Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Insights Into Marrying Young

Up until a couple years ago, I thought I would go ballistic if ever my child at, say, 21 years of age, told me he/she wanted to get married. I was a firm believer in dating around, living life independently, and finishing college (at least) before marriage. I mean, that was fine if other people wanted to get married young, but I sure didn’t want my kids leaping in to something so serious at such a young age.

I was actually a bit embarrassed that I got married as young as I did at 22 turning 23. But at least, I rationalized to myself, I had one year of grad school under my belt, one year of living in Europe, and a year of living by myself in my own apartment.

I think things did work out beautifully for me and Mike. He was 27 and finishing up grad school at the time of our marriage. We actually lived apart for the first 5 months of our married life as he finished up classes on the East Coast and I continued with my program on the West Coast. Though sometimes I have slight twinges of envy when I hear about the exciting lives of some of my single friends, I’ve never had a moment’s regret over marrying Mike when I did.

Over the last couple of years, my feelings about getting married young have started to change. I’ve met friends who got married in their very early 20’s, and have made a great life together. They’ve been able to grow, mature, and decide together what academic and career paths to take. Together their faith has matured and been nuanced. Together they’ve gone to other countries to teach English. Together they’ve become real adults.

When I see my couple friends who have gelled so nicely, I sometimes joke that Mike was too well formed, too set in his ways, when I married him. We have a fantastic marriage, but we haven’t grown together like others I know. We remain in different political parties. We remain with different approaches to living out our Mormon faith. We remain, well, very different.

While I like the idea of maturing together into adulthood, my change of heart really is due to conversations with some single friends. My good friend recently broke up with her boyfriend of four years, the man she was convinced she would marry. But after giving the guy lots of time, he wasn’t ready for marriage so she was forced to break it off.

She came over to my home the other day and with tears in her eyes told me that she was now approaching 31, and that she should have been married by now, she should have had a baby by now. That this guy took the best years of her life, and how was she ever going to meet someone new and start again? My heart went out to her. And I’m worried that it will indeed be hard for her to meet new people since she’s a bit shy and dislikes bar scenes.

From talking to her, and to other single friends, I’ve learned how hard it can be to find someone when you’re getting into your 30’s. I’ve spent several hours worrying about my friends, hoping and praying that they will find the relationships they are looking for, and wracking my brains for men to introduce them to. (Disclaimer: My angst is due to their angst. If they were happy single, I would be certainly be happy for them.)

So what’s the upshot of all this? If my kid is 21 and desperately in love with a good kid who has potential, I won’t stand in their way. I’d hate to put my foot down against an early marriage and then live to see my child with regrets later on if another special person didn’t come along.


Blogger john.white said...

The idea of marrying young and growing together is a beautiful one. The idea of marrying young out of fear that one wouldn't be able to meet someone when older is troubling.

I think the notion that people stop growing in their mid-20's is a mistake. And I think that ignoring the (very real) chance of growing apart is a mistake.

But since the fear is what changed your mind, I think the fear is the main thing to focus on. I think it's a mistake to be in a relationship without both people being clear about the goals. Is the goal to find someone to marry? To begin a family? Then if one of the people doesn't feel that way, four years starting at 26 is probably too long for that relationship.

Fear of losing "the best years" is a horrible motivator. Fear of not being able to meet someone new is a horrible motivator. People in their mid-20's shouldn't be relegated to marrying someone out of fear. Shy people shouldn't marry someone out of fear. Marriage should be based in something deeper than that.

And I think that getting married at 20 has too much of a chance of being hormonally influenced. :-)

12/27/2007 9:13 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

i have to agree with john that fear should never be a motivating factor when it comes to relationships. and i say that as someone who has felt a lot of that fear in a mormon cultural context that inspires and fosters that fear.

i know how your friend feels. i've said those same things before--that i should be married by now. that i should have a baby by now. my mom and my two sisters had all been married with multiple children by the time they were my age. so my family's background reinforces the mormon cultural influence.

what i've clung to whenever i feel the way your friend did is that i don't want to be married. true, i don't want to be alone for the rest of my life. and i do want a companion and children. and marriage seems an avenue to not being alone and to having family. but it can also be an avenue to even greater loneliness if the motivating factor for entering the marriage is "not being alone" or "wanting a family."

but at the end of the day, what i want is a particular kind of relationship. i want connection with a man i love.

i understand the fear of not finding someone. i understand how impossible it seems sometimes. but what makes it hard to find someone is not age or experience or how set you are in your ideas and ways. it's finding the connection that's hard. and then letting that connection grow. that will be difficult regardless of age, i think. it wasn't any easier for me to find someone i felt connected with 10 years ago than it is now.

12/27/2007 10:45 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

John, I think you're right that marrying young out of fear of not meeting someone else is troubling.

But I guess my new perspective is, if you're young, totally in love, and it's a good person, why not just go for it and hope for the best? Why refuse to marry just because you had this idea that one shouldn't marry before 25?

Marriage is always a risk. Whether it's done at 19 or 40. Like you, I would hope that in either case fear wouldn't be a motivator.

Amy, that's so true about how a bad marriage can be even lonelier than no marriage. I think I've known married people who have experienced that.

And yes, the connection is paramount. And difficult to find. I'm so glad that I found it with Mike - and that I didn't let him go just because I was pretty young at the time and had always had expectations of marriage in my late 20's.

12/27/2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

Amelia: Once you realize that the pressure is cultural, can't you just kind of ... you know ... get over it?

Pay-back's a bitch! :-)

Caroline: I agree that arbitrary rules are ... arbitrary. But as a reaction against cultural pressure to marry young, I find it makes more sense. Perhaps the ideal solution is to recognize pressure to marry young isn't a good enough reason to marry young. And that an arbitrary rule you set for yourself as a reaction against that isn't a good enough reason to pass up a terrific relationship.

There are all kinds of ways marriages can go wrong, and doing it later rather than earlier is no guarantee. But I think I'll acknowledge that, in general, change happens at a slower pace past 24 or so. So it might be safer?

On the topic of "just going for it," I think there are ways to do that with open eyes that might help which younger people are less likely to do. For example, discussing religious beliefs, levels of orthodoxy, what involvement in a religious community means in practice, practical attitudes towards money, debt, and spending, attitudes towards having and raising children. I think the younger you are, the less likely you are to have settled these questions for yourself. And they're tough subjects to discuss.

12/27/2007 4:17 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

i wonder, john.white, if i were to say 'you're right; i'm wrong,' would the payback bitch back off? :)

part of what i'm actually trying to say is that i do try to get over it because i realize that the pressure to marry is cultural. that's what i'm getting at when i say i try to hold onto the fact that i'm not interested in being married, but in a particular kind of relationship.

do i always succeed in getting over it? in not letting the cultural pressure affect me? of course not. but i do try. and i completely sympathize with other people who suffer as a result of that cultural pressure.

but you're right--i could be much more sympathetic.

on another note: i agree that regardless of the age at which someone chooses to marry, they should do everything in their power to go into marriage with open eyes. not that i think every potential problem can be resolved in advance; just that i think people can at least figure out if they share foundational principles that will help them resolve problems in the future. it's something i think the mormon church does a horrible job of. far too many mormons assume that the fact that the other person is mormon means that the two of them share common values.

12/28/2007 1:37 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

If your child is in love enough and planning to get married - even if you can see the situation is totally wrong - you'll find "putting your foot down" pointless anyway. They will marry who THEY choose to marry... as someone who chose someone no one in my family would have picked (due to his being non-mormon), I feel I can speak as one who knows.

As far as age goes, I think individual maturity counts for a lot. Some people get married and then "grow up" while others grow up and then get married. Both can work. Both can fail.

I thoroughly enjoyed my 26 years of single life, and have also thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years of married life. There is no answer for everyone.

12/28/2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger G said...

it makes me sad that at 31 your friend thinks the best days of her life are wasted. I hope she has some good experiences to help her feel more at peace with herself.

this is a huge disservice the LDS church does to it's youth and young adults- the implied sense of failure if marriage and childbirth don't appear to be happening in the correct time frame. very sad.

and john white, recognizing the cultural pressure as dumb still sometimes doesn't take a person very far when it comes to just 'getting over it'. it helps, but oh all the emotional junk and subliminal baggage that yet lies beneath!
happy times.

12/29/2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

G: I agree. I also tried to make a similar point in the comments in this post. Pay close attention to who's saying to "get over it." :-)

Amelia: Oops. I guess not. :-)

12/29/2007 8:04 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Yes, I think you're right that change probably does slow down after 24. And I admit that I would be more comfortable if my kids married in their mid 20's or later, as opposed to early 20s.

And those questions are paramount. I'm proud to say that Mike and I actually discussed every single one of those when we were dating. But as you can imagine, what I said at 22 is a bit different than what I say now at 30.

12/29/2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Amy, I wonder if requiring LDS couples to go through some kind of pre-marriage counseling might be a good idea.

Amber, that's true that as a parent I couldn't really stop a kid from marrying. But I guess I could choose whether to freak out and show intense disapproval or not.

G, Yes, it is sad. This particular friend happens to not be LDS, but I know other Mormon singles who have struggled with thoughts like this.

12/29/2007 8:43 PM  
Blogger G said...

"This particular friend happens to not be LDS"
then what's her problem!?! just kidding. I gotta keep remembering that the church doesn't have some sort of monopoly certain ideologies.

john white... ah, an inside joke! I'll try to keep up with those ;-)

12/29/2007 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Tanya Sue said...

I am always saddened at my amazing friends who think they are old because they are over 25 and not married. Hit 30 and they think life is over.

Culturally, I do think the LDS church puts tons of pressure on people to get married young. I think the decision to marry is a personal thing and each person has to make their own decision. As a rule I would encourage people to have a little more under their belt before making that big of a decision. The flipside, is that it seems in the church, that people are less likley to get married as they get older.

I once read an article (that I cannot find now) that went through the pro's and con's of marriage ages. 20's, 30's, and 40's. In a nut shell, the pro's and con's seemed pretty balanced. It took emotional closeness, sex lives, finances, how long you would be together (before you die), how likely you were to have kids, etc. into consideration-not just how likley you were to divorce.

12/30/2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger Anna Maria Junus said...

I was not happy when my daughter became engaged just before her nineteenth birthday.

She hadn't finished college. She's only lived on her own for a year. There was so much life to live before settling down.

All of this was based on my own experience of marrying too young and choosing the wrong man.

But, she married a good man and four years later she's still happy with a newborn baby.

Everyone's time table is different.

1/08/2008 2:14 AM  

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