Friday, January 22, 2010

how young is too young...

… I wonder about this misogynistic idea we’ve been instilling in young women in recent generations; the notion that in order to experience life they must date multiple partners and have “fun” in their youth [20 something] before committing to marriage. And by what does “fun” imply? Is this giving verbal and societal permission for young ladies to behave promiscuously? It would certainly seem to imply that this is acceptable behavior, even expected.

Upon learning that my seventeen year old cousin received a promise ring from her 18 year old boyfriend the family has been speculating about these two and what their future plans hold. Her parents are very prayerful Christians and they have been praying about their daughter’s relationships since she hit puberty. Her mom confided in me that if they did indeed get married she would be at peace with the decision because the young man is also devoutly Christian. If my little cousin got married at 18 I would honestly celebrate the occasion with her.

Some in our family have said if he proposed they would empathically be against it and try to talk them out of it. The argument being she is too young and hasn’t experienced enough. When probed about what they mean by “experience” I get the same vague answers about hanging out with friends, traveling and having a good time. Funny, I don’t recall your social life ending because you are married or suddenly being prohibited from leaving the country.

They can’t fathom that a young woman would choose to be in a loving self sacrificing, and edifying relationship, such as marriage instead of dating multiple boys. I choose to live out my twenty’s in that manner, proudly proclaiming marriage was nothing more than a piece of paper. I gave up my high school sweet heart when I left for college because I felt I needed to “experience” more out of life before accepting his proposal. All I "experienced" was superficial romances that led to heart ache and left me not wiser, only tired and bitter. Bitter at twenty five! I know! If I ever have a daughter I plan to be earnest and frank with her about this feminist fallacy pervasive in our society. Hopefully, I can save her the pain.

This idea of holding off marriage until we’ve become worldlier is really a recent phenomenon. I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that since we’ve begun waiting to marry later in life that divorce rates have soared. Women are on contraception making hormonally bad choices for mates and then finding themselves past their prime and scurrying to marry whatever is left available or the first men who would have them. Historically, men and women married as teenagers. My grandparents married out of high school as I am sure many of yours did.

It just frustrates me to no end to hear family members talk about this sweet young lady in such a manner, even suggesting she behave like a tramp in order to find self fulfillment.

Readers, what are your thoughts on young marriages? I am totally off base here?

Discuss.

35 comments:

KT said...

Bearing in mind that everyone should try to do what they think is God's will for them as best they can discern it, I do think that there is some practical wisdom in waiting a little longer than 18. I don't mind a promise ring, but I think the girl should go to college before she gets married. why? so that if hubby dies when she has a houseful of children to manage, she will have options besides waitressing and keeping house. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) A college education is an insurance policy. Besides which, it is the truth that being exposed to the bigger world may put her vocational discernment to the test a little bit, and I don't think that hurts anything.

My two cents. But I'm 43 and not married, so there you go.

nazareth priest said...

Our culture has changed so radically in the last fifty years.
In the 1950's, marrying at 18yrs of age would not be looked upon as strange.
Today, this idea of a "window" between 18 and 30 yrs of age for exploration, experience, and whatnot is just accepted as normal.
From a religious vocation aspect (I'm prejudiced here!), maturity and willingness to sacrifice are the main components of accepting a vocation; this is whether to marriage, religious life, priesthood or dedicated single life.
Otherwise, it's just chaos.
Going to college is not necessarily the answer; not going to college is not necessarily the answer.
Each person has their own particular need and gift. What, in my humble estimation, is the absolutely necessary aspect is whether they are ready to take on an adult commitment; are they ready to sacrifice, no matter how difficult; do they want to serve the Lord in their particular vocation?

Marie said...

My husband and I were 21&23 when we were married. We were a bit worried about being lectured but didn't hear a thing. I feel like as long as you have your college diploma (nevermind if you are using it or not) people don't think they have a right to say anything. Otherwise....

I know that 18 I wasn't ready to get married. I was still a mess religiously and morally.

steve said...

I think the girl should go to college before she gets married

This sounds, perhaps unintentionally, like CC’s relatives who think the cousin needs to go out and have ‘experiences’. I work at a college and I can assure you that not all of our freshmen are single 18 year olds. A perk of my job is that I get to take free classes. In a recent class, one of my classmates was a young woman in her 20s who was married, pregnant, and working on her undergraduate degree. Being married and attending college (or traveling for that matter) are not mutually exclusive.

A college degree isn’t really that much of an insurance policy anymore (although we would never tell our prospective students that); and, there are a lot more college educated wait staff out there than you may realize.

Adrienne said...

Nazareth Priest said it all...

The Crescat said...

a college degree is not an inurance policy on anything, just ask the recent grads living with their parents unemployed.

And as for as I am concernded a college education isn't an experience, something to check off your "things to do before I die" list. You go to college to intellectually better yourself ...

you get married to spiritually better yourself. The two are not exclusive from each other, imo.

I am currently in college and the notion of the 18 year old freshmen is outdated. Classes range in age type and socio-economic background dramatically.

I don't know, I just can't swallow the argument about experiencing college before marriage... that usually means experience college "lifestyle" ... which include keg parties ...

Sarah - Kala said...

I'm 40. No college degree. Married at 22 (he was 26) four months after we met. Three kids and seventeen years later . . . if he dies, I go to work where and when I can. Period. You just figure it out. I love my life and I wouldn't change it. I can go to college "whenever" and I can got to work "whenever" . . . if circumstances push me sooner than I'm ready, I'll will always keep my trust in God.

Naz Priest - good words.

ehilton said...

I don't think any woman should get married until she is sure that she can support herself financially. In today's world, a woman can be widowed, divorced, find a spouse w/out work, etc. Getting through college is hard enough without having to work on a young marriage and possibly pregnancy/children. Young marriages have a high divorce rate - there is no arguing with that. Besides, there is no "rule" that says being a college student means having sex. Learn who you are, what type of life you want, what type of man you are looking for, get educated. Then get married.

The Crescat said...

this intelligent young lady plans on going to college regardless. I don't see how being married and attending college is any less of an "experience" then tossing away a loving relationship only to replace it with superficial meaningless flings in order for her to fully experience life. Bah.

Mark Scott Abeln said...

An insurance policy is the best insurance policy. At one time, married couples would take out large life insurance policies in case anything happened. Term life insurance is ridiculously cheap.

Just another mad Catholic said...

people knock young marriage, I'm all for it, now I just gotta find out where all the Catholic girls in england dissapeared to

The Crescat said...

I am just for marriage period. Too bad I realized it too late. Oh well. Blame it on impetious youth and feminist indocrination.

mamalong said...

Coming out of lurkdom to say I'm confused on this issue. On one side my grandparents married in their late 20's/early 30's and they had a rotten marriage and provided an awful life for their kids. The entire family is dysfunctional. (Granted, that may actually have very little to do with the age at which they married.) It also seems silly for someone whose vocation is marriage to wait around and do other things, leaving themselves open to temptation. On the other hand, I firmly believe I should have had a few years of therapy before I got married. I would have brought fewer problems into my marriage. I definitely believe that if marriage is delayed and the time before marriage is filled with immorality, any marriage that follows is going to be more difficult and more likely to fail.

shussong said...

I don't necessariy see the problem of 18 year old girls getting married--but it usually they want to marry 18 year old boys...and the thing is--most 18 year old boys can't get a decent-paying job to support a wife and baby (unless maybe they're in the military). I agree with many of the comments that others have posted....there was absolutely NO WAY I could have been married and be in an Electrical Engineering program in college..I was surviving on 4 hours of sleep as it was...and my idea of fun was goign out for coffee on Friday evenings...no way would I have had time to properly attend to a husband and HIS needs...I've heard the same from people in medical school and law school... in addition as a young woman if you choose to stay at home be sure you have at least worked your 40 quarters so that you can get full Social Security benefits.....survivor's benefits really suck if that's all you have..

Sara

Catherine said...

My grandparents got married as teenagers and are still happily married over fifty years later, so obviously young marriages can work out just fine. The only caveat I would give - and this applies to anyone thinking about getting married, regardless of age - is that you need to be certain you've found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. That degree of certainty is rare in young people, but if your cousin has it, then there's no reason why she shouldn't get married now.

MamaMidwife said...

Be faithful to your vocation.

Get married young. Stay faithful. Grow together and with God.

There's nothing like "waiting" and "experiencing" life like having to tell the man you want to marry that you were too busy "experiencing" life to wait for him (and vice versa, so my husband says). It's awful. I would trade anything to go back and rethink my late teens/early twenties and my decisions AND allowing others, especially my parents and family (who told me to "go out and experience, wink, wink") to influence those decisions.

Good luck to your family members Kat. May God bless them and their devotion to each other and Him.

Mark M said...

I don't mind young marriage: it make for a lot of good... BUT not TOO young.

'How young is too young?' Good question.

I think we have to be a little hard-headed here. The age consent aside, let me illustrate this with the UK. Here people can marry at 16, but cannot drive until 17, cannot buy a house until 18, no consumer credit til then either, and some things are reserved til 21.

I think young people have to be sensible. If they are really mature for their age, and have a large support group (e.g. family and friends) who can help with practical considerations, then fair enough, but otherwise wait a while.

And, we need to affirm to them "you don't need experience". How beautiful it is to wait.

Adoro said...

This is an excellent post.

And I also agree with everything Nazareth Priest said.

Marriage is a Vocation, and God calls when He calls. He isn't actually interested in what the world thinks about it. His plan is always perfect, whether at 18 or 25 or 33.

If they are called to marriage at age 18 - God bless them for following God's call! If they are truly discerning and seeking God's will in their lives and marriage, if they should wait He will let them know.

Oh and speaking as a 35 year old unmarried vocation-discerning woman... yeah, I took my 20's to "experience life", too, and found nothing but disaster and unhappiness. Even when I was LOOKING for commitment and self-sacrifice, I did it wrong. May well have missed my true calling, whatever it is, out of my own obstinate feminist-principled willfulness.

Dominic Mary said...

My younger (OK, step-)daughter married at 18. She married her first boyfriend, whom she had been dating (entirely chastely) since she was just 14; they were both comitted Christians. They had a 'trial separation' just after she was 16, to see if they were really right for each other, or whether it was 'just habit'. That lasted about a month - a month of pure hell for them, and their families - before they got back together, grew the relationship, (she didn't go to college) and they married about two years later.

That was almost 27 years ago, and they're stil together, and still as happy as they were on the day they married.

That said, I think one of the problems we have today is the obsession with 'children being children' - even when they quite clearly aren't. Heaven forbid we should encourage children into sexual precocity : but equally, pretending that they aren't physically mature - and therefore both ready and able to marry - is just misguided.

The Church, unlike civil legislatures, has a pragmatic and realistic view : Canon 1083 'A man cannot validly enter marriage before the completion of his sixteenth year of age, nor a woman before the completion of her fourteenth year'.

The Church views early marriage, within a solid Christian family, as legitimate, and indeed valuable. Perhaps we should listen to its wisdom.

shussong said...

"Experiencing the world" also means a whole lot to dofferent people.. for me the best thing was moving away from home and dealing with roomies...you learn to deal with money--rent, utilities, insurance, car repairs,-- arguements over housecleaning, company, etc, and how to pick your battles. I also LOVE to travel, so during summer breaks from college I explored our great land and stayed in campsites... also spent a summer backpacking through Europe--not something you can do if you have a real job, a real family, and real committemits. Also did the "starving artist/musician" thing for awhile, as well as a stint in the military..as you can tell I'm not a homebody. But there are many things that you are better off doing young before you get too much "chicken blood" in ya..if you wait until you're retired to travel or do things 1) you may be too old and creaky or 2) you may be dead..go to Rome while you're young as there's LOTS of walking on cobblestones..

Sara

Dymphna said...

I'm 42. I got married when I was 21 and my darling was 23. My only regret is that I didn't marry him sooner. A lot of people were against it but he's a saint and I'm stubborn and we stuck together.

A college degree for a woman is no gaurantee of safety anymore. These days you are just as likely to have hard times as the blue collar woman.

Karen said...

KT:
A college degree is not insurance. Life insurance is insurance. If you have the right amount of life insurance and your husband dies, you can raise all of your kids to adulthood while remaining a stay-at-home-mom, still have some for retirement, and then get out in the working world (or even go to college and then start working) to pay the bills.
I do think that a mother's college education does help with raising children, though, because every day conversations can have much deeper themes.

a consecrated virgin said...

Well…I’m not married in the normal sense, but I was solemnly (i.e., permanently) consecrated to a life of virginity in the Catholic Church at age twenty-three. Because I more or less knew that I had a vocation to some form of consecrated life since I was twelve, I never dated in high school or college--I didn’t even go to my senior prom. I did complete a bachelor’s degree just prior to being consecrated, but I had never traveled out of the country, and I really didn’t do any of the other (wholesome) interesting and exciting things associated with being “young and free.”

But although I’ve only just celebrated my first anniversary, right now I can honestly say that I have never once regretted not having more “experiences.” And so I vehemently oppose the idea that people shouldn’t “settle down” until their thirties, or that young adults are categorically incapable of making life-long commitments!

But with all that being said, even though I was always fairly sure of my vocation, I think it was best that I was consecrated in my early twenties, instead of my late teens (not that the Church would have let me be consecrated that young anyway…) It’s amazing how much your personality can grow and develop in the five years between eighteen and twenty-three.

So even though I would whole-heartedly support an older teenager’s preparations for, or serious discernment of, a vocation, I do think that it’s best to wait until your early twenties before making a permanent life commitment. Not only is this a matter of prudence (in the sense that it gives you time to truly “know your own mind”--and I do think this is something that is necessary, even presuming that the call is genuinely from God), but in some ways you can give yourself “more” to God or a spouse when your personality is more fully formed.

John said...

I have a theory about this...

I think that most young people in our time (not all, necessarily) are too young to be married because they do not understand what it means to sacrifice for others and to work hard. My grandparents frequently tell how they and their friends growing up would get their first jobs at age 13, 14--and that the money they made from these jobs would put bread on their 10-children family's table. They had to work hard and sacrifice for the sake of their family. The girls in the family would work hard, help their mother with younger children, assist around the house, etc.

However, look at our current youth culture (I'm 22, btw, so I have some first-hand knowledge of what I'm talking about). Many teenagers who have jobs use that money to buy fancy cell phones, cool car accessories, cool clothes, etc. It's discretionary spending. Many people don't get their first job until they are 18, and it's not a job that is necessary for the survival of the family. The prosperity that American families enjoy nowadays (far greater than that enjoyed by families in the 30's and 40's) has the unintended consequence of producing children who are less responsible, less hard-working, and less willing to sacrifice, because they never needed to do any of those things. Watch an episode of Jersey Shore and you'll understand what I mean, if you don't choke on your own vomit first.

If an 18-year-old has been working hard to help support himself or his family for a long time, and if he truly understands what it means to sacrifice oneself for others, then I think he could legitimately get married. If you've never had to be responsible for anyone, don't know the meaning of hard work and self-sacrifice, then you're probably not ready to make such a decision.

nazareth priest said...

schussong: Know those Roman cobblestones; great advice...go when you're young!
consecrated virgin: God luv ya! May you ever know His Love for you and may He bring to fulfillment the great work He has begun in you.
I'm really impressed and edified by all the comments here. God is good. He is alive and active!
And just as aside, I knew in my teens what God was calling me to do.
It has not been easy; the road has been long and sometimes a bit rough.
But early vocations are not the exception. That's why parents play such an important part in helping their children know, accept and be faithful to their particular vocation...maturity and willingness to sacrifice are the key elements here, as others have so poignantly said.

DammitWomann said...

All the comments were great. Very interesting reading. A lot of good info here.

Jane said...

I think it depends on the person: some people are ready to marry at 18, others are not. My husband was my first boyfriend. We met when we were 18, and married at 22. We knew right away after meeting that this was it, but I wanted to wait until I finished my undergraduate degree. Waiting four years was not easy, but I am glad we did. Neither of us had a clue about managing money or what it would be like to have jobs that don't pay health insurance (unlike our parents' jobs), for starters. At 19 or 20 I was still quite immature and would have been tempted to run home to Mom and Dad at the first sign of trouble, which would not have been good for my marriage.

But many 18-year-olds are more mature than I was, and if that's the case, they shouldn't be discouraged from marrying.

TCN said...

Only in the richest nation in the world do we think we can remain children until we are 30. Everybody else thinks an 18-year-old should support him/herself, and that usually means getting on with adult life, i.e. marriage or consecration. My parents were old when they got married--almost 25 years old. That was the scandal, and now they have been married 57 years. Now, if you don't get married until you are beyond child-bearing age nobody looks at that as a scandal, but what about the children who were to be the fruit of that marriage?

How self-indulgent to think you must "experience" promiscuity and drunkenness in order to be mature enough to marry. Better to spend your time raising kids than in wanton pursuits that may do lasting damage, IMO.

Of course, I've only been married 12 years and have only one kid due to infertility and the high cost of adoption, so I'm nobody's role model, either.

Quinault said...

My husband and I married when I was 18. We just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and welcomed our 4th child. I don't want my children to marry young in theory because that means they are adults. In practicality I would love for my children to wed at 18 (but wait to have kids until they are at least 20. I don't want to be the 59 year old great grandma or 77 year old great great grandma, 95 year old great, great, great grandma. On second thought- that would actually be really cool! :)

John said...

I think the other consideration is there are two schools of "wait around first." Obviously the secular notion that you should fool around and behave promiscuously is foolish; however, there are serious, good reasons why a dedicated and chaste Christian or Christian couple would choose to wait a little longer before tying the knot, i.e., to attain greater financial stability, to mature a little more, to seek greater clarity. "Experience of the world" does not necessarily mean being an unchaste jackass.

Mimi said...

While we had a child beforehand (which I realize is not the optimum situation) my Dh and I got married when I was 18 and he was 19 - we have passed 20 years of dating, and will celebrate our 19th anniversary in March.

I say marriage is a martyrdom no matter when it is entered into, so best wishes to them!

Smiley said...

I got engaed at 24 and married at 26. A lot of people said for a boy your very young to get married. who me young. geesh. Thank God i got married at that age. nothing can prepare you for marrige, you discover what a selfish animal you are after marriage, and then you learn what love really is. Why would anyone want to put off such awesome self discovery for later. I love my wife and my vocation.
Pray for your cousin, if she is a good catholic girl and he a good catholic boy maybe this is God's way of keeping em chaste and holy.
These days a college education is designed to destroy the soul and make us think that other things are better than Christianity.

eulogos said...

I was 19 and my husband was 23. We probably weren't ready, but I doubt the experiences we in particular would have had if we hadn't married, would have made us any more ready. We had nine children the youngest of whom is 20, and we will celebrate our 40th anniversary this summer.

If people WERE chaste until marriage, there would be a lot of earlier marriages. Some of these would fail, but I doubt it would be any more than fail now, and I suspect it would be fewer.

Susan Peterson

paula said...

I don't want my two kids (now 8 and 4) to marry at 18. At that age, it is the rare person who can completely take care of themselves - and yet they are to be responsible for another individual? And children? (because married people are not supposed to be using birth control, after all). The assumption from the OP seems to be that the only reason to delay marrying early is to sleep around. I did not get married until I was 28 - and I was not busy sleeping around in the meantime. I was busy getting a college degree halfway across the country from where I grew up, studying in Europe for a year, going to graduate school 800 miles from where I grew up (and in a completely different part of the country from my undergrad school), dropping out of grad school to join the Peace Corps in Central America, and returning to grad school after I got back 2 years later. While I love my husband and kids to pieces, delaying marriage and parenthood until my late 20s and early 30s made me a better person, wife and mother. There is far, far more to "experiences" than intimate knowledge of a vast number of people.

laurazim said...

You opened it this time, didn't you K? :)

My husband and I are blessed to be part of our diocesan Marriage Preparation ministry. We share our years of married life experiences with young (and sometimes not-so-young) couples who are preparing for marriage in the Church. We are usually paired with a couple who has been married at least as long as we have, and frequently, with couples who have been married much longer than we. We have seen couples in their early 20's and couples in their 40's. Most common are those in their early 30's, and many of them seem to have that "rushed" sense about them, as though time is wearing thin.

Many of the couples we know who married very young had very many long, happy years together. God willing, so will My Darling and I. We were married young-ish--he was just 21 and I was nearly 23. We're going on 13 years this summer, and though marriage is never easy, no matter at what age it is entered into, we have had a very blessed union. We have five beautiful children and are hoping that the Good Lord sees fit to bless us with more. Neither of us has a college degree, and for what we do, a degree is not necessary. What we do have is a whole heckuva lot of experience. He is what polite society would term a "skilled laboror" who reads everything he can get his hands on about what he needs to accomplish, both professionally and domestically. Part of that knowledge has built us a house from the ground up, hiring nothing done save for excavating the initial crater for the basment and pouring the concrete for the walls and floor of said basement. Before that floor was poured, he leveled it himself with a shovel and a rake, using a laser guide. Our kids have been at his side every step of the way, pounding nails, helping him measure lumber, handing him sheets of shingles for the roof, and learning the finer points of drywall taping and mudding. If he needs to know something, he finds all of the information he needs, reads it, and gets off his rump and does it.

Even with no college degree, I am successfully home schooling our children. I am a voracious reader, and have searched out the very best curriculum I could pull together. I did just fine all through school and then just plain ran out of money when it came to "higher education." Thank God I did--I think sticking around the university mindset any longer would have ruined me. I think college degrees leave us a heap of debt we're not ready for, a huge expectation of employment, and in this economy, a lot of very smart people "over-qualified" to work where there IS work. There is so much emphasis put on college education that we are now reading news articles about grade inflation because the curve has been so broadened. I think college can be a great thing if what you want to do in your life requires that you obtain a degree. I think for many people, it's unnecessary. I think that to assume that a person who doesn't have a degree are somehow less of an interesting person, less "experienced", not as good of a wife, incapable of holding deep conversations regarding sincere topics, a less capable mother--whatever--perhaps you ought to seek an education in what really matters. It kind of shows a poverty of spirit, if you know what I mean. All those years of travel and education you have spent might have let you see some things around the world that I would never have been able to see (or afford to see...or want to see...) does not make you better than I--and I can promise you, I am eternally thankful that I did not waste my youth engaged in wanderlust. My travels have taken me through my younger adulthood following my beautiful children. I can choose to travel later--if I want to. I can choose to go to college later--if the notion strikes. But get to your mid- to late-thirties, and you cannot choose to have the family you longed for as a young woman.

If God calls you, He will equip you. Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.