Can 'Til Death Do Us Part' Start At 21?

Can 'Til Death Do Us Part' Start At 21?

Bar hopping and making out with preppies maximized my time during the sticky summer months following college graduation. That June, I'd shoved boxes of clothes and the complete series of Sex and the City into the 500-square-foot apartment I shared with my girlfriend, Kelsey, and started my grown-up life as New York's newest Samantha.

One morning after hooking up with a pair of roommates, Kelsey and I shamefully took the bus home to save money. We rode uptown between old ladies dressed for church still drunk in our matching outfits: a man's sweatshirt, boxers, fishnets and our shiny heels. We giggled over bagels—recapping the details of our alcohol-induced night like my favorite New York quartet would have.

After a decade of watching TV shows like Sex and the City and NBC's new Lipstick Jungle, where women struggle to have it all, I was convinced that Prince Charming would show up in my early thirties once I'd already established myself. At 21, I was determined to double-book dates, clink martini glasses with my girlfriends and live like Holly Golightly (the movie version) without the cat.

As the oldest of three, I'd always been an independent workaholic. Family friends knew I seemed misplaced in our small town outside of Boston; a euphemism for "your daughter is too loud and opinionated." At 16 I told my parents I was moving to New York City. I couldn't be an actress in Andover, Massachusetts. They agreed so I could study theater at Barnard. I parlayed one summer into four hot seasons of interning, working and frolicking through the city.

In New York, I was never embarrassed by my individuality. I bounced around the East Village singing along to my theme song, "La Vie Boheme." I wore tight black clothes, drank coffee, chain-smoked and had my heart regularly broken. I sat in Shakespeare and Co. for hours reading entire plays, sifting through pictures of old New York and flirting with those who did the same.

One night in late July, I met a tall, blue-eyed guy on a friend's rooftop. I tried to seem aloof as I took swigs from my Corona Light. Zach was my type–smart, but not arrogant, and more interested in playing his guitar than talking to me. He was 22, but only a month older, and had freckles on his nose. By midnight, our mutual friend had ditched us for her drug dealer and we were alone. We played unsuccessful rounds of the name game before he finally asked me: "What do you write?"

"Plays about apathetic WASPs," I responded quickly trying to avoid follow-up questions. I hated talking about my work especially because I was hardly writing. Sitting in an office for eight hours a day had proven to be uninspiring. I preferred dating and drinking to spending time in my claustrophobic apartment at my computer.

"I'm borderline obsessed with skylines thus the real estate thing," he said staring into the lights from downtown.

Zach was moving to New York during the last week in August to start graduate school at NYU. He dreamed of big buildings and loved the city like me. If I hadn't wanted to sleep with him, I would have resented his motivation. As he walked me down six flights of stairs, I wondered how he would kiss me goodnight. I imagined his rough hands running through my long, dark curls as I leaned against the rows of mailboxes in the lobby. But he put me a cab without a kiss or a phone number.

Over the next two weeks, I kept replaying that night. I searched Google and Facebook wanting to know more about this guy who'd rejected me. And then one miserable afternoon in the office, Zach sent me a witty but concise email. By the time he moved to New York just seven days before my twenty-second birthday, we'd exchanged a hundred.

With the men of my past, I'd consult my circle of elders: my mother, older cousin, high school friends, and my roommate. We'd analyze each interaction and consult on my look. I relied completely on their opinions. But when I had a question about Zach like "Was your ex-girlfriend a manipulative bitch?" or "Do you like me?" I asked him instead.

Yet free advice was rampant. Co-workers condescendingly advised us to take a break until we were old enough. My doorman revealed the intimate details of his early 20s to prove that I'd regret being tied down. When my friends criticized me for spending every night with Zach, I realized that my relationship had become socially unacceptable. So, when Zach asked me to move in with him—a year and a half into our relationship—I told him I wasn't comfortable because of our age. Zach didn't understand my hesitation because, despite being 23, he was sure.

"I want to marry you," he said. I wanted to marry him.

But as a modern working girl, I feared dependency on a man. I assumed my romantic affairs would verge on pathetic before the perfect match showed up to accept my neurotic tendencies. I'd also learned from my screen heroes, who all dated for sport, that I'd be searching until at least the next decade to find Mr. Big.

Even after I'd met Zach I refused to turn into Charlotte. Her goody two-shoes ways and lack of career ambition aggravated me, but I was no longer Samantha with a different guy every night. And that was OK. Just like the women in the upcoming Sex and the City movie, who developed throughout the six seasons we watched them, I had to balance my love of independence with my need for monogamy.

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Saying no to Zach would have meant allowing my friends and the fantasy of picking up guys in Manolo Blahniks to usurp my ability to make adult choices. Instead, I said yes to his proposal and decided on forever.