Turns out the worst dating advice I ever received was actually the best.
"Marry up, Krishann." I was a teen going on 20 when I sat on the edge of my aunt's bed listening to the pearls of wisdom she bestowed on me during what turned out to be my last summer away from home. My aunt is a wise woman—life has taught her so much. My immaturity often led me to think that I had things all figured out, but her words stuck with me, their echo growing increasingly loud during my high school and college years. "Marry up."
What she was saying was that I should marry someone who was more educated than me. If I had a Bachelor’s degree, then I should marry someone with a Master's degree. And if I had a Master's, then surely I should only say, "I do" to someone with a Doctorate. My interpretation was that I needed to marry someone with more potential than me—better off, even.
Throughout my 20s, I dated guys that landed across the education spectrum. One was a high school dropout who I helped get his GED and another was a college student. My aunt's words were always with me, and because of them, I often found myself encouraging the man in my life to be a little bit more ambitious, to pursue his education with as much fervor as I did, if not more.
But there was also a small part of me who knew that the person I was dating wouldn't be deemed 'right' unless they were my education counterpart. As much as I wanted the men in my life to get their education for them, there was also a small part of me that wanted them to get an education for me. I wanted them to be accepted and deemed 'good enough' by my family for me to be in a relationship with them.
In time, I became obsessed with how others perceived the men I was dating. I became more worried about how a man would be "recieved," rather than taking into account my true feelings for him.
Then one day I met a guy. The guy. As cliché as it sounds he was "different." As I got to know him, it felt like he was handcrafted especially for me. It felt like I was made to love him.
Of course, when I told my family about him, they wanted to know if he went to college. (He hadn't.) At the time, I was in college. And on top of that, I was a single parent, so surely I needed to be with someone who had as much—if not more—to offer than I did. My grandmother was certain this man was dating me because of my brains and because I was holding the ticket to his future success. But I knew better. I married him anyway.
Though he hadn't gone to college, my husband's work ethic was (and still is) unlike any I've ever seen. He doesn't look for short cuts or rely on jargon; he doesn't assume that opportunities will be handed to him simply because he went to an affluent school or studied the right subject. Every opportunity that he has been given in his career has been the result of discipline, hard work, dedication and a willingness to go above and beyond. And grace too. I'm a firm believer in grace.
My husband had something that so many of my educated friends didn't. He realized hard work really matters and that even if you have a college degree or you land that dream job, you still must work hard. If anything, you have to work harder to get ahead. And it's that same willingness to work hard, to say yes even when you are tired, to step out of your comfort zone and learn a new way of doing something that has served us well in our work and in our marriage.
He also reminded me that while an education helps, it isn't everything. A degree doesn't always get you through the door, and in the event that it does, it doesn't mean it will keep you there. Rather, it's your integrity and your character and the person you are beyond the world of academia that make the most difference.
Not long after my husband and I began dating, he made the decision to return to college in addition to working full-time and caring for our family. It's been very difficult, and he's expressed many times how much he wishes he went right out of high school. But in doing this, he's teaching our girls a valuable lesson: Reaching your goal is more important than when you reach your goal. Never forgo your dreams for fear that you are too late.
When my husband earns his degree, he'll bring home more money and may have increased job security. But what he's brought home each day since we became a family is much more valuable than any salary figure. He brings home an unwavering commitment and love for what we have—a willingness to do the hard work that comes with marriage and parenting. And the growth that we have experienced as individuals (and as a couple) is a testament to the fact that the harder the struggle, the sweeter the victory.
When he graduates, we'll all be there cheering for him. Not because of the certificate but because of his commitment to the goal. I still believe in the power of education. But I also believe character and a strong work ethic can carry you where your degree can't.
And lucky for me, I did "marry up" after all.