Tuesday, May 13, 2014

5 reasons why getting married at 19 was a really stupid idea.

The other morning, I was tooling around Facebook (like you do) when I encountered a link to this article: 5 Reasons Why I Got Engaged Before 23. I was so moved to post that I went out and found that engagement picture, which is not mine, but which I chose because regardless of any associated aesthetic qualities, it was pretty obviously taken at the University of Oklahoma campus, which was also the setting for my own really misguided adventure into holy matrimony at a young age.

Disclaimer: I got married at 19 to a 19 yr. old guy. We were both each other's first official girl/boyfriend and had not dated, really, prior to our relationship. We had dated for a bit over a year before we were married, and a bit less than six months before we got engaged. We were married for fifteen years before getting divorced -- not a bad run time-wise by any standards, I think. We have two children together, and have both remarried since. I personally know people who got married at similar ages and are still together, some happily, some less so. Just because you were married at a young age does not mean that you are bad and should feel bad. It does mean, though, that there are some real challenges that ought to be addressed plainly, in a non-romanticized way.

It should be said, I do not begrudge the author of the piece his joy in his relationship. I think if he's happy and he has reason to bet on the success of the venture (and so does his partner), more power to them. I trust that while they may be only 23, they are not much younger than 23, and thus they've likely had a bit of time in the world to work things out. That being said, I must address this comment:
"Maybe, we're against getting engaged at an early age because we believe the wrong things about love.Call me a rebel, but I don't think love is dependent on my age."
Of course it isn't.  Love can be real and meaningful and impactful at any age. There is just a certain point before which the odds of it being long-term are stacked highly against you, and for excellent reasons.

The original article is full of reasons that are much of a type: Love is not an end [as in goal], love is not part of a checklist, love is not determined by age or your quantity of money, and love is an adventure. I do not actually disagree with any of those sentiments, but sentiments is exactly what they are. Love as you will, who you will, and may the odds be ever in your favor. But while engagement is often predicated on love, engagement is really about marriage -- and while marriage may be sentimental, it is a real, contractually binding, social, legal, and financial arrangement. So, with that in mind, here are my reasons why getting married at 19-23 (or younger) is a bad idea:

1) You don't have a career (or career path) yet.

At 23, if you've stayed on the expected USian adulthood timeline, you have just graduated college (most likely). You may have just obtained your first career-path job (or not). If you didn't go to college and you've had to good fortune to work in a field you like and stay there, you might be getting to adult-job-professionalism. Some few people get to it earlier than that, most get to it later. Even with a degree, underemployment is a huge issue for new college graduates -- it can take time to get into a real job. Either way, before that time, you're not there.

I'm not saying you should wait until you have enough money to get married. If you're poor, that point isn't going to come any time soon, and if you're not, it's really all the same either way. But there are careers that require a lot of time, energy, sacrifice, and even mobility in a person's early twenties in order to make them successful. Having a full-time partner can be a problem because while love is infinite, money and time are not. I'm not saying don't be in a relationship. By all means, if love finds you, jump at it. But don't get married or engaged yet.

2) You probably don't know what sort of sexual person you are (or they are) yet.

Sex is not supposed to be the most important thing in a marriage. Compatibility, ideals, values, companionship -- all of these things are crucial to making a long-term relationship go the distance. But, and I tell you this frankly, sexual compatibility is a big, big thing. When everything else is good, it makes the rest better. When everything else is bad, it gives you a way to maintain intimacy. People have things that turn them on, and sometimes it takes time to sort that out. Orgasms for women and figuring out how to get them is a process, and for some women it's a process they don't start on until they're in their twenties. We are physical creatures, and we have drives -- and there are few things sadder than two people who love each other entirely but have to resign themselves to never fully physically bonding with their partner. At 19-23, you likely haven't had enough adult partners yet to fully suss out your own sexual identity, your likes and dislikes, the things you need vs. the things you want. And if you haven't, then you run the risk of discovering them later with a partner who understandably has no interest in or ability to deal with the thing you realize you NEED in order to have a fulfilling sex life (and that doesn't touch discovering that your partner needs something you just can't give them). And that, my friends, is hard, and not in a sexy way. So don't sleep around indiscriminately, but do safely give yourself a variety of partners before you settle down, if at all possible. Your later self will thank you for it (and so will your partner's).

3) You haven't staked out your own identity yet.

Everything feels like you're an adult, but you're an adult who's still changing. The you of 25 will mostly likely be a hugely different person from the you at 19, if only because our lives change so much during that time. Part of that change is having relationship that are you're not required to keep. Part of it comes from living with people who aren't your parents. Part of it comes from developing friendships that can stay with you for the rest of your lives. All of these things are compromised when you marry young. That sounds dire, not to mention refutable, but much like when you have kids, that person you've committed to takes precedence in your life, and that means they are your primary time investment. You will make friends, and you may live with other people, and you will still have adventures -- but they aren't yours alone, and everything is run through a filter of that other person. And before this sounds like I'm rejecting that experience entirely, let me say that I'm not. But it is undeniable that the filters we choose in the forms of the people we love shape our experiences -- particularly when our own identities and preferences and likes and dislikes are still not altogether explored.

4) You aren't necessarily prime material for parenthood yet.

This is not to say that you are going to have kids if you're married. However, some not-insignificant percentage of people out there do have kids after they're married, and not all of them have them on purpose. Being in a committed relationship, particularly if you're married, when social and family pressure can start to build, can bring on a fit of children, particularly when you're younger. This doesn't touch the number of people who discover that they're with child, as it were, and then get married. That situation can work out but often doesn't, and I don't recommend it as the initial reaction -- you can always get married later if you want, and the child can be supported without being married. It's not the social stigma it once was.

The thing is, while there are some rare people who find that early adulthood is a great time for a family, it can also be a miserable time to be a parent. Kids are a serious commitment, and while they are joyful and awesome, they also mean giving up choices you might otherwise have made. They take precedence -- they have to, because you brought them into this world and now you're responsible for them. And what's more, unless you were highly involved with the raising of younger siblings during your youth, you have no way to know what the commitment load is like before you do it. Granted, that's true of a lot of things, like college and volunteering and the game design industry, but parenthood is in a class all its own in that you can't ever really get out of it. You're in for 18 years before you can transition to a remote capacity, hopefully with a collaborator, but possibly not, and there's a lot riding on your performance. It really helps to have some life experience and stability under your belt before you take on the job -- because it might not be a job you wanted at all.

5) Marriage is kinda forever.

I mean, yes, there is divorce. You can get out of it. But it follows you. "Divorced" is not the same thing as "never married" or "single," as all the dating sites and forms ever will inform you. A divorce does not wipe away your marriage and make it as though it never happened. It dissolves a legal and financial and contractual union -- largely by transforming the nature of that union into something else involving custody, possible alimony/support, and the dissolution of assets and sharing of debt. It takes feelings and subsumes them in legalese and money, which does nothing to make them go away. If you have kids, that person you marry will never not be in your life to some degree. If you don't have kids, that person won't be in your life as much, but you'll still possibly have to deal with them, even if it's just in explaining them to future partners. You might have to see them at family events. You might share a business with them. Marriage as a social and cultural institution intertwines your lives in ways that living together and being committed still doesn't entirely do, at least not until there's some number of years under your belt (I don't fully understand this, but I've seen it happen). (For gay couples for whom marriage is often not an option, it might be less a function of time, but that's me supposing and I have no evidence -- correction is welcome.)

Note that the above statement says nothing about religious beliefs in the sacrament of marriage or how it impacts the afterlife or any of that. That's not my thing, and I could not begin to address the myriad of beliefs regarding marriage even in Christian denominations, let alone other faiths. If you believe that marriage has a religious aspect to it, then that likely weighs even more heavily with you -- and should be all the more reason not to rush into it.

Conclusion

It may seem as though I'm down on the idea of marriage. I'm not. But these are the sorts of things I wish I'd been told when I was young. I would have pooh poohed them all, but it would have done me (and likely moreso my ex-partner) good to hear them. I had a lot of good years in my marriage and my children from that union are the lights of my life. That said, we did a great deal of damage to each other that probably could have been avoided if we'd just known a bit more. Hindsight 20/20, etc. Happily ever after isn't really a thing, though, and we all change and grow and adapt, and sometimes, this means that choices we made in our pasts aren't the choices we'd make now. If I could have gone back and done anything, I'd have had us live together for a year or two before getting married. Maybe we still would have, maybe not. But it would have been an eye-opening experience nonetheless.

I guess this is mostly meant to say that marriage is not the end-state of a relationship, but it is a binding process that has its own issues, and getting out of a marriage sucks and changes your life. Being married also changes your life. Not everyone needs to be married, though, and especially not people in their early twenties, who have so much still to do. Follow your hearts, as you will regardless of what a person on the internet says, but do so knowing a bit of what you're getting into -- and maybe live with each other for a year or two first.