We live in an age-ist culture when it comes to marriage, by which I mean that we glorify youth as the pinnacle of human experience in nearly every aspect of life except intimate relationships.
In my work as a counselor, I often see my highly sensitive and analytical clients perseverate on questions such as, "Do I love my partner enough?" and "What does mean to be in love?" And for my younger clients — those in their early to mid-20s — the big question is, "Am I too young to get married?"
Our culture says YES, you're too young, and it's best to wait until you reach some measure of maturity later in life before making a commitment as big as marriage. And if I wasn't privileged enough to be witnessing the extraordinary minds and hearts of the young people with whom I work, I'd agree with this mainstream metropolitan message.
But I'm continually amazed by the wisdom I see in certain young people today, which has led me to change my mind and communicate a counter-message that marriage readiness isn't based on chronological age but true wisdom.
One example is a woman with the screenname "Christmasbride" who started posting on my forum 10 years ago when she was 23. She's now happily married with a child, but when she started posting, she was in the throes of relationship anxiety: How do I know that I'm making a good choice? Do we have enough passion? He irritates me sometimes; is that OK?
By attending to her fears, she quickly became one of the wise ones on my forum. I have quoted from her many times, blown away by her level of wisdom at such a young age. Here's an excerpt (you can read her whole post here):
Getting married was a real eye opener for me. I realized that things didn’t have to be perfect, and that things weren’t like the movies. What I did discover, however, was that I had a man and a relationship that were good enough. Not perfect, but good enough — good enough to want to build a life with, to want to have children with, good enough that when life threw struggles our way, we’d want to work it out together instead of separately. Good enough that we’d want to commit to each other, to learn to love each other in new ways every single day, to know that what we know NOW about love is not what we will know 20, 30, 40 yrs from now, but knowing that we want to try.
I am always — ALWAYS — falling in and out of love with my husband. Sometimes he drives me NUTS. Sometimes I can’t get enough of him. But I LOVE being married to my best friend. I love having someone to listen to my feelings, laugh with, build a home and a family with. Marriage is not so complicated and a big deal that we need to be frightened of it, but yet, look at it as an opportunity to build a life with a person we love. It is simple, and wonderful and WORTH all of this fear and heartache you ladies are going through. I promise.
What our culture doesn't talk about is that there are many benefits to marrying young.
Yes, you may not possess a certain emotional or psychological maturity that can only grow with age, but you also avoid having your heart broken and scarred over and over again by partners who weren't ready to commit.
When you marry young, you also avoid becoming too attached to things having to be exactly as you've expected them to be. In other words, if you haven't had time to develop your own routines and mindsets by living alone or with friends it's going to be easier to develop the skill of compromise so necessary to a healthy marriage. If getting married young worked for our grandparents generation, why wouldn't it work for us?
That said, marriage is not be taken lightly. If you're marrying to get away from your parents or primary to bypass religious restrictions on sexual relations, it's better to wait. Marriage is not an escape hatch; it's the biggest commitment you'll ever make (aside from having a child), and it's essential to determine if you're truly ready or just running from something else.
If you're in a committed relationship and wondering if you're mature enough to marriage, consider the following areas:
1. You understand the difference between real love and infatuation.
When you're infatuated, you expect to feel in love all of the time. You expect your partner to be flawless and you expect the "in love" feelings to last forever. This isn't reality, and if you're addicted to highs of the infatuation stage you're probably not ready for marriage.
2. You're ready to grieve the end of being single.
You're ready let go of first dates, first kisses, the thrill of the chase. You're ready to let go of the every other possibility of partner. You understand what it means to commit to one person for a lifetime. This is difficult at any age, but requires particular attention if you haven't had much experience in the dating realm to begin with. And it's essential that you take time to acknowledge and grieve that you're saying goodbye to a stage of life.
3. You understand that it's not your partner's job to fulfill you, complete you, rescue you, or make you feel alive.
A healthy marriage requires that two healthy, whole people come together to learn and grow their capacity to give and receive love. Marriage is not, as our culture suggests, meant to provide you with the answer to all of your problems. If you're marrying with the hope that marriage will fix your problems, it's best to wait and attend to your problems on your own first.
4. You have a healthy way of handling conflict.
You and your partner can talk well about difficult subjects. You may fight occasionally (that's normal), but you are generally respectful of each other and can ultimately arrive at a healthy compromise.
5. You are aligned in terms of core values.
You don't have to enjoy the same hobbies or interests to have a healthy marriage, but you do have to be on the same page regarding religion, having children, money, and spending time with family. You don't even have to share the same religion or have the same money style, but you do need to know how you'll handle future issues on these essential values.
The bottom line is that maturity is often less a function of age as it is about a certain wisdom and willingness to take responsibility that certain people possess at a young age and certain others never attain.