Article Image

Author Image

A little while ago, I woke up to a text message from a close friend of mine who still lives in Georgia. It was a screenshot of a wedding announcement on Facebook accompanied by 10 question marks. An old mutual friend of ours had gotten married the previous month and was just now announcing it on Facebook with a changed last name and pictures of her wedding. The following week in my friend group was loose chaos. We all were taking various opportunities to ask questions like: How? What? When? To whom? We all, as Southern women, were also dealing with a new twinge of the pressure that our families and society constantly remind us of: the pressure to get married.

Being so young and living in New York, the thought of being married presently sounds like an awful proposition. Even being engaged seems to be too “adult” of a step for me to even consider taking within the foreseeable future. So how is it that one of my friends—who is my age—felt comfortable walking down the aisle before she turned 20? On top of that, she wasn’t the first of my friends to get married. I had friends get married the day after high school graduation. An even larger amount of classmates had children already, so this quick transition into adulthood was not a new concept to me. The difference in this case was that she was a close friend of mine who had never mentioned marriage in her aspirations. This was the first person in my old friend group to make an adult commitment—a decision that will seemingly last forever—and that freaked me and my other friends out.

It was then that I noticed the differences between Southern ideas of what being college aged looks like versus what it’s like to be a student at Columbia, and how my time here has completely shifted my life plans and my ideas of what it means to live traditionally.

I feel like most Southern girls are conditioned, in some form or another, to be pushing for marriage early. This is an idea that goes back generations: Both of my grandmothers were married before 17, my parents met each other in high school, and one of my distant cousins got married at 13 during the era of segregation. You constantly hear stories of women in your family being expected to marry well while they are still teenagers and to run a house from an early age. Now that we as Southern women are leaving the South for education, there’s some sort of disconnect between what we are told we want and what we actually want.

Before coming to Columbia, I thought of 28 as such an old age. By that age, all the women in my family had already had children, owned houses, took care of their households, worked jobs, and been married for close to a decade. So, coming to the conclusion after a year and a half of college that 28 was young created the biggest shift for my future that I think I have ever undergone. When I came to New York, I would’ve said it was the age of spinsterhood, when you begin to lose the option of getting married, but now I would say that is the beginning of coming of age and maturity. After all, I’m not aiming to be anyone’s spouse; I’m aiming to have my own career and to do things that I enjoy. Those two futures could hypothetically exist concurrently, but it’s not my job to concern myself with marriage when, after all, it’s something partially out of my control and, right now, out of my comfort zone.

Still, I think marriage is supposed to be a beautiful source of support for those that choose it; and I’m glad that there are still women who are choosing to make it central to their lives at this age. It’s just wild to me that I see a changed reality between girls who stayed in the South versus girls who left. We girls who left are choosing to get to know ourselves more before we get married or make huge commitments. By holding off on commitment at such a young age, I’ve seen myself able to exercise my freedoms to a greater extent than the other women in my town and in my family, and that’s a decision that I am happy with.

There is however, a distancing feeling when you see all your friends living within the traditional bounds of your shared upbringing. You feel less Southern or too nontraditional to see yourself in their shoes. However, I came to my own personal conclusion that I’m not any less Southern or traditional or religious. I just happen to be unmarried, Southern, and enjoying my time at Columbia, ho-ing.

Sabina Jones is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in English. Transatlantic Trade runs alternate Fridays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact

marriage southern family tradition gender norms
Related Stories