Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Deciding on marriage requires thinking of more than wild oats
SYWO?: I am a man in my 20s with a serious girlfriend. Before her I had one other girlfriend whom I dated from high school till age 23. I think I might want to marry my current girlfriend, but my father, uncles and several friends have all used the same phrase: "Sow your wild oats." They all buy into the idea that guys are supposed to play around a bit first before settling down. I have never done this, but with so many people advising it, I'm not sure whether I'm one of the "good guys" or just a fool for thinking about marriage before I see what else is out there. What do you think?
Carolyn: I think I'm missing details that matter. Does commitment suit you, or does the alternative scare you? If it's the former, then you could be on the path that makes sense for you — an act of courage. If you're just tethering yourself to someone as a means of avoiding scary uncertainties — that's an act of cowardice.
Cowards put themselves on a course for an eventual crisis, when they realize they left oats un-sown, or just rushed to marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons. The more people they've cast in their security play — spouse, kids, family, friends — the more damage this reckoning does.
People aren't immune to regrets, of course, just because they choose commitment from a place of strength — but they're far less vulnerable to them.
There are a lot of ways to be a fool, and they include not shopping around, shopping around mindlessly, succumbing to outside pressure (be it to commit or keep shopping) or thinking in terms of what "guys" are "supposed" to do. The answer is always about knowing and respecting yourself.
Anonymous: Re: Wild Oats: So, monogamy makes you a "good guy"?
Are your relatives advocating that you manipulate and use women — or just experience new people and things before making a commitment?
This makes me wonder if SYWO is mature enough for marriage, which may be what the relatives are picking up on.
Carolyn: Thank you. I meant to flag that but I lost the thought in the writing process.
Anonymous: Re: Wild Oats: People worry that SYWO is immature, as opposed to the relatives? "Sowing wild oats" is unbelievably tacky and dated.
Surely there are as many people who regret their casual encounters as those who look back on them with fondness.
Carolyn: Surely. But while I agree the term "sowing your wild oats" is as dated as wide, shiny ties (oh, wait ... ), it isn't just about casual sex. It can also mean seeing how you interact with different kinds of people, and living life a bit more.
Marriage doesn't blind people to the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is going to prove seductive, is it best to discover this while single, or several years into a marriage?
This isn't to say that all people in their 20s are too green to enter commitments. It's just that many young adults are in flux, and lasting relationships depend on their having done most of their changing before they pair off — or their finding someone who'll grow in compatible ways.