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:
- How We Met (Part 1)
- How We Met (Part 2)
- How We Met (Part 3)
- Our Engagement
- Our Wedding
- 2 Years In: Reflections on Trial and Service
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
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.
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
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."
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 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.
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.