The choice to marry young should be respected by all

by Matthew Boardman

Marrying before the age of 25 is no longer the norm in America. In fact, marrying in one’s early 20s has become somewhat stigmatized. This attitude is reflected by many college students, including students here at Whitworth.The average ages at which men and women are marrying have reached historic heights: 27 for women and 29 for men and it’s still climbing, according to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Marriage should never be rushed into, but there is no set timeline for love. That is not to say that everyone should marry earlier; it is only to say that the age at which one marries is not indicative of the quality of the marriage. Early marriage does not deserve the ignominious reputation with which it has been given.

Marrying young comes with many challenges. It may be fairly described as a practice of great risk and great reward. Neither partner’s future is certain and each person is still maturing, but these challenges are the exact reasons why marrying young should be respected. The years of adolescence through young adulthood are among the most transformational times of a person’s life, and sharing those years as a married couple offers benefits unique to young marriage.

In the early years of adulthood, men and women are still in the process of identity development. They are choosing interests to pursue in higher education and careers, experimenting with new forms of expression and assuming new responsibilities as they live independently for the first time. Each person is still figuring out who he or she will become.

With marrying young, growing up is a shared experience. Each person’s struggles and achievements are known to the other. The what, how and why a person developed the way he did is known to his spouse because his spouse was a first-hand witness to the events. Any young couple may experience these years of growing up together, but only in fragments. Unless they were to marry each other later, each partner’s future spouse will only have a secondhand account of developmentally impactful events. The shared experiences from an early age can strengthen young married couples beyond measure.
Growing up together also means that habits and behaviors have not yet solidified. A couple that marries young develops their behaviors in relation to their partner’s. They build off one another and learn to complement rather than conflict. People who don’t meet their future spouse until they’re older have already established their habits, and learning to adapt them to work with their spouse can be challenging.
All of the shared memories, the shared trials of becoming a mature adult, the shared successes and failures of youth—these are irreplaceable benefits of marrying young.

True, there are benefits of marrying older, most of which seem to revolve around a desire for individual stability prior to marriage—completed education, stable career, some savings, perhaps even a house before marriage. The desire to enter married life from a stable foundation is by no means a bad plan. Research has shown that men and women who marry in their late twenties tend to have a higher income than those who married young. The rising generation may be fairly characterized as emphasizing the importance of the individual. A strong individual foundation prior to marriage is a reflection of that attitude.

Even so, marrying later rather than sooner is not free of its own downsides.

“Twenty-something men and women who are unmarried—be they single or cohabiting—report more drinking, more depression, and lower levels of life satisfaction than do their married peers,” according to the National Marriage Project.

While couples who marry later develop their personal foundations (education, career, savings, property, religion, sense of identity) independently from their spouse, young married couples have the opportunity to develop their lives together, jointly constructing their foundations. Like nearly all aspects of marrying young, building one’s adult life intertwined with another is one more example of great risk/great reward. Constructing one’s adult life inseparable from one’s spouse can result in an incredibly strong relationship, but if the marriage fails, dividing into two separate, stable lives can be extraordinarily difficult.

Marrying later, and by doing so having established an individual foundation, can serve as a failsafe should the marriage devolve, but no one should ever marry with the mindset that they can just divorce should the marriage fail. Such an attitude fosters a weak marriage from the start, so if that is the case, marriage should be reconsidered or postponed.

Marrying young is not for everyone and that is perfectly all right. The point is, marrying at a young age should be respected. There are valid reasons to do so, just as there are valid reasons to wait. There is no timeline for love, no age by which one must be married. Marriage should be considered whenever it is deemed right by the couple in question. Only they know the extent of their circumstances and their personal readiness to commit to one another.

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