Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Case for Early Marriage

Mark Regnerus wrote a really interesting article that was on the cover of Christianity Today last month that's titled "The Case for Early Marriage." He also linked to an editorial of his in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. It is from the perspective of a sociologist and a Christian, so the facts are rather cold and sometimes a little shocking.

It was REALLY interesting to me. I married young, but both back then and now, when asked I generally advise people to give it more time and wait longer. I just know that we tend to change a LOT in our 20's, and the added maturity and knowledge of ourselves is really crucial to the success of marriage. Besides that, I really believe that it's good to date for a while. The more time you have to see each other in a variety of situations, to really get to know the good and the bad about your significant other, the more realistic your expectations are and the starry-eyed idealism wears off. Time is good.

In light of that, it was really interesting to read Regnerus' case for early marriage. Here are a few of his points

- it really is unreasonable to ask people to abstain sexually until late in life. We are sexual beings, and are ready for an active sexual life long before we are well settled into a career and life, which is when most people tend to marry these days. Because sexuality should be expressed in the context of marriage, this means we should be marrying a little earlier instead of a little later, as demographic trends are currently moving.

- We are postponing maturity as a society, adolescence is lengthening, it takes us forever to actually settle into being productive members of society. Traditionally marriage has been the very thing that forces most kids to become adults. Today, we tend to push marriage back until we feel we have grown up enough, but in reality there is little motivation or method to really "grow up" and take responsibility until you are already married. He particularly points fingers at men on this point.

- Biology points to early marriage. We are at peak child-bearing years in our 20's. Delaying marriage into late 30's and 40's just for maturity means frantically trying to preserve some fertility against the ticking biological clock.

- Just because you're older doesn't mean you'll be any better at marriage. You always have to work to create a good marriage. Creating the illusion that marriage will be perfect if you just give it the right conditions just perpetuates a myth.

- Our society needs healthy, happy families and children to continue to grow and succeed. The best way to achieve this is to create many more families, which means more people need to marry, and they need to marry younger.

Interesting, eh? You can see how it's sort of from a philosophical and societal perspective rather than from an actual spiritual perspective. He points out that statistically, early marriage is the highest predictor of divorce. However, he counters this by saying that that is only true of people who marry before the age of 2o, which he does discourage. After this, the statistic evens out.

Thing is, what he's really saying is that it is best for our society if we marry earlier instead of later (wealthy nations tend to start marrying later in order to make more money and take life easy, as a result their population drops and so does their power). Thing is, that doesn't mean that marrying earlier will actually make our society better. I'd say that it may be the case that because of the way our society is right now (extended adolescence, immaturity, lack of stability or finances in young people, etc), marrying earlier generally is disastrous. Ultimately early marriage usually isn't a good idea in our society, because like it our not, we are generally products of our society. We are just set up to be ready to marry later.

Still, I agree that early marriage can be good. Isaac and I married early, partly because of the things discussed in the article. We knew we didn't plan to really settle down - we knew our lives would be full of change so there was no reason to wait until we were financially secure. We had to take responsibility for our finances in college, and to continue to do that was okay with us. We did have two great examples of marriages in our parents, and we had their full support in our marriage, which is a HUGE thing. Family support (both financially and in dealing with life and marriage) is crucial. We also knew that we were just kids still, and faced some of our own immaturity. We sort of decided that after a three year relationship, we were willing to commit to marriage and being together THROUGH the changes that we would inevitably go through in our 20's and 30's (we married at 21 and 22).

And that is the cool thing about early marriage. You grow together. One of the big frustrations from some of my recently married older friends is that they have established patterns in their life and it is very difficult to change them to meld life with someone else. They want the companionship, but not the life change required to get it. For us at 21 and 22, we had very little in life established, so we've done it all together. Our habits, traditions, and patterns have all been "us". The spiritual and emotional growth and changes we've gone through have been together. It's been good. I have never wished that I had spent more time free and independent before marrying - I find it rather freeing to plan and dream WITH someone - but then again I've always highly valued stability and commitment.

Ultimately I think early marriage CAN be good. It's just.. not always a good idea, because it can also be very hard. I do know a number of friends that have divorced after early marriages. I always wonder.. if they'd given it another year of dating before they married, would it have ended up the same way?

I don't know... what are your thoughts?


Rachel said...

See how much we have in common? Move to Michigan so we can be best friends! ;)

I was 21 when I got married. I think the growing up while you're married part is hard, but I can't imagine it being any harder than adjusting to a new normal after being set in your own independent ways for 10 years. I think the bottom line is marriage is hard, no matter who you are, or how old you are. It's hard work, and oh so worth it!

CM said...

Interesting. I am 29 and single by circumstance. I have certainly not been waiting for a certain level of maturity or financial solvency or elusive state of readiness.

I think that the article brings up a lot of good points. My general observation, though, is that older or younger, our recent attitude about marriage is more the problem than the age that we get married. I think that there are plusses and minuses to getting married a little younger or a little older. The real question is why someone is getting married.

I see a general attitude about marriage that people are in it for what they can get out of it. If the challenges start to overshadow what they're getting out of it, they'll hit the road and try again. This is over and against what I think the real attitude of marriage should be. This attitude is the one where you love the other person and are willing to face life with them, with all its challenges. You are willing to sacrifice for each other, knowing that you may not always feel like you're getting much out of marriage, but understanding that maybe it's about what you put into it, giving freely of yourself to your spouse even when it's the last thing you want to do.

Kacie said...

CM, I fully agree with you. Most of the article I found interesting, but the one point where I fully agree with him is at the end, when he says, "In sum, Christians need to get real about marriage: it's a covenant helpmate thing that suffers from too much idealism and too little realism.Weddings may be beautiful, but marriages become beautiful...

The importance of Christian marriage as a symbol of God's covenantal faithfulness to his people—and a witness to the future union of Christ and his bride—will only grow in significance as the wider Western culture diminishes both the meaning and actual practice of marriage. Marriage itself will become a witness to the gospel."

sewmelody said...

Great post! This is an important topic to lay out on the table in this culture. Our society too often associates marriage (early or late) with being "tied down". Early marriage is viewed as a premature death of freedom and a vibrant life. Yet marriage from a faith perspective is much the opposite!

I was married at 19 and had my first child at 21. I really was just a kid barely out of high school; not really "ready" in the eyes of the world for such commitments and responsibilities. But, as you point out in your post, our culture artificially prolongs childhood and immaturity; we are capable of so much more. And youth in our marriages and motherhood has the potential to infuse family culture (as a whole) with real vigor and spark and vitality!!

I thank God that I didn't have to spend another decade of my life dating and subjected constantly to the temptations of modern single life. I am grateful that I was able to give my husband and children the fruits of my youth. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to "grow up" with him in love and experience and everything good and challenging.

Is early marriage more difficult than later marriage or visa versa? I doubt either can claim that distinction. Success in marriage is fundamentally about sacrificial love. It is about our willingness to embrace our individual crosses and walk our personal Via Delorosa. "To serve is to reign.' That has so much more to do with faith and grace than with age.

Who would I be now if I hadn't married? I have no idea! I have been formed in love and faith by my life with my husband and children. I doubt I would have more prudence and wisdom as a single now than I did then (which was very little). I might be more stubborn, lmore hardened, less willing to adapt my heart to my husband's, less able to pull all-nighters with! Or not. Only God knows.

It's all grace; regardless of age. Praise the Lord!

Unorthodox Wife said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post, I love to see discussion about this topic since it is something that is pretty important to me!
Now I am curious about your story, since you said that even back when you were getting married you would usually advise others to wait longer. Why did you choose to get married young?