Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Old Enough to Marry

Nothing makes me feel like I'm living in an alien culture so much as reading secular discussions of marriage. Thus, when Megan McArdle took time off last week to write a bit about the latest upper-middle-class-thirty-something-woman-ruminates-on-what-marriage-is-and-what-she-should-do-about-it book Marry Him, I was thrown by this thought:
But imagine that these critical few whom Gottlieb wants to save did take her (very) heartfelt advice. Would they make themselves better off? A lot of people, (including me) are not ready to get married at 26, even if they're with someone great. Perhaps college-educated people are more likely to stay married because they marry later, and are thus less likely to make rash and short-sighted choices with visions of wedding gowns dancing in their heads.

Hmmm. Yes. Twenty-six. That wild and irresponsible age at which we had been married for four years, we had our third child, had already owned a house for a couple years, etc. Glad I didn't make any binding decisions back then.

It's not that I have anything against people who marry late -- one marries when one meets the right person and can afford to start a household together. For some people, finding the right person may not happen until their 30s or 40s. Well enough. Marrying the wrong person because one's biological clock is ticking is no recipe for happiness.

But this idea that most educated people simply aren't "ready" to marry until their 30s throws me rather. How long does it take to "grow up"? What does it take, exactly?


Big Tex said...

How long does it take to grow up? Seems that it keeps getting longer and longer for a sizable chunk of the population. We, as a culture, have a tendency to shelter our children from making big, important decisions as well as taking responsibility for one's actions.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

To your question:

a) there should be reached on both sides puberty, so that the contracting parties have realistic contact with sensual feelings about each other and so that marriage can be consumed without pedophilia or illusions about what one may feel later after growing up

b) there should be mental maturity

if this means "second age of brain" it is reached even before puberty.

And that is Roman Law and essentially Church Law: 14 for boys and 12 for girls. As a minimum requirement, not as an immediate obligation for each and everyone having reached that age.

Modern reasonings are into reserving marriage for "at least third age of brain" - an age of experience and of brain already settled.

It is not as if they are reconcilable: if second age of brain is enough, modernity is off the hook, if third age of brain is required, Roman Citizens and Roman Catholics have been wrong about marriage for millennia, as well as an implication against wisdom of our Creator.

To your name, and to earlier debates between myself and you:

Sir George Darwin corrected Galileo on tides, you know ... which is now a page autonomous on my blog.

Kate said...

I was married at a 21 yr old (I know, I'm a cradle robber). And you know, I think we're still in pursuit of adult maturity. But I far prefer to finish 'growing up' beside and with my husband to attempting to do it alone.

Like relationship with God - too many want to perfect themselves *first*, and then maybe they'll be ready to head back to church and talk to Jesus. There's a temptation to think that the only way we can tackle these large commitments and vital, life long relationships is by entering into them fully formed and perfected, and by choosing only a fully matured and perfected person to marry. Which, of course, we ain't never gonna be on this earth.

So, yeah. I'm going to posit that once you understand what marriage is, understand what you're undertaking, and have the willingness to really mean those vows and make accommodations along the're 'grown up' enough for marriage. Whatever growing up remains to be done will probably benefit from the 'dying to self' a whole-hearted marriage requires. Or so my experience suggests.

Enbrethiliel said...


This reminds me of a woman I know who was married right out of college, moved to a whole other country with her husband, and had her first child soon after. (That's more than most people are "ready" for at her age, but she has done very well with herself!)

Now that first daughter is 27; her second daughter is 25; and her third is about to graduate from college. And when someone asked the woman whether any of the girls had plans to get married, she said, only half-joking "I've told them I'll kill them, if they do! They're still just babies."

It was strange of her to say when her oldest girl had been sharing an apartment with her boyfriend for several months.

Now, I'm on good terms with the two oldest girls and don't think they're "babies" at all. But I know it's certainly convenient for them to have a mother who thinks of them that way. Independence and a safety net, in case one's decisions don't work out. It's a sweet deal, I suppose.

Michelle said...

I like what Kate had to say. I'm a cradle-robber too, married at 23 to a 22 yo fresh out of college (I had a year on my own after I graduated). That was last summer. Last week our first baby was due, and we're still waiting on her arrival!

It's hard to hear people say we're too young to be married, or too young to have kids, but the fact of the matter is that they don't know us. I was told so many times by people who married later in life how hard it is to adjust to marriage. And while I'm not saying it doesn't take sacrifice, I think the transition for my husband and I was relatively easy because we're both still young and pliable. We're not hell-bent in our ways. We are 100% aware that we are still growing and maturing and I think that makes us better able to mold into one another's lives.

I look forward to being a young mother. I want to have energy to be there for my kids in every stage in their lives, especially since my own mother died when she was 48 (I was 12) and never had the energy to play with me when I was little. But I also want to be at a place of humility where I can learn from them as they learn from me.

Certainly there are some people that get married right out of college (especially in the small, Christian college circles) that have no idea of real life's heart aches. They (seem to) go from these perfect Christian families who have no problems and expect their young, blooming, perfect Christian relationship to also be problem free. (Maybe I'm a bit cynical as that was far from my experience). This can lead to problems, and is probably one reason why the divorce rate among Christians is no better than the national average. But age does not negate experience.

geeklady said...

Well, we were both 23 when we got married, fresh out of college. Couldn't even take a honeymoon because I had no vacation built up at my new job, and Mike got his job the day after our wedding.
We're 30 now, two miscarriages, a toddler, two major hurricanes, and a house later.

It's your experiences that mature you. If you don't have any, you aren't going to grow. We weren't exactly immature when we were married, more mature than some mid 30s people we know if less flush with cash, but we have still grown considerably since, given all that we've been through.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...


And you know, I think we're still in pursuit of adult maturity. But I far prefer to finish 'growing up' beside and with my husband to attempting to do it alone.

Thank God for some sense!

Same thing about having babies: you do need some maturity before telling a seven year old harrassed in school what to do, or deciding what to do yourself, but you hardly need it before having that person as your baby.

"Growing up" in some sense while raising children is an option, and - though I've not been there myself - I suppose it helps you to grow.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I am not sure what your statistics are like over there, but our stats for marriages where those getting married are over 30, are quite sobering. Such marriages commonly don't last. The partners might be 'mature', but it seems they are also very set in their independent ways.

Brandon said...

I'm single myself, so I'm not much of an authority on the subject. But I think part of the problem is the notion that marriage is something you can get 'ready' for in the first place; which seems to me radically to underestimate how different marriage is from everything else. You can certainly be seriously unready for it, e.g., by having illusions about what you're getting into that are going to lead to disappointment; but I don't think I've ever met any married couple who were really wholly 'ready' for it. As Kate suggests, it's the sort of thing you really only learn by doing.

I think part of the problem, too, is that people really don't see that marriage is a kind of friendship, and friendships are not the things you 'get ready for'. The old saw is that there are three kinds of friendship, friendships of use, of pleasure, and of virtue; and part of the quirk of marriage is that it is a commitment to be a perpetual friend to someone in all three senses simultaneously. That's much harder than most kinds of friendships, and it does make sense not to jump heedlessly into it with just anyone; but seen that way can there be anything sadder than someone who is effectively claiming that the reason they are not doing it is that they are not 'ready' for friendship in the complete sense of the term?

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Not just being set in single ways, also loosing - at least for me as a man - single-mindedness about ONE girl one falls in love with ...

JMB said...

I don't know what the right answer is. My good friend just announced that her husband is leaving her after 18 years of marriage and four children. They were college sweethearts and got married at 23. They did really well financially and I guess they just grew apart. It's heart breaking.

I got married at 27, my husband was 29. If I had met him earlier I may have married him sooner. But really, who knows? All I know is that we married at that point in time and 16 years later we are still married.

ladyhobbit said...

I was married at age 21, right out of college, and my husband was 23. Now we've been married for almost 34 years. We have four adult children; the second one is getting married in two weeks. My mother thought I was too young and wanted us to wait! But we trusted each other, and our trust has been justified so far. Sometimes I feel impatient towards people who have been "dating" for 6 or 8 years and can't seem to decide to get married. Live! Have children! What are you waiting for? If you wait for everything to be "perfect," you'll waste your whole life. There are right reasons to wait, such as not having found a responsible, faithful person to marry. And there are wrong reasons to wait, such as wanting to have two new cars and a giant house.

Anonymous said...

The topic is marrying age?
I say: Wait until marriage for the marital embrace because that is God's wedding gift on your wedding night. No contraception. NFP only. Welcome children! Chastity! The age to marry is based on God's plan for marriage: openness to children and the education of children. Pray!

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Good point:

openness to children means, among other things not to wait until it is too late for the woman: infertility or too difficult childbirths are to be avoided (male fertility lasts longer)

and education of children does not preclude giving birth as a teen, since any teen (except some cases of Downs) knowns whatever a baby or a toddler needs to know, whereas when the child needs to be taught more, the mother will no longer be a teen.

In Russia, in 1914, thus before the Communist revolution, one of the diminutives of "virgin" (virgin is dieva, this diminutive was, I think, dievushka) means: a virgin neither married nor consecrated, who is between ages 12 and 30.

That was their take on when it was right for a woman to become a woman, I think it is right.

And of course, as in any place, "Plan B" (starring J Lopez) was frowned upon.

Elizabeth M said...

We're approaching our 20th anniversary this year. I was 23 and 6 months out of grad school, he was 22 and 6 months out of college. Our parents didn't fight us, but were concerned when we were engaged before we had jobs.

I was not in a "rush" to get married and wouldn't have felt any pressure to "find" someone to marry in college. But, we found each other, survived a long-distance relationship for several years, and we knew we wanted to get married.

I think there is a lot to be said for struggling a little financially at first or at least growing up together. I think if you are with the right person and are truly ready to give (not just take) in marriage, then marrying young can be a blessing. But, I think it also takes acceptance of the sacramental nature of marriage.

I think the ups and downs we've been through (before and after children) have made us stronger.

I know many 23-year-olds (and even older) who I wouldn't think are ready for marriage -- but it's because of their own maturity (or lack thereof), their expectations of life, and their ability to be selfless enough to give to another.

Sadly, our culture expects everything to be "right" -- and assumes that having the best job, house, and car are prerequisites for a marriage -- not to mention going through lots of relationships to "know what you want" in a mate. I think that -- and the extended immaturity of many teens (or their parents who encourage that helplessness) just fuel the idea that you have to be older to be married.

I think those societal assumptions set too high a bar for marriage and it's no wonder many people hit their 30s or even 40s and wonder where their perfect mate is!