I Do Too Soon? Marrying Young

To be honest, I’m probably not qualified yet to write about this topic – since I’m not really married yet – but I thought I’d touch on it anyway. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it in recent weeks planning my wedding and going to marriage prep. [Oh, did I mention? I’m engaged! ]

Just to get you started with some statistics: a Pew Research Center study taken in 2011 determined that the average age of marriage in the United States for the first time for men is around 28.7, while the age of the average woman getting married is around 26.5. In the same study, researchers determined that now only 51% of American adults are married at all, compared to 72% in 1960.

As I’ve encountered different people in my workplaces and in my college classes, I’ve noticed very pronounced reactions to my relatively-early engagement (at least compared to the national statistics). A couple classmates were beyond psyched for me, while another said, “Are you sure about this? I mean, you’re only 21.” I had an older lady friend of my fiancé’s say to us, well good luck but you’re just too young to get married. Another college senior girl who sits by me at work lives with her boyfriend and expressed wishes he would just propose instead of living together straight out when she spotted the ring on my left hand.  I’ve bonded in class with other girls who are engaged, whispering wedding tips and tricks in the couple minutes before class and joking about being so young to get married.

Marriage itself has kind of been in the national political spotlight recently, with the debate about gay marriage being so prevalent and so contested. With all of these factors tying in together, it seems as though the concept of marriage as a whole has been in the communal mind of Americans in the past couple years.

I’m not sure what to make of this.

In one way, I think it’s good that our society examines some of the traditions and behaviors we come to accept as normal. Where would we be if we had never talked about the Prohibition act or allowed women to vote? [I have a feeling we’d have a large faction of homemade wine-happy women creating their own secret government…but that’s just a theory.] But on the other hand, I find a rather ever-present pressure present in American society to slow down and reevaluate when and where marriage should occur in a young person’s life.

In a way, this can certainly be viewed in a good light. Young people including myself are seeing the national divorce rates climb to over 51% of marriages – and they get scared. What’s the point in spending thousands of dollars on a pretty white dress and some [freaking expensive] cake if it’s not going to be forever? And there’s a lot of sense in that. This concept of marriage is being taken more seriously by those at the prime marrying age, and I love that. Marriage isn’t something that should be taken lightly (whether you are speaking of civil marriage or sacramental marriage). Marriage is a lifelong commitment to one person for better or for worse, not just when you get tired and don’t like their snoring anymore.

But on the other hand, their seriousness can be taken too far. Hypothetical 29-year-old Unmarried Man says “Well, marriage isn’t worth it, so I’ll just live with my girlfriend for a while and if it doesn’t work out, she can just move out. No big deal, right?” Umm, in my opinion, BIG DEAL. I won’t go into it here (future blog post?) but there are so many reasons why living together and not being married is just a bad, bad idea.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I have noticed a trend relating to marriage recently at least in the different communities I inhabit. My church-going friends, those who either attend the Newman Center or another faith-group frequently and are relatively serious about their faith, seem to get married much sooner than my non-religious or unidentifiably religious friends. At both of my jobs, I am surrounded by young professionals ages 25, 26, 27, 28 who are not at all interested in getting married. One of the employees I work with was overheard last week saying “I have a girlfriend and a job. I don’t need to get married on top of that.” [First of all, what, also, what?]

Yet I think the disparity between these two groups is what makes this topic so interesting.  There are those 20-24 year olds who are involved in their religious groups getting married right out of college. And there are those young professionals who put it off until later in life. Why is this? Are those business-driven young adults just not willing to devote the time and energy into a marriage so early? Or what exactly is going on?

My theory is the peace of Christ.

Okay, yeah, that theory doesn’t make much sense without me explaining it. So here it goes. I think that those who are involved with their religious groups have a couple advantages not only finding someone to marry but making sure they want to marry them and sooner over their secular compatriots.

  1. If they’re involved even in a little way with their faith, they are bound to meet people who share similar values and religious beliefs. Even if it’s just every Sunday service, going there you’re bound to see some cute guy or a pretty girl sitting in the pew a couple rows ahead, and bam. Spark. Young professionals seem to complain a lot about being tired of the “dating game” and not being able to meet people. Church is a GREAT way to meet people!
  2. Young people involved with their faiths seem to know themselves better. If you are a serious believer in any religion, you really do have to know both what you believe in and in conjunction with that, yourself. If you then know yourself pretty well, you are able to then know someone else – aka date someone which might lead to marriage. And if that spark to get involved in your faith and know yourself happens in college, then the sooner you know yourself the sooner the rest of it can happen.
  3. Most importantly, if you’re serious about your faith and have been dating someone for a while, thinking it might lead to marriage, it is bound to come up in prayer. Whether you’re Catholic or Christian or whatever religion you like, prayer is a way to glorify God and also talk about your problems. So, if Bob and Jane are dating, Bob is probably going to go to prayer all the time about both the joys and the sorrows he’s experience in dating Jane, and Jane will do the same.

These three advantages all lead up to this peace I spoke about. If, say, you meet your future spouse at a church event, you know yourself and them pretty well, and you pray about your relationship, chances are you’re going to be pretty peaceful about where it’s heading. And then when it comes to this big question – do we get married – you’re going to have peace. It might not come right away, and it might come disguised, but I do really believe that this peace is what’s going to drive you to know that you’re supposed to get married.

I know that was certainly the case for me. I don’t want to get on a soapbox here but that’s how I knew I was supposed to marry my fiancé. I met him at the Newman Center, I’d been serious in my faith for long enough to know who I was and what I needed and wanted, and we prayed for each other and about our relationship all the time. Soon enough in prayer and just in my heart I knew that he was the one for me. Of course times of doubt occur just like they do for every decision you can make, but I knew that Christ’s peace was the main factor in me deciding we were going to get married.

Peace of Christ. Bam.

I realize that this ‘formula’ doesn’t work for everyone, because that would be ridiculous and stupid. But I think it does examine why this difference exists between the different communities I exist within and a little bit of why each community thinks the way I do [at least from my outside observance].

I don’t really know how to end this article because my own thoughts are still relatively jumbled about it, so I will end with a small piece of advice. If you’re looking for a husband or a wife and you don’t know where to turn, go to church. You’ve probably heard your mom say that a hundred times, but I speak from experience – it works. I can’t guarantee anything but if you’re getting closer to God in the process, what could it hurt?

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