Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My thoughts on YOUNG marriages

This is something I see and hear a lot, and since I have lived it, I feel the need to finally address it. I am not sure how to introduce this topic exactly, so I am going to just dive right in, and hopefully at some point, it will begin to make sense.

Last night, on the finale of The Biggest Loser, Antoine proposed to Alexandra. Totally predictable, but very sweet. Anyway, today I was reading some comments on the Facebook fan page about it, and many, many people had issues with the fact they have been dating for only about 6 mos, and that they are both young - Alexandra, only 20. They were saying that 20 is too young to get married, that they are too immature, etc., etc., so on and so forth. In situations like this, I have tried to speak up and represent my position before, but alas, my experience and opinion are in the minority, so its a losing battle, and I no longer even try. So, for what its worth, here's my stance.

Being ready for marriage is NOT about age or how long you have known the person before engagement (although, yeah, at least a few dates is a good idea)!!! It is about maturity level and level of committment. I know people who have gotten married at 18 who were ready for it, and I know people who got married at 35 who weren't.

The reason I take offense to this notion is because of my own experience. My husband and I met in May of 1999. I was 18, fresh out of my 1st year of college, and he was 23 and still working through his electrical apprenticeship. We began dating in June, I turned 19 in August, and on November 17th, 5 months and 5 days after our first date, he put a ring on my finger. 9 months later, 2 1/2 weeks before my 20th birthday, we tied the knot. We have now been together for 10 1/2 years total, married for over 9 years, and have 3 kids, the oldest of which was born only 15 months after we got married. That's right. I was married and a mom by age 21.

Do I regret getting married that young? Not for a second!! When you know its the right person and the right timing, you just know. I never in a million years would have envisioned getting married and having kids so young, but its the turn my life took, and I fully embraced it. Do I feel I was fully ready for marriage? Truthfully, no, but who IS ever fully prepared? Do I feel like Jeremy and I both made the choice to get married thoughtfully? Yes, I do. In large part because we're Christians, but we both understood that marriage meant a life-long committment, and even as young as we were, we were ready to accept the committment fully. We understood it meant sacrifice, compromise, surprises (both good and bad), and hardships along the way. We also knew it meant we'd be gaining support and companionship that would always be there, even in the darkest hours. We knew it meant giving up some of our individual freedoms, but we were mature enough to accept that. We knew it meant we had to be "grown ups;" to be responsible at all times because we knew there was someone else depending on us to be reliable and faithful in all things.

I think the assumption is that young couples are so blinded by the ooey-gooey's of love (the feeling) that they don't know what they're getting into. This is certainly true for SOME, but its not a blanket statement that applies to ALL. If one truly understands love, they understand that love isn't the ooey-gooey's. Love is making the decision to stand by someone, to support them in all their troubles, hopes, and dreams, to lay down a part of yourself for the good of another person, even when you disagree, even when you're angry at eachother... I think too many people think love IS the ooey-gooey's, and IS something that you "fall in and out of." No. That isn't it! Love is a committment, a covenant, a promise...and it is NOT to be broken, taken lightly, or walked away from with the cowardly excuse that you "fell out of it." Feelings come and go. Feelings are wishy-washy and unreliable. Committment is what you have when the rubber meets the road, and THAT is what love is!!

I also hear way too often as a justification for divorce, that they were "just too young" when they got married. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that either. (Agree to disagree, as always.) Like I said before, age is just a number. Young couples CAN and DO last! And older couples still end up getting divorced for the exact same reasons younger couples do. I think blaming it on youth is hooey, quite frankly. Own up and find a real reason to explain it! But saying it has to do with getting married young....I, personally, take offense to that, because I myself am proof that young marriages aren't doomed for failure.

Then I hear the "well, you need to be on your own and sow your oats before you settle down." Okay, again, age has nothing to do with this! I was NEVER an "oat sower. I never wanted to be. Even in high school, I just had no desire to party, sleep around, get drunk, or do things that could get me in trouble. If you want to be an "oat sower," then yes, please do it before you tie the knot, or you probably WILL end up in divorce court. I needed no time to sow my oats, beacuse I had no desire to sow my oats. And in all honesty, getting married young probably kept me from some oat-sowing, for which I am grateful, actually. If you need the time, take the time. If you don't, then why waste the time?

Along the time-wasting lines, I also feel like a lot of people miss the point. Isn't the whole point of dating/courting to find a mate? So there are young kids dating all the time, yet we tell them to wait til they are 25, 30, 35 before they marry. But this seems kind of counter-productive in some ways. Here's what I mean.

For one thing, it opens doors for all sorts of temptations, speaking from a Christian perspective (though not being judgemental, I promise). It just seems like if the only reason you're with someone is to "have fun," or "not be alone," or "hang out," or "experience the dating scene," its kind of a waste of time. Yours and theirs. If you aren't looking to committ to that person long-term, then all its going to result in is wasted time and hurt feelings. What's the point? (That isn't to say I wasn't one of those types for...well, up until I met Jeremy. I will freely, yet somewhat embarrassedly, admit that.)

Secondly, if you are with the right person, and you get married, there is a whole new level of accountability that MAKES you work things out. If you are with the right person for years and years without tying the knot, the obligation of marriage doesn't keep you there. When things get hard, its "easier" (I say that lightly because, let's face it, I'm sure its not easy) to walk away. Your assets (usually) still aren't combined, you pay your own bills, you have your own life, and you don't have to answer to court or public opinion if it ends. I think waiting and waiting, if you know you've found the right person, could possibly be setting couples up for failure in the long run.

Also, what is the wait for? To finish school, have enough money, have all the "ducks in a row".... Let me tell you something. If I have learned nothing else in my adult life, its that, when it comes to big life changes, such as getting married or having kids, timing is NEVER going to be perfect! You will still need *something* in order to have the "perfect" scenario. It'll never happen. So you could be waiting forever, and miss out on some of the greatest things in life.

I'm not saying everyone needs to go out and get married young just because I did, I am just stating my case and my opinions. There are sooo many factors to consider before taking such a huge step in life. I'm just saying this to reiterate and make that clear. Obviously, everyone has to do what's right for them, and who am I to think I know what's right for everyone else?

Maybe this is just a bugaboo of mine because, like I said, this is something I have been hearing since the day I announced I was engaged. I had a classmate in my pottery class tell me that I was throwing my life away by getting married so young. I ran into him at a restaurant a few years ago. He was our waiter. So...there I was with my wonderful husband and kids, and he was serving my food. Who's got the less fulfilling life now?!? (Okay, maybe that was a little harsh...) I also had a "friend" (who consequently, showed up uninvited to our wedding, go figure) who's response to me telling him I was engaged was, and I quote, "Well, don't get too excited. The average American gets married 3 times in their lifetime anyway." (No joke, he actually said that! I'm not making it up!) People are always shocked when I tell them how young I was when I got married, and sometimes I still get that "it'll never last" look from people.

But here's the thing. I am committed to my husband and my family. There are days when we can't stand eachother, but we still know that we are eachother's biggest advocate in this life. We have been through so many ups and downs, we have literally grown up together. We have matured together and learned about life together. So in that resepct, yeah, I am a little glad I got married young, actually! I'm glad that I got to know my husband when we were still young. I am glad we are going to get to spend so much of our lives together. I am glad we get to spend so much time watching eachother grow up and mature. I have already spent over 1/3rd of my life with Jeremy, and I'm not even 30! There is a unique element to our relationship because we've grown up and matured together. We see eachothers' growth. He is a much different man now than he was back then; he's bolder, more assertive, more protective... And I am sure I am different today than I was then. (I have DEFINITELY grown up!! No question about that!!) We have figured out not just marriage, but LIFE, together. How many couples can actually, honestly say that?!? I can, and I am proud to! :)

So I guess my point in all this is, before you start making assumptions and generalizations, and heap false assumptions of failure on short courtships and/or young marriages, consider the many of us out there who got married after a short courtship and/or got married young, and are still together, and committed to making it work no matter what. Because we DO exist, and I think we deserve a LOT more credit!! Or at the very least, the benefit of the doubt.

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