In Defense of Marrying Young

Recently I saw a movie called Arranged, that tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who work together at a school in New York City. Both are extremely orthodox in their religion to the point that their marriages are arranged for them. Their principal tells both of them to abandon their religious lifestyles several times, implying their faith is destroying their opportunities. Finally the Jewish woman, Rochel, tells her off. She asks what makes singles’ events or dating or anything else superior to arranged marriages and if people who meet that way are any happier than those in arranged marriages. I thought this was an interesting question; what makes one courtship or relationship style superior to another? (Bear in mind, while these women were set up by family and matchmakers, they did have the option to say no to men they didn’t like, and both ended up with men who they liked and chose to be with.)

I’ve heard many times that getting married young ruins your life. I realize that might sound odd, considering the push for marriage among Mormons, but I’ve heard it from rather unexpected places. I’ve heard BYU professors tell people not to get married. I’ve heard members say that they wish they hadn’t married young. I’ve read it on various blogs, heard it on various podcasts. I’ve heard people say they tell their daughters not to marry young because it will mess their lives up. I used to say that I wouldn’t get married until I was 25. But then I met my husband. We dated for a year, then got engaged. I was married a week before I turned 22. My mom and friends were amused, my grandparents are still mad three years later. I was pretty concerned myself; after all, marrying young messes your life up.

Granted, it’s only been three years, but my life isn’t ruined. I’ve still been able to do most of the things I’ve planned on and take opportunities and projects that came along. And I still have the same plans for further education, etc. Of course there have been sacrifices made on both of our parts, but I also have no way of knowing if the things I haven’t done would have worked out had I been single, or if opportunities I’ve had since getting married would have existed if I hadn’t. I made a choice, and there is no way of knowing what direction my life would have taken if I’d done something different.

Everyone wants some kind of assurance that they are making the right decisions for their lives. For many, that means wanting rules that will help us make decisions. So things like “getting married young is a bad decision,” and “you need to date longer than a year to make sure you know each other” make many feel better about relationships. If we follow the rules, then our relationships will work out. But in practice, I haven’t seen relationship rules about age, courtship length, etc. guarantee anything. I know seven couples my age who are divorced and couples who dated for a week before getting married who are still together and happy many years later and people who are quite happy being single. There does not seem to be a pattern as far as age, length of courtship or how people met that ensures a relationship will be successful. I believe that those who say that marrying young ruins your life are taking personal experience, whether their own or someone they know, and extrapolating it out to everyone. So I’d like to say that marrying young will not automatically mess things up.

Do I think that everyone should marry young? No, I don’t. Do I think everyone should marry at all? No, I don’t. I don’t advocate anything as far as relationships go, except doing what feels correct to each individual. With that said, why do people believe that one courtship style is superior to another? There are advantages and disadvantages to any decision, but why do many seem to believe there are more advantages to one choice than another?

DefyGravity

I'm a graduate from BYU in theatre education and history teaching, currently living in Utah and working at a library company. I've been married since 2009. I love to read essentially anything. I'm an earring fanatic, Anglophile and Shakespeare lover.

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33 Responses

  1. jks says:

    I agree. I think people in arranged marriages can be just as happy. Our American style has its own problems.
    I think I got married at just the right time for me. I’ve got 20 years of happy marriage as “evidence.”
    I believe in giving good advice to my children. There are no guarantees but you can avoid some obvious mistakes and it is helpful to understand the possible challenges.
    My 14 year old daughter, for instance, imagines that marrying someone from a particular country would be great. I have pointed out some of the impracticalities of holding out for that, I have pointed out some of the cultural differences that would be problematic (and I am sure there are many that I am completely unaware of). My best friend married someone from a different country and 20 years later there are some major issues…..but she could have chosen someone from our country with other issues I guess.
    The older my children get the less I will say. If she is an adult, I will support her whenever she chooses to marry and to whomever. I think it is very hurtful to be against someone’s marriage.
    I actually worry about it not happening more than it happening too early. Are there many Japanese Mormon guys who marry 6 feet tall women? We are all affected by our own experiences or those close to us. I worry about my children NOT getting married because I have three siblings who didn’t and I see the trend.

    • Amelia says:

      I agree with most everything you say here, JKS. However, as a never-married 30-something, I’d suggest you learn to stop worrying about it never happening for your kids. No matter how supportive and loving you are, your children will know if you think there’s something wrong with them not being married. And they may have no real power over whether they get married or not. Trust me when I say that it’s very hurtful to know that people who love you think your life is lacking due to something completely out of your control like whether or not you’ve had the opportunity to marry. Just as it’s best not to give hard and fast rules about when it’s “ok” to get married, I think it’s best not to make hard and fast statements about the necessity of marrying in order to find happiness. I understand marriage is a saving ordinance in Mormonism, but if we really believe what we say we do then it shouldn’t matter if someone marries or not, not in this life. Instead we should trust God and trust those we love and just hope for their happiness. There’s nothing about marriage that guarantees happiness and there’s nothing about being unmarried that guarantees unhappiness. The only thing that matters is that we each strive to live the gospel as fully as we can in the circumstances of our own lives. In my mind, that means learning to love as perfectly as we can. Marriage may provide a wonderful opportunity to learn to love more perfectly, but it’s not a necessary precondition to learning to love more perfectly. I think what parents should worry about is their children failing to learn to love, not failing to get married.

      • jks says:

        I agree. I just find it interesting that most of my LDS friends assume their kids will get married, whereas I know it is not automatic. My friends seem to worry more about the potential partners or even dating partners. I have also noticed I worry less about divorce, and assume that whoever my children choose to marry and whenever they choose to marry will be right for them. Perhaps I just haven’t been as close to divorced adults so that is less on my radar.
        I think I am raising them to handle all sorts of future possibilities with confidence. Even if it means they emigrate.

      • DefyGravity says:

        Well said Amelia. Jks, I agree that the assumption that everyone will marry is interesting. You also see that with having kids. I wonder how many choose marriage and kids because it’s such a prevelant assumption?

    • christer1979 says:

      There may not be many Japanese Mormon guys over 6 foot, but there are most definitely Japanese American Mormon guys over 6 foot! Like my beautiful husband. 😉 So funny story: when I was a young teen I found Asian men super attractive. I think it was a result of growing up in a very racially homogenous southern town and looking for anything and everything different. By the time I grew up I was through that stage, but ironically enough still ended up with a boy of mixed ancestry who’s half white (American) and half Japanese. And let me tell you, those cultural differences are very real, but certainly not as difficult if you marry someone who has grown up in the States. My spouse has lived in the Pacific Northwest since he was 7, so although we’ve had some differences of opinion about housework (which can happen even if you’re from the same culture) and gender roles, he gets American culture and pretty much gets me. The only difficulty is that I don’t grasp Japanese culture, and he is pretty sad he doesn’t get to use his Japanese at home. Anywho… Just thought it was funny that my life bears a few similarities to your daughter’s dream.

      • jks says:

        We are in the Pacific NW and in my area my daughter goes to school with many Asians. She is learning Japanese on her own. I would be thrilled with a Japanese American (racially Japanese or half) over her dream to emigrate to Japan.

      • EBrown says:

        “American” is not the same thing as “White”. We must be careful not to use or create false equivalents.

  2. KaralynZ says:

    Marrying the right person at whatever age doesn’t mess up your life. Marrying the wrong person at any age because you’re lonely, or tired of being single, or under pressure from family members, or just want to have sex – that is what is likely to mess up your life.

  3. ssj says:

    I don’t think it’s the age that’s problematic but the push to get married quick and young. I think that instead of marrying the first person that comes along, it is important to marry someone you truly have a lot in common with and like. If you meet them at 20 or 30, just make sure it’s the right person. In my short 5 years of marriage, I have seen many couples get divorced. Why? Because when you’re 20, you’re a lot different then when you’re 25, or 30. Sure if you can change and make it work but not everyone can. My BIL married young, was very active and wanted to have kids. 5 years later, he wasn’t active and didn’t want children. He and his wife separated. Now if he had married someone later in life then maybe he would have known more about his direction in life. So I do agree with you that these blanket statements aren’t for everyone, but I do think that the longer you wait to get married, the more you will know about yourself and what you want in a life companion.

  4. rk says:

    I agree with the sentiments in the post and in the comments. I am more concerned about my children developing the maturity and the practical skills to be a good spouse. Hopefully then they will be ready to have a successful marriage at any age.

  5. Rixa says:

    I married at 20 and, in part because of that, have been able to do amazing things. We both got master’s and PhD degrees, we worked in France for 10 summers, we learned how to renovate houses and by doing so paid off our house entirely, etc…And we have 3 children and hopefully more in the future. Of course when I see 20-year-olds now, I think “they are WAY too young to get married!” But by marrying the person I did, we have done things we’d never have even thought of if we stayed single.

  6. charlene says:

    There’s no way I would have had a good marriage if I’d gotten married in my 20’s, even if I’d met my husband then. I was just too immature. That being said, I have a lot of amazing and totally mature friends who got married in their early 20’s and are still going strong, but I think it is because they were far more mature than I was at that time — they actually knew what they wanted out of a spouse and were willing to pull in harness with another person, neither of which was the case for me at that time.

    My parents had an arranged marriage, and I have to say it kind of put me off the idea of arranged marriages — they just share so few interests and personality traits, and they often reinforce each other’s bad habits. Every time they come to visit I’m glad I have my marriage and not theirs. On the other hand, their marriage has survived a LOT of crap, way more than I’ve ever had to go through, and is in better shape than a lot of their friends who had “love” matches, so there’s that.

  7. Mhana says:

    Well I’m happy with my choices so its easy for me to feel like my way is THE way. One thing I feel is important to developing a relationship is having had some real adult experiences before getting married. For example, having to support yourself, living away from parents, stretching your comfort zone by living abroad and coping with those difficulties alone etc. For me serving a mission helped with that in a big way. I had to live with people I didn’t choose and couldn’t get away from and couldn’t ignore, yet had no tradition of love. It forced me to get along, compromise and see that my way is not always the right way, and peace is often the best way. After my mission I lived at home for a short while, then moved out, got a part time job and worked full time at grad school. Having my own health insurance made me feel independent and self-confident.

    I’m not saying everyone needs those experiences before they can get married. But I think many young women do not and that can be a contributing factor to discontent — a sense of dependency or inadequacy or having been robbed of key experiences. It would be hard to go back to going it alone, but since I have happily done it once, I know that if I had to I could do it again.

  8. Creatrix says:

    I’ve seen that movie too, and found it interesting. I had a roommate once from India who was getting an arranged marriage. She told me that her parents had several men they considered over the years, and their opinion about who she should marry has changed over time, and as she gave them her own impressions and thoughts. It didn’t sound as oppressive and limiting as I thought it was. She was very happy about who she was going to marry, and had known the man a long time. She told me that she felt like it was simply her parents guiding her choice in choosing a mate, and giving their approval. While I’m sure the choices are limited here, isn’t it kind of similar to be encouraged to date within your singles ward, and find the companion of your choice there, with the guidance of your bishop when being interviewed before marriage? That happens all the time.

  9. Mossbloom says:

    I love that movie. I realized how much I have in common with women from very different religions.

    I was 19 when I got married, entirely too young and we definitely didn’t know each other well enough at all. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I honestly don’t think I would have married him if I was older. He was raised by a very sexist father and there were quite a few red flags that I was too inexperienced and naive to recognize. But he has turned out to be an amazing husband, very supportive and is definitely a feminist. We grew together and are a perfect match now. It was definitely not easy and I sometimes think about what I missed out on. But no matter what choices you make, you are going to miss out on things. I do tell my daughters that they better wait until they are 25 to even start dating. 😉

  10. TopHat says:

    I married at 20 and statements about how the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties always irked me. I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I think young people- even teenagers- can (and should) be given a lot more autonomy and trust than we give them.

    As far as marriage, this might sound pessimistic, but I think marriage is a crapshoot. Some people get lucky, some don’t. And it’s no fault of anyone. It just happens that way.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I’m with you about the brain development thing. Does that mean anyone under 25 is an idiot? The arguement confuses me because there are teenagers who make good decisions, who know what they want, who succeed in great things, and adults who do dumb things, who don’t know what they want. So what exactly does brain development mean in that arguement?

      I agree that marriage, or any relationship, is more up to chance then we like to think. There are things we can do to try to make it work, but there is no promise that x, y or z will make any relationship automatically successful.

      • Naomi says:

        I think the brain development studies are an attempt to explain why teenagers and young adults stereotypically choose to do crazy and/or stupid things. There aren’t as many older adults who would choose to go bungee jumping for the first time as there are younger adults who would. Some of that may be culture, but I think that you have to want to do crazy things to learn WHY they are crazy. There are teenagers who know what they want and are mature, but it is not the norm.

    • KaralynZ says:

      I can second the feeling like I wasn’t taken seriously, but it was rarely in the Church for me. At church getting married at 20-21 is par for the course. (Especially since I was in Provo!)

      Here in the “real word” as I like to say, I always felt more awkward about mentioning that I got married at 21. Now that we’re closing in on a decade, I feel it’s harder to dismiss me out of had for having been married “too young.”

      Whatever. I knew I made the right choice.

  11. Mindy says:

    There are definitely things I would have missed out on if I had gotten married earlier (I married at 25). I would have missed study abroad and my mission, for example, but most important for me, I would have missed the opportunity to work and support myself for a few years. Doing so gave me a ton of confidence that has been crucial to the success of my marriage. I also probably would have married someone completely wrong for me (based off the types of guys I dated when I was younger).
    On the flip side, there are things my husband and I missed out on by getting married a little later. Because we were more intrenched in our careers we never had the time to be able to live abroad together, like we wish we wanted to. We also didn’t give ourselves as much time before having kids as we most definitely would have if we’d started out sooner.
    Ultimately, it’s impossible to tell what we missed or what we gained by our timing. The research I’ve seen does point to more successful marriages when the couple marries a little older, but it’s obviously going to vary case by case. I do think if you marry someone with similar passions and dreams, marrying young doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams, because you can live out those dreams together.

    • DefyGravity says:

      Yay study abroad! I did 2 before getting married, including a term at Cambridge University. They made me feel a bit better about getting married, because I’d done cool things, lived really on my own away from family and formed an identity and future plans.

    • ssj says:

      I sometimes wish I could have gone in a mission (even though I’m not even active anymore). If only the church let girls go at 19, I could have gone too!

  12. I think the big thing people are saying behind the “don’t marry young” statements is “Don’t have kids when you’re really young.” You can be married and still do all the things you did when you were single (work, go to school, go out dancing with your spouse), but once you throw a baby in the mix you can’t do those things for at least a couple of years as one of you will have to watch the babe.

    Also, it doesn’t matter what age you get married at. It’s how early and effective your marital counseling is/was. You could be married to the perfect spouse, doesn’t matter. You will still have problems but if the bishop (or counselor) isn’t helpful in solving those problems from the start they will just grow bigger til they’re out of control. If anything getting a divorce should say a lot more about the bishop (or counselor) than it does about the couple.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I agree. My life would not be nearly as open if we had kids.

      And bishops aren’t counselors and it bugs me when they act like they are and give bad advice.

      • I’m ok with going to the bishop for your everyday run of the mill issues (like my husband hates doing the dishes, and I do too). But when we had a serious problem (husband texted another girl on top of the average problems of adjusting to being parents) it peeved me that “go talk to the bishop” was the first (and only) suggestion our close friends had. That serious problem still is a problem for us just because it wasn’t nicked in the bud and I didn’t have the confidence yet to say “No. We’re going to a professional who has training.”

  13. Diane says:

    so, I was reading the OP and I’m confused , but, why were your grandparents mad at you for marrying. Did they think you were two Young? or did they not like your spouse. I think it was probably implied but I just wanted to make sure I was understanding what that was about.

    • DefyGravity says:

      They thought I was too young, especially my grandmother. She still thinks that all women quit their jobs and quit school as soon as they get married. She regrets getting married young for that reason.

      My grandparents also aren’t members and were angry I chose to get married in the temple. I now regret that decision because of how it made them feel.

  14. I think it is less about the age and more about compatibility. When I was a freshman at BYU I was very judgmental about people who married really young. And I thought I wouldn’t be getting married (if I did get married) until my late-twenties to early thirties. Then, like DefyGravity, I met my husband. Would it have been nicer to have married or met later in life? My husband and I agree that it probably would have been. But we’ve never regretted our decision and I believe our strength as couple and love for each other has grown since we have been married.

    I think our relationship has been successful so far because (1) our relationship was tried and tested while we were dating and (2) we are so well matched (going back to the compatibility).

    I think problems often arise when couples don’t get the full perspective of each other. I had a stats professor who went on and on about how you need to have more data points before making a decision, i.e., you need to see how your potential spouse acts in a variety of circumstances. But she was totally right.

    Overall, caution is good advice when making such a big decision, but age isn’t always a necessary factor. I think compatibility is a much more trustworthy indication of martial success.

    P.S. The kid thing is a good point. There are a lot of things I can do now (with a little compromise) that would be incredibly more difficult to do with kids.

  15. I don’t think the success rate of arranged marriages necessarily means those marriages are successful or happy. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people who are in arranged marriages are likely to live in cultures where there is an incredibly strong stigma against divorce, and where it would be difficult to obtain a divorce, practically speaking.

  16. aerin says:

    I believe under 20 is too young to make a lifetime commitment. Some people do, and are very happy. But I believe that it’s important to live independently from one’s parents and without a spouse/partner….to flex those independent muscles.

    I also believe couples should live together before marrying. Living together can help a couple figure out if they are okay with the other’s “habits”, from snoring to cleanliness to finances. It’s no longer the way it was in mad men, just because people move in together, doesn’t mean they won’t eventually marry. Or if it doesn’t work out, that they wouldn’t have divorced.

    I will encourage my kids to date lots of different people, just to know what people are out there, and what works for them.

    So I believe a person should feel happy and secure single before getting in a relationship.

  17. Starla says:

    I was married at 20 and my husband and I are nearing a decade of marriage now. I have never regretted marrying young but I do wish that I would have traveled more before marriage.

    Marrying young really forced my husband and I to grow up and be responsible. Our parents thought that if we were old enough to be married we didn’t need money from them anymore….something which I totally agree with. But it was very hard with me at 20 and my husband at 22 to support ourselves. We did get in more than our fair share of debt in our early marriage because we lived like we used to….when our parents helped us along. But in the long run it really taught us to budget, work hard, and be financially responsible. I think we are in a lot better shape than our peers because we had those hard lessons earlier than they did.

    While marrying that young is not for everyone, it has helped us both in our careers, our finances and our own personal maturity. I do however, do not advocate having children so young. We waited 8 yrs to have a child and while we love our baby so much we are glad we waited until we were further in our careers and financially stable. Children are hard in a marriage…and your finances and in my opinion, if you can wait…do it.

    • Emily U says:

      I agree. To me it’s not marrying young that’s risky, it’s becoming a parent at a young age that really stresses you out and constrains your choices and opportunities.

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