Where Logic Meets Love

3 Reasons I Didn't Get Married "Too Young"

Friday, August 10, 2012

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3 Reasons I Didn't Get Married 'Too Young' | Faith Permeating Life

Today's post is part of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Perspective on Life and Love Carnival. She got married at 21, and her friend is about to get married at 34, and she started thinking about how different her friend's experience will be from hers.

Here's the prompt:
Tell us about why you got married at 21, or 34–or why you didn't. Tell us about your first kiss, about falling in love, about breaking your heart (or someone else’s). Tell us about how you found The One, or about how you’re still looking, or how you’ve given up.

Mike and I just celebrated our third wedding anniversary, though we've known each other almost eight years. Here are some flashbacks on our relationship:
Mike and I were 23 when we got married. I don't think that fact tells you much of anything, but people seem to think it does. Specifically, those that tell us we got married "so young" or, more annoyingly, "too young."

It's true that you can make some generalizations based on age -- for example, a 5-year-old and a 50-year-old will have very different life experiences and maturity levels, barring perhaps some mental disabilities. But the vast majority of people getting married (for the first time, at least) do so within a relatively small range of ages.* I don't there's enough consistency among 23-year-olds or 28-year-olds that you can reliably tell anything about a person's individual readiness for marriage, or a couple's collective readiness for marriage, simply by the age at which they got married.

Here are the reasons I think people believe we were too young to get married, and why I disagree:

1. Personal Maturity
The Belief
I get this idea. When I was in high school, I had too much of my self-worth wrapped up in getting attention from the opposite sex, and that wouldn't have been a great attitude to bring into marriage. When you make a lifelong commitment to someone, you intertwine your life with theirs, and if you have serious insecurities, unrealistic expectations, or lack of emotional control, those are going to negatively affect your spouse's life as much as your own. Yes, some people are still quite emotionally immature at 23; some remain immature into their 30s.

The Reality
Both Mike and I were often told growing up that we were mature for our age, and by the time we got through college we'd each overcome most of our major issues and insecurities. There was a point at which I felt completely unprepared to be engaged, and a time when I felt more than ready to be married woman. Truly, I did far more maturing throughout college than I have in the past three years, and I think the same is true of Mike. In my opinion, we were both plenty mature to be getting married when we did.

2. Relationship Maturity
The Belief
I know there are plenty of couples out there who got married after knowing each other a fairly short period of time and had a long, happy life together. But it makes sense that you want to know someone fairly well before making a lifelong commitment to them, and that it takes time to really get to know someone. I think some people -- especially those who didn't meet their significant others in high school or college -- hear "I got married at age 23" as "I got married as soon as I met my husband."

The Reality
Mike and I had known each other about five years when we got married, and we'd been dating almost as long. We'd been planning our life together for over two years at that point, and between our communication and psych courses and my devouring of relationship books, we'd talked through most of the potential relationship issues we could have. Certainly we've grown as a couple as new experiences have come up in our marriage -- my getting mono the first year was a big one -- but we'd definitely established healthy communication patterns and expectations by the time we got married.

3. Life Experience
The Belief
The final reason I believe people call 23 too young to get married is the idea that you need to "live your life" before you get married. I call complete BS on this idea. I certainly had this same notion previously, that getting married would make me unhappy by limiting what I could do professionally and my freedom to move or travel. I didn't start my first post-college job until two and a half weeks before we got married, so my professional career has always been shaped by my marriage in some way.

The Reality
I've learned that the limits of marriage help me focus and succeed. The year before we got married, we were each in graduate school in different states -- one of those "life experiences" we supposedly couldn't get once we were married. Doing my master's classes, thesis, and teaching assistantship with only long-distance support from Mike was incredibly tough. And it was because of Mike's new job that I had the opportunity to pursue my dreams in quitting my job and moving to Whoville. With our housing and food taken care of, I have the luxury to take my time finding a job I truly love. I'm getting the chance to do exactly what I want with my life, not in spite of my marriage, but because of it.


The point of all this is not to say that 23 is (or is not) a good age at which to get married. It's that age by itself is not the only factor in whether you picked a "good" time to get married. And that it's ridiculous to try to tell someone they got married "too young" when age is simply a proxy for the factors that go into a long-lasting, healthy, happy relationship.

As Anne says in the original post, she and her friend are going to have different experiences getting married at 21 and 34, but that doesn't mean one is better than the other. And the differences come not just from age, but by the fact that they're different people, in different relationships, who have had different life experiences. Even two 21-year-old brides could have vastly different marriages.

Mike and I got married when the time was right for us. And that's all I can wish for anyone else.

Want to read some great reflections on what marriage even means, anyway? Check out the What Marriage Means to Me guest post series -- contributors are always welcome!

Visit Modern Mrs. Darcy for more great perspectives on life and love!



*You know I like to back everything up with evidence, but strangely the only distribution graphs I could find were for age of first marriage in New Zealand. Here's probability of marriage by age for the United States in 2002. I still think it's safe to say that a majority of people get married within a pretty small window of life, considering life expectancy.

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for your encouraging words about why there's no clearcut line of when is "too" young to be married. I am 23 and have been married for 10 months (http://bit.ly/TcUZQf) and I hear a lot that I'm "so young." Now I have some good reasoning to respond to their beliefs vs. my reality. Thank you!

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    1. Awesome! Glad it was helpful for you.

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  2. Funny, nobody's ever told me I was "too young" to move in with my boyfriend two weeks before my 23rd birthday! But upon hearing that we've been living together happily unmarried for 16 years, some people say, "Wow, that's a long time!" yet I rarely hear it exclaimed that 16 years is a long time for someone in her late 30s to have been married--even though I think I read somewhere that the average American marriage is 12 years? It's true, though, that most cohabiting couples either marry or split up within about 2 years, so we are unusual in that way and don't mind being congratulated on it!

    Like you, I feel that I did my most important maturing before age 23 and that a relationship can become adequately mature in a couple of years. (In our case, we met 4 years before and became a couple 2 years before we moved in together.) As for life experience, a big part of that came from college, and then there's a lot of life that we've experienced together! I don't much enjoy doing things alone, so the "freedom" of being able to move to some other city where I don't know anyone was not appealing at all. Daniel is more of an introvert and does like alone time, but he also highly values having a "companion" (I suspect the female main characters called "companions" in "Doctor Who" heavily influenced his expectations) to share his adventures. Honestly, the life experiences I most wanted to have involved sex and parenting much more than a jet-setting career, and it's a lot more fun and less stress having those experiences with a partner than in the singles scene.

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    1. That is funny that people have such different perceptions about moving in together vs. marriage when it comes to age. I wonder if it seems like not a very serious step in a relationship since, like you said, couples generally get married or split up shortly thereafter -- but it seems like you'd need just as much maturity to live with someone else whether or not you were married.

      I definitely have done more things with Mike than I ever would have on my own. I think the "freedom" of being single is overrated, particularly if you're the kind of person who doesn't like diving into crazy new adventures by yourself.

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  3. Great thoughts. The right time to get married is when you are both sure you've found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and planning your lives doesn't make sense without each other, whether you are 19 or 59.

    When it comes to whether you need to "live your life" before you get married--being married *is* part of living life. The options are different, but that's the way life is. Every choice we make eliminates others.

    I do sometimes wonder whether we had kids too young, but I think it will all work out in the end. Certainly our financial position is much worse now because of it, but I'll be 47 when my youngest two turn 18. I'll still have time for a full second career (or switching my attention fully to what I've been doing part-time). Meanwhile most of our professional acquaintances will just be starting to navigate middle school.

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    1. Love everything you said here about getting married. I was going to add a piece about having kids, but I felt that would have to be a topic for another day. As you point out, there are pros and cons to having kids at any given age, but again I don't think there are any universal prescriptions for a "good" or "bad" time to have kids.

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    2. Agree 100%.
      "The right time to get married is when you are both sure you've found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and planning your lives doesn't make sense without each other, whether you are 19 or 59."

      Agree completely!

      I had no plans on getting married young and thought those who did were a bit strange.

      Then I met my the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with in college when I was 19 and she was 17. We were married at 21/20.

      Yes, we did have problems with personal maturity, relationship maturity, and life experience, but we would have had those problems if we hadn't gotten married. And we couldn't imagine "living our life" without each other.

      I do wonder if we had kids too young. (We had the "we really aren't ready to be parents, so we should be a bit more careful about avoiding pregnancy" conversation a few days after we had conceived #1, but before we knew it.) But now that we are 31/30, the "pressure is off". We are young enough to have more if we want, but we don't have to.

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  4. I come at this subject from the perspective where I got married young (22) and it didn't work out and was divorced at four years later... so the first thing my mind is drawn to when I hear about someone who's in their early twenties getting married is my own experience and my internal instinct is to want to come barreling towards the person getting married waving my arms and screaming, "Noooo! Don't do it!" But I don't, because that would be rude... and as you've said here, everyone's circumstances are different and certainly not everyone's doomed to the failure that I experienced.

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    1. Exactly. And I think it's just as unhelpful for people to say, "I got married at 19 and it worked out great, so there's nothing wrong with getting married at 19" as it is to assume everyone is doomed who gets married before their mid-20s or whatever. There is too much variety among individuals and couples to extrapolate from one experience to everyone.

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    2. Precisely. I know that when I was 22, my decisions were heavily influenced by what I perceived other people were going to think of me... to the point where sometimes I wasn't making decisions for the right reasons. I wanted to get married to prove I was a "real adult" not because I necessarily wanted to be with my ex-husband for the rest of my life and I also seriously believed that if I wasn't married off ASAP, I'd totally miss my opportunity. I had some views at 22 that when I look back on I consider pretty warped now... and I was also in a place at that age where I would have listened to absolutely no reason... I just had to experience it for myself.

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  5. Really fun to read about your story in getting married young. I got married young too, and it's been a very healthy and wonderful 7 years since. I appreciate Nikklana's comment above because she acknowledges that everyone's experience with marriage is unique. I loved getting married young but I don't advocate it for everyone. And, as I age, I find myself saying (about other people)... "They are WAY TOO YOUNG to get married!" ha. I forget how young I was too.

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    1. I definitely have those "way too young" thoughts sometimes about people, and I think often it comes from (1) knowing that person when they were very young and/or (2) forgetting what it felt like to be that age. I mean, I think about my sister: "What? She's way too young to be starting her sophomore year of school." Obviously that's ridiculous because 15 is a perfectly normal age to be starting her sophomore year. But I just think of her as so much younger than I thought of myself when I was 15. And really, she's probably more mature than I was at that age. I think part of it may be that there's such an age gap between us, and I can't believe I'm old enough to have a sister in her second year of high school.

      So I think it's totally normal to have that kind of thought about people as you get older, but it can be helpful to remember that that may have more to do with you, or with other factors like their personal maturity, than it actually has to do with their age.

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  6. "The final reason I believe people call 23 too young to get married is the idea that you need to "live your life" before you get married. I call complete BS on this idea."

    Amen! My life doesn't look like it would had we waited to marry, but that doesn't mean I have no opportunities or exciting experiences; they're just different. More intentional, I've found. Thanks for sharing in the link-up...always nice to hear a familiar story.

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    1. "they're just different" -- exactly. I hate the notion that only single people have worthwhile life experiences. It's the old ball-and-chain idea, that getting married somehow prevents you from doing interesting or exciting things. What a ridiculous idea!

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  7. "I've learned that the limits of marriage help me focus and succeed. "

    Jessica, I have NEVER thought about marriage like that before, but I think that is absolutely true for me. I am easily distracted and get overwhelmed making important decisions. The "limits" in this sense has a very positive connotation for me, and the focus provided by own marriage (at 21, like you said) have definitely helped me focus--and succeed.

    Thanks for articulating this thought for me!

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    1. Glad it resonated with you! So often people talk about tradeoffs with marriage -- having your opportunities limited, but getting love and companionship in exchange -- but I rarely hear the idea that those limits can be positive. I think it's all tied up in the American idea that more options are always better, even though research shows that having too many options paralyzes us.

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  8. Hey! I just stopped by from the carnival from Modern Mrs Darcy. Your title intrigued me because my husband and I also married young. We were both 21 when we married, and we had been dating for six years beforehand. It drove me crazy when we were constantly warned that we were getting married too young. I agree with your points and have explained some of them to others myself. Everyone and every relationship is different. We can't all be expected to follow the same pattern or mold. Thanks for doing an awesome job of sticking up for our demographic!

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    1. You're welcome! Good to hear another positive story about how getting married young isn't always bad :)

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  9. HI, Jessica - first of all, thanks so much for visiting my blog and your thoughtful comments! Now, on this topic: I got married at 31 while my cousin (who is coincidentally one of my best friends) got married at 22. We talk about this ALL THE TIME and our different experiences with marriage. Different, but neither of us feels superior in our choice to the other, because so much depends on it, on finding the right time and the right partner! Besides, what a boring world it would be if there were some pattern we all followed!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Love that you have already had lots of conversations on this topic. My cousin got married at 19, but it was not that surprising because she was always very mature for her age -- she finished school early and, if I remember correctly, was already in nursing school when she got married. So there definitely is not one right path for everyone!

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  10. This makes a lot of sense. Whether or not a couple is "too young" depends more on the individual people- not on their exact ages.

    You mentioned that you and your husband were in grad school in different states before getting married- how long were you guys long-distance? How long had you already been dating before that? I am asking because I am wondering about continuing my relationship with my boyfriend after I graduate and move to another city. I'm kind of scared that it's unrealistic for me to think we can maintain a long-distance relationship for a year or so.

    I guess it depends on the specifics of my situation, and I shouldn't just think "all long-distance relationships are doomed."

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    1. We were long-distance for one year; I was in a five-year bachelor's/master's program, so I had one more year to stay in Ohio after we finished our bachelor's, while he moved to Chicago and started grad school there. We got married the following summer. It was tough, but it wasn't impossible. We did a lot of Skyping and talked on the phone almost every night, and we saw each other on holidays and other school breaks. My best friend was long-distance with her now-husband for most of college (they started dating sophomore year of high school). So it's definitely not true that all long-distance relationships are doomed, but you both have to be willing to put in the effort.

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  11. Hello Jessica,

    Your story is remarkably similar to mine, except we haven't gotten married yet, though we're planning it. We've been in a long-distance friendship for 6 years and finally started dating officially a month ago. People look at us (I'm 23 and he's 21, we're both having birthdays next month) and think that we are moving too fast and that we're so young to be planning our future the way we are and to be in love. How can we be so sure! They don't know we have years of conversation, discussions, extensive analysis of our relationship needs, wants, and possible obstacles. Sure, that's all that matters, but it does get old hearing that, as I'm sure it does for you.

    Anyway, this was GREAT to read, I just had to share it with my Facebook friends. Hopefully they're enlightened. :)

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    1. Welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comment! I'm glad this resonated with you, and that you've found someone who is a good match for you. Best of luck to you!

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