, they can’t see how their current lives fit.

So they throw it all away. Besides, they’ve waited so long, isn’t it time to become full throttle parents?

I’ve known for quite a while that we weren’t going to have the means for me to quit work the minute I got knocked up, and I never wanted to. This means our toddler is a regular at work happy hours. It also means I’m typing out work emails at the park. But I’m committed to maintaining a personal life, a professional life, a parenting life and a love life all at once.

Let’s face it: I never had a crazy youth. Saturday nights at no point in my life would have been covered in Nylon or Vanity Fair. But motherhood so far fits into my pre-existing life. I have lamer “when I was young” stories but cooler “now” stories. We still try new restaurants. We love our work. We sometimes even sleep in on weekends. We drink wine, make love, and workout. We get tired, but doesn’t everyone?

Team Shaw

4. We’ve been a team from the beginning. And it’s resulted in a more equal marriage. Everything we own we bought or were handed down as a couple. Everything we’ve accomplished academically has been together. Everything we’ve accomplished financially has been together.

Neither of us have ever lived alone or had time to establish what’s ideal for us as individuals. And not having had time to be selfish means I don’t moon for “the good old days.”

I still clean and do laundry more than he does. But he cooks and changes diapers and plays dinosaurs with gusto. I keep the house stocked (leaning heavily on Amazon, Instacart, Google Shopping, DoorDash, etc.) He fixes things and keeps the cars running and waits on the phone for customer service. We’ve grown up together. We’ve learned to be our best selves together, and we run a pretty fantastic household.

Just married!

5. We’ll always be young. I have a few friends who don’t like the idea of being in their 30s. I laugh, and tell them “I’ve been posing as a 30 something year old since I was 22.” I’m still one of the youngest moms at preschool. I’m often one of the youngest people in meetings at work. So maybe being a little ahead in my personal life has made me more determined to get ahead in the rest of my life.

I have felt the need to be discreet about my age for much of my career. It’s nice to finally be getting to a place where I don’t have to pose as someone older.

I started my forever when I was pretty young. When we were completely different characters in a completely different stage of life. And the scene that we’re playing out now is the better for it.