If you strike up a conversation with Virginia Barfield, you’ll quickly learn that she’s not your average teacher. She might tell you what it was like to live in Turkey during an attempted coup, or about the time she shared a bottle of wine with complete strangers on a rooftop in Portugal. What she probably won’t tell you is that she was married once and has vowed never to tie the knot again. It’s not that she’s concealing this fact about herself, it’s just that she’s too busy living life on her own terms to even bring it up – until now. 

Virginia, 40, grew up in a middle-class household in Chatsworth, Georgia, and graduated with a degree in English Education from the University of Georgia. She had a pretty normal college existence until her junior year, age 21, when she eloped with a guy she had known in high school. 

“He joined the military after graduation, and we stayed in touch. He had a girlfriend, so what we had was just a silly, platonic friendship.” 

All that changed when he came back from Iraq and the two met up for lunch. Virginia learned that her friend was now single, and a romance blossomed. They married in May 2005, just four weeks after they started dating. 

Virginia moved into her new husband’s apartment for the summer, which was near to the North Carolina army base where he was stationed. But marital bliss didn’t last long. 

“Four months into our marriage, after yet another fight, he told me he didn’t know if he loved me anymore. I couldn’t be with someone who felt that way, so I left. That was the end of our relationship.” 

Virginia would also soon find out that her husband had cheated on her. She filed for divorce, but he had gone AWOL from the military at that point. No one, not even his mother, could locate him. It would ultimately take 16 months – four times longer than the marriage lasted – to get him to sign the papers. 

“I learned a lot from that experience. Now I know that I don’t need the government to be involved in my decision to be with someone long-term. I want to be able to easily walk away from a relationship when it’s time, without all the paperwork and expense.” 

Speaking of expense, Virginia also recalled the time when her ex-husband used the inheritance, she received from her grandmother’s estate to buy himself a Jeep. 

“It’s actually in the divorce papers that he was to repay me that $10,000 – but he never has, and he never will.” 

Meanwhile, Tamekis Williams, a licensed therapist based in Georgia, said that for a lot of people, the decision to ditch marriage is based solely on the actions of a person’s significant other – not the institution itself. 

“The truth is, it’s not the state of marriage that is bad; that’s not why a lot of people are being turned off to marriage. Instead, it’s the behaviors, or lack thereof, of the person they married that turns people away from marriage,” Williams said. 

She did, however, acknowledge that some might shy away from marriage due to feelings of restriction, a lack of personal freedom, extra bureaucracy, not wanting to let the government into their relationship, and not wanting to conform to societal expectations. 

World traveler Virginia Barfield feeds a camel in Egypt.
Virginia feeds a camel at the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Barfield)

Two degrees, 71 tattoos and endless adventure

In 2012, five years into her teaching career and after receiving her master’s degree in education, Virginia finally succumbed to the travel bug that had been nagging her for a long time. She booked a one-way ticket to South Korea, where she would teach English as a second language. It’s a job that many young people take for a year or two, but for Virginia it was the start of an adventure that continues to this day. 

She’s now lived in six foreign countries and currently teaches English to university students in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico. Her left arm is tattooed with the names of the 71 countries she’s visited, written in the handwriting of friends from each place. 

Virginia is currently in a relationship, but she’s a realist when it comes to romance. 

“I know my track record. This relationship will probably end. I mean, just look at the way I’ve lived my life for the past 11 years. I’ve moved around a ton, not just for professional reasons but also because of my own curiosity, because I wanted to see the world.” 

She explained that she enjoys the process of starting over with a clean slate because “it’s easier to start over than to fix the crap that keeps breaking.” 

An unconventional path to self-discovery

Virginia credits her travels over the past 11.5 years for shaping her into the fiercely independent person she is today. Put simply, she believes the world can offer her more than one person ever could. 

“I believe in experiences, and I believe in learning something from everything. If I can continue to learn something with the same person for the rest of my life, that’s cool. But I can’t wake up every day and let my world revolve around the responsibilities of a marriage.” 

When she thinks back on her adventures across dozens of countries and cultures, she tries to imagine how different her life would have been if she had stayed married. 

“I wouldn’t have traveled the world, and I wouldn’t have met some of the most amazing people out there. I wouldn’t have slipped on ice while biking around Amsterdam in January, and I wouldn’t have eaten delicious food on a felucca in the Nile River. I wouldn’t have met so many students who have touched my soul or had such incredible experiences with animals and our planet.” 

Virginia, who has lived in Korea, Turkey, Cambodia, Poland, Colombia, and Mexico, says the last thing she wants to do is to judge women who choose to get married and have kids early. She just wants them to know that they don’t need to rush to tie the knot, and that they don’t have to get married or have kids at all. 

“There’s so much more you can do that isn’t what society expects you to do,” she said. “My advice to young women is to step out of their comfort zones because I can’t think of a single time that I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and regretted it.”

Virginia is also able to empathize with those who grew up being told the “correct” roles for women, namely getting married and having kids, because that’s exactly how she was raised. She likens that kind of life to a paint-by-number kit. 

“A lot of people think their entire life is preordained – you have to put blue in that space, red in that space, and not question tradition. But if you just throw out those numbers and disregard the lines, imagine the beautiful painting you could make – one of your own creations, on your own terms.”