“Are you pregnant?”
Noah & Katie are 19 year olds who are weeks away from getting married. Be honest, for the vast majority of people reading this, you did a double take. Married at 19? Don’t you want to live it up? You should finish college first, and get your careers established and finances in order. You’re still figuring out who you are. Don’t you want to wait until you’ve had some time to discover yourself? These are the most common response young couples are hearing these days, coupled with the occasional “are you pregnant?” heard by the especially young couple.
They are not pregnant. To be married at 19 is their choice. They are young, but they are not immature. They are at a stage of life where money isn’t abundant, but they are not financially illiterate or irresponsible. They aren’t finished with college, but they also aren’t going to be derailed from doing so.
The average age of first marriage in this country has risen rather dramatically in the last 60 years. Marrying in your early 20s was once the norm while presently the numbers sit at 29 for men and nearly 28 for women according to the 2010 Census (numbers I predict will have risen with the 2020 data). We don’t advocate for or against any particular age indiscriminately, but in getting married young Noah and Katie will by default grow up together, learn to make decisions as a team, and stave off potential rigidity that often comes with time spent in bachelorhood. When the vast majority of their peers and fellow couples openly denounce jumping into such a serious commitment at this time in their lives, it begs the question: how is their decision to marry anything but the most mature one? Further, marriage for them will only be a means to greater maturity, which ironically, has historically been the case.
Rather than hear responses like “are you pregnant?” which was the first Katie heard after sharing the news of her engagement, she told us what she would have rather received in response: “for people to react to her the same way she would have reacted to them” [with kindness]. We couldn’t agree more, but, speaking from a couple who, at 21, was also young when we got married ourselves, here are the words of encouragement we ought to be speaking over young couples choosing to make this most mature decision:
1. Live it up with the one you want to spend your life. This idea that by marrying young, you are missing out on a time in your life where you can experience the most thrills with minimal regrets is oft repeated. The problem is that the thrills are mostly overrated and often experienced with the kinds of people that many of us don’t stay connected with for the long haul. People do change, as do their statuses and situations. Unlike a spouse who you get to do life with, who knows you and sticks by you through the good and the bad, many of your friendships are temporary, even those you think are worth delaying marriage for.
2. You can establish yourselves together, as a team. Many couples of older generations describe their first few months and years of marriage as “living on love.” Just as you won’t fly a butterfly returning to curse it’s cocoon, you rarely find a couple who looks back on this time with anything but fondness. It’s in these early years where younger couples often don’t have the resources to be distracted by material things. They cheer each other on to work hard and in their down time the only distraction that they have is each other. This is a most perfect recipe to establish a solid life that roots itself in team.
3. You have the opportunity to grow up and discover who you are, together. People certainly do change. What we prefer in our teens we are later embarrassed by. The mistakes we made in our 20s and 30s ideally have disappeared by our 60s and 70s. We may still like the musical choices of our younger years but the present world around us has most certainly passed us by. In this sense we are always changing. This is part of what it means to be human. Part of what it means to be married is to change for the better, as spouses. As we grow to become less selfish, more mature, less frivolous, more wise, less
4. Being married in college can be an adventure you’ll never forget. For some reason they most commonly given line of demarcation for when two individuals are ready for marriage is post-college graduation. If the belief is that getting married will make a couple less likely to go to class or study hard, you’ll be hard pressed to find hard evidence to support it. The reality is for couples who aren’t cohabiting the engaged life is still a form of dating. You haven’t settled into the normalcy of doing life together, with all it’s mundane parts that parallel the exhilarating. You still have pain and frustrating of having to say goodnight at the end of the night and feeling like you don’t see each other nearly enough for your preference. You’re continuing to pursue each other in the midst of mystery. It’s not that marriage removes this pursuit, but much of the mystery becomes an unveiled reality. You get to see each other regularly, getting your fix of quality time at the end of every day, which inhibits your fear of missing out. Many young married couples still attending college actually do better in their studies and are more likely to attend classes than their unmarried counterparts who are in committed relationships. Further, they may actually be in a better financial position by reducing two rent and utilities payments to one, along with other potential savings that come with combining two households.
5. You are not bound to end up divorced. There is no strong correlation between getting married young and ending up divorced, at least not in the general sense. Many other factors are often to blame if the relationship fails and these are conveniently overlooked by the denouncers of young marriage. No matter the age of marriage, if spouses fail to confront potential pitfalls stemming from their families of origin, past unhealthy relationships, uncleared trauma or more, they can expect hardship. The divorce rate is nowhere near 50%, though that number is often quoted. Still, it’s high enough that most people recognize the potential pain that marriage can result in. Healthy marriages are made up of healthy people who are discriminating enough to see the forest through the trees, recognizing that marriage itself is not an institution destined for failure. Rather, when it fails there are always underlying causes of which no age group is immune.
Contra the title of the video below, we are big fans of couple who marry young. We were that couple and 17+ years later, the only regret we have is that we didn’t marry a year earlier. May we recognize the maturity of young couples who choose building a life together in the face of living it up and be supportive as they start their young lives out together. It’s what they’ve told us they need the most.