What if you don’t find yourself unTIL you get married?

For years now it has been the norm for Western women to view their twenties as that coveted time in which they’re supposed to “find themselves.” The assumption is that in the past, prior to feminists “freeing” women from their formerly oppressed lives, women tethered themselves to husbands and babies and “lost” themselves in the process.

The message was clear: marriage swallows you whole.

I recall Sandra Bullock saying something to that effect in a 2010 interview with Barbara Walters: “I always had this feeling that if you got married, it was like the end of who you were,” she said.

What if the opposite is true? What if you don’t find yourself until you get married?

After all, it’s not as though today’s single woman embarks on some sort of self-exploration in her 20s that results in her becoming more mature and more grounded. On the contrary, all that “empowerment” women have been raised with has made them shockingly self-absorbed and entitled.

Author Lori Gottleib admitted as much in her 2011 book Marry Him. In Chapter 3, aptly entitled “How Feminism Fucked Up My Love Life,” she writes this:

Growing up, my friends and I thought feminism was fabulous. To us, feminism meant we had freedom of choice in all aspects of our lives. We could pursue professional careers, take time to ‘find ourselves’ before getting married, decide not to get married at all, and have our sexual needs met whenever we felt like it…We grew up believing we shouldn’t compromise in any area of life, including dating. The higher our standards, the more “empowered” we were.

But were we?

Here’s what actually happened: Empowerment somehow became synonymous with having impossible standards and disregarding the fact that in real life, you can’t get everything you want, when you wanted, on your terms only.

Which is exactly how many of us empowered ourselves out of a good mate.

Indeed, women don’t “find themselves” as a result of freedom and liberation. They just make it harder for themselves to find a husband at all—and to be satisfied when and if they do.

No one “finds him/herself” prior to marriage. It takes decades to iron out one’s life—to know who you are and what you want. If everyone waited to marry until they’d figured all that out they’d be close to retirement.

Being single is the easiest existence there is—there’s no mirror in that world. Yes, you can live as you please. But you can’t grow. To grow, you need another person.

Being married is like looking into a mirror every single day for years. There’s no hiding when you’re married because everything you do affects someone else. It is there where you grapple with the essence of who you are, which in turn brings out your true identity.

It may be harder to be married than it is to be single, but nothing worthwhile is easy. It’s within the trial and tribulations of marriage that a person finds what he or she is made of.

Which means all those years of being single are often just wasted years. All that time spent studying to get degree upon degree upon degree, all that time spent building a career and hitting the bars, all that time moving in and out of countless failed relationships or random hookups, all that time spent being self-involved leads to…well, what exactly?

“Whereas delaying marriage and avoiding commitment would seem to promote self-discovery,” writes Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, “this freedom and self-exploration seems to leave many people feeling more lost than found.”

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.