Every few days, I see a new post on Facebook about a singular topic on everyone my age’s mind today: marriage. It seems like someone I know is always getting engaged or posting an article from an outside website either supporting or opposing people marrying at a young age. I have my own opinions on this; as a twenty-something myself, I’m just getting to the age where people constantly seem to be asking me about my future with whoever I’m dating.
But I have mixed feelings on the subject, too. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in true love. I grew up obsessed with Disney movies, and while the princess-meets-prince-and-lives-happily-ever-after story may be a naïve conception, I do believe that there’s someone (or, more realistically, someones) out there for everyone. I think that there are times when people just know that they’re supposed to be with someone. But on the other hand, I’ve dated someone for three years and still got to the end realizing that I wasn’t supposed to be with that person, and did not want to get married to him. So can people get married after only knowing someone for a few months and not be taking an enormous risk?
I don’t know. I’d like to think that there’s something as pure and simple as “love at first sight.” But I don’t think there is. I think you have to really know someone. I think you have to know what they want out of life, and compare that to what you want. I think you have to see how they react under stress, and how they act after the world’s worst day. You have to know what they’re favorite song to listen to is when they’re in a great mood. And sometimes you can get away with learning all these things about someone after you’re married, and it works out fine. My grandparents’ generation did that. They got married at 18 or 19 and just hoped for the best. Well, guess what? My mom’s parents are both divorced and remarried, and my dad’s parents are both divorced. Getting married young is often a mistake (NOT ALWAYS!!!!! BUT OFTEN!). A lot of people aren’t mature enough at 19 (or 20, or 21, or 26) to get married to someone else, dedicating their entire life to that person’s happiness and joy. I know I’m not. I’m still in school! I have a million things that I want to do before I marry someone and expect them to put me in front of everything that they want.
A lot of people look at this just oppositely to what I have just said. They want to mark everything off of a perpetual to-do list that will never be completed. And marriage is somewhere between get a job and have a baby, so it gets lumped in arbitrarily wherever it’s convenient. Get married when you’re ready. If you’re ready at 23, go for it. If you can honestly look into someone’s eyes and say that you will never meet anyone who makes you as happy as they do, and you’re not in high school and you’ve dated a little before and you can’t even put your feelings into words because they just make your insides light up, then get married. Don’t post on Facebook to defend your decision. The only people you need to convince are yourself and your significant other. Even your parents can’t do much by the time you’re an adult supporting yourself.
But if you have doubts, what’s the harm in waiting? Breakups suck, but they’re a lot less expensive than divorces. And what if you get so far into it that there are kids involved? As a product of two parents who never married, I can honestly say I wish that I had had parents who were together. I wish I hadn’t been sent over to my dad’s every other weekend. I’m an adult, and I’m completely happy with my life, and I love both my parents a lot, but they made my childhood more difficult than it could have been if they had just waited to have kids with the right person. I want to do better for my kids.
There are A LOT of things I want to do with my husband someday, whether he is the guy I’m dating right now or a guy I don’t even know exists yet. I want to go to Disney World with him, and I want to see his face light up at the things I’ve loved since I was a little girl. I want to go to Hawaii, simply because I’ve never been and it seems like the most romantic thing. I want to stay in a hotel high above New York City and watch the lights together one night. I want to find out that we’re going to have a baby, and I want to watch that baby grow into a wonderful person. I want to watch all his favorite movies, and I hope that he’ll want to watch mine, too.
But there are also A LOT of things I still want to do before I even get engaged. I want to get a puppy, and raise it to be a dog. I want to prove I can handle the responsibility, not only to others but also to myself. I want to graduate from pharmacy school and get a job and earn a paycheck. I want to pick out what part of the world to live in. I want to pick out the kind of house I want. I want to go to the beach by myself for a day, just because I need an escape from the world and solitude sometimes makes me feel a lot better (the beach always makes me feel way better). And I want to be with someone who will be as perfect for me on the first day we meet as he is fifteen years after we get married. It doesn’t have to be a fairy tale—the real thing will be better.
So I guess that’s what I’m trying to say in all this. I don’t want people to wait to get married until they’re 28 just because that’s suddenly the magical age where you’re mature enough to handle a life partner. Nope. Not true. There is no magic age. Some kids are probably mature enough at like 17 for marriage (not many). Who cares? There are people with no rights to get married at all, and that’s not fair. If people want to get married when they’re 20, and they do get married and they stay happy for years and never split up, then how can anyone say they made a mistake marrying too young? There are people who don’t marry until 40 and still don’t make it. Making a marriage work comes from within. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with the two people who are getting married.
I believe people should be allowed to divorce, of course. I can’t imagine being with a man who made me absolutely miserable for years and having no escape. I guess that’s why it’s important to me to wait until I’m sure. Three years is much longer than many people date before getting engaged or married. And I’ve been with someone for that long only to discover that it was nothing like the relationship I wanted to be in for all eternity. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I knew from the start that I was going to break up with him eventually, but I wanted the experience anyway. I don’t think so, though. I think that in the beginning, I thought that he was the right person. He made me happy, he understood me, and I understood him. It was like having a best friend who completely got me. A soul mate, if you will. But soul mates aren’t my favorite cliché when it comes to love. I actually hate the idea of soul mates. They’re too strong to last long. You need someone who supports you, but isn’t just like you. “Opposites attract,” people say. But I don’t know if I believe that, either. There should be a balance. The person you’re with should completely support you, and always listen, and try to see your view. But they should also be their own person, with their own hobbies and their own interests. And you can share those interests with each other.
So that’s my stance about love and matrimony. When you’re ready, get married. When the person you’re with is ready, go home together and slip briskly into an intimacy from which you’ll never recover. Don’t do it because you’re the “right age,” and you’re with a person who you think you love.