A few weeks ago I was having dinner with my husband at a small restaurant near our home. There was a couple seated directly behind me carrying on with mostly meaningless, and rather annoying, conversation. I admittedly wished they would just be quiet… until their conversation turned to marriage. It started off with how they were at that age where lots of their friends are getting married or having babies. I, too, have seen this trend among young people I know. The young woman spoke of a friend who is “only 20 … I mean, she hasn’t even lived her life yet.” She mentioned that she likes getting to do what she wants and having “no responsibilities.” The two also mentioned how not “finding yourself” or “experiencing” the world prior to marriage would doom you to divorce.
Like I’m sure many of you have, I recently read an article titled “23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23″ (You can read the original article here.) This article, and the couples conversation, didn’t so much offend me as much as it saddened me. We really do live in a culture today that teaches young people to fear marriage, to look down on it, and that they “owe themselves” something that they can only get by being wild and reckless in their twenties. Our culture emphasizes and encourages independence and selfishness. It teaches us that it’s okay to be self-centered, to care more about yourself than others…
This isn’t the young American dream. It’s the American lie.
All I have to say about the article is that it strikes me as naive and, quite frankly, rather rude. It essentially mocks the institution of marriage while simultaneously belittling it. I also have to say that anyone who uses the term “YOLO” is not mature enough to understand marriage, let alone make assumptions of the marriages of their young counterparts. Marrying young is certainly not “hip” or “cool” in today’s society, and I will be the first to tell you that it definitely isn’t easy either. It is a big commitment, the biggest one you’ll ever make aside from becoming a parent, and you have to work at it every single day.
There is no denying that divorce and dissolution of marriage is definitely prevalent in married couples who are young. But did you know that you are most likely to get a divorce if you have been married 5 years or less? And that this estimated risk is regardless of age when first married? There is actually no reputable evidence that shows that 50% of all US marriages truly end in divorce. Sure, if you look at the CDC stats it appears that in a given year there are twice as many marriages as divorces. But how many of those marriages began and ended in that same year? Probably not many. In order for those numbers to truly represent a 50% divorce rate, half of the marriages that take place in a given year would have to end in that year. Truth is, it’s extremely hard to get a good idea or representation of how many American marriages are ending in divorce. And in fact, the current information on divorce rates reports nothing on their ages; age when married, age when divorced, or even the length of the marriage. The NY Times, which the author of the other article references, does report that “40% of all divorces [occur] in couples under 30″, but do you think that maybe that might be because the couples who marry in their early 20’s will be in that 5-year “window of risk” before the age of 30? Which, let me remind you, has nothing to do with their age.
I’m not here to say that everyone should be getting married young. It definitely isn’t for everyone. But young adults shouldn’t fear marriage – they should embrace it as the gift it can be. It shouldn’t be a taboo – it should be celebrated. Those of us who are young and married should not have to be told over and over again that our marriages will fail – we should be encouraged to keep working at them. And we should not be told that we are “inexperienced”, because marriage is not the end of experiences.
Dating? I experienced enough dating while I was in high school. And honestly, my frequent dates with my now husband are far better than any of my previous ones.
Higher education? My husband went to two vocational schools and earned two degrees – all before we even met. I graduated high school with 12 college credits and a resume a college sophomore would envy. Now I’m a student at our state university, and I’m thankful every day that my husband is here by my side to support me through it physically, emotionally, and financially. And what’s more, after almost 20 years of marriage my dad went back to school for electrical and construction training – at the age of 43.
Travel? My husband spent a month bumming in Hawaii before we met, and I saw DC, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all in one year. We will have many years to travel whenever and wherever we want; and better yet, we get to do it together.
My husband and I also plan on buying a house in the near future, starting a family of our own in a few years, and recently we made the decision to sponsor two children in foreign countries. All of which will be or are new experiences for each of us. My husband also encourages me to try new things all the time, whether it be foods or activities.
We were not designed to be independent beings. We were created to live in relationship – strife free relationship – with other people and with God. “We were made to live face to face with the God of the universe, who fashioned us in His reflection” (Lee Hudson, June 2013). Granted, the “strife free” and “face to face” parts went down the drain in the Garden of Eden, but the point is that we cannot live full lives independently. This idea that we should develop ourselves independently and that any kind of structure or commitment will only hinder us is one of the biggest lies that we are fed as young Americans. I have seen first hand what happens when these ideas are embraced, and do you know what I see? I see a 26 year old woman whose entire life has been focused on self advancement and on her career, who has nothing but her job, and is quickly approaching middle adulthood – alone. I see a newly married couple in their mid-30’s who are struggling tremendously to learn to coexist, because they’ve spent the last 30 years not having to grow and develop with someone else in mind – or someone else to rely on. I see people trying to plant two full grown trees in the same pot and expecting them to thrive; instead of putting two saplings in the same pot and watching them grow together – intertwining and sharing resources. I see young people, our next generation, who think marriage is a consumer item or obsolete entirely, because that’s what their media and society is telling them. And these things break my heart every day.
When Andy and I met, we just knew. We thought “why wait”, not “why rush.” I was not expected to marry him. I felt no social pressure. I wanted to be his wife. I was not afraid to face the world alone – I already knew I could. [In fact, I always expected to end up on my own. Even a year and a half before I married Andy I didn't think I would ever be married.] We’re still growing, we’re still learning – like all other married couples. We go out, we cuddle, we explore, we read, we like being at parties with friends, we try new things. We aren’t settled down at 21 and 24 with a white picket fence; we are flying by the seat of our pants with a Christmas doormat still on the doorstep in February. But this disorganized mess of a life that we share is ours. We get to learn lessons together and change and develop together, rather than coming from completely different life experiences and lessons 10 years down the road and trying to blend together then. Our marriage is a blessing. Not a hindrance.
I didn’t ask to be put on this earth, but here I am. A young woman. A young wife. I don’t owe myself anything, and I really don’t know where my generation gets that idea. I owe everything to God, because He chose to put me – little old simple me – in the here and now. On this path. And He gave me a purpose. I owe it to Him and my husband to be grateful, respectful, obedient, kind, compassionate, and the best wife that I can be – all and only by the grace of God.
Marriage is not a cop-out. It’s not for guilt free sex. It’s not taking the easy road. It’s not until I get bored with my spouse. And it is not obsolete. It’s forever. It’s choosing to walk the narrow path, to pass through the narrow gate, and to not conform to this world. It’s choosing to walk in obedience with Christ and in the commandments of God. It’s putting your commitment to God and to your spouse above all else. It’s putting the needs of your spouse and of your marriage [or family, if you have children] before your own needs, but knowing that your needs will still be met because your spouse is doing the same for you. It’s being a team. It’s realizing that there is more to life than what this world is offering us.
So to those of you who are young and married, do not lose heart. Do not be discouraged by our media and by our society. Be a light. Be the example you want the next generation to look up to. And if you are young and unmarried, I do not wish you to be offended by my words. But I do wish you would look around at the America you live in and decide where the lies lie for yourself… Our nation is broken, and it’s not just its marriages.
[I'll take that list of '23 Things' and raise you '23 Things To Do When You're Married In Your 20's'. I think you'll find there is still lots you can do... Stay tuned for that one.]
These things can be applied to couples of all ages. I have geared this toward my generation simply because we are constantly being ridiculed and convicted by our own peers for choosing to be married. I hope that this article changes the way that some of you may view marriage. I also realize that I have readers from all over the world. If there are issues surrounding young marriage in your country please share in the comments below. I would be very interested to hear about it. Thank you.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:2 ESV]