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

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Growing Together

Friday was our sixteenth wedding anniversary. We didn't make it out to dinner or anything. Most of our attention and energy at the moment is devoted to waiting for The Expected to arrive on the scene. His official due date is July 9th, but things have reached the pass where all one can think of is: The baby could come at any moment!

We haven't yet been married half our lives, but we have known each other half our lives. In just over a month it will be twenty years since we met and started dating. I had cause to think about that stretch of time this weekend because I was reading a discussion about whether getting married young (as in, early twenties) is a good idea. There are some difficulties with having such discussions in the abstract. The right age to get married is dependent on very specific factors, most notably whether you know the right person to marry. But in this discussion someone made the case that she thought people should not get married in their twenties as a general principle, the reason being that people change a lot over the years and you might find yourself changing into different people who were no longer compatible. Better to wait till your thirties, she argued, than to get married in your twenties and risk having to divorce if you grew apart.

It strikes me this ignores the nature of the commitment we make when we get married.

MrsDarwin and I met at eighteen and married at twenty-two. During that time we've changed a lot. However, this change has always involved growing together rather than growing apart.

A part of this is simple shared culture. I probably learned to appreciate drama and music more because of my connection with MrsDarwin than I would have on my own. I also drifted away from fantasy and science fiction, also in part through her influence. On the other hand, MrsDarwin's writing is probably in part attributable to me (I'd spent a lot of time writing prior to meeting her, she'd never tried writing fiction prior to when we became a couple.) I'm probably also responsible for some of her political and economic attachments.

We've made career decisions together, chosen the type of house to live in, and educated our children together. I would have followed a different career path if I hadn't faced the need to provide from a family from a young age. MrsDarwin would clearly have been spending her days very differently were she not rearing and educating our children full time.

Each family's path with be peculiar to its members and circumstances, but I think they key thing is that it is a family path. A marriage cannot be made up of two individuals who just happen to be following conveniently parallel paths through life as individuals. When we marry we vow to love each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.

Any choice restricts our freedom in some ways. By choosing to do one thing, we choose not to do another. When we choose to marry, we choose not to do the things which might pull us away from our spouse. We choose to live conscious of the fact that we are no longer leading individual lives but family lives. My job is no longer my job, it is our support. My house is not my house, it is our home. In choosing this one big thing, marriage, I have narrowed my choices in many other ways. But I did so willingly, and looking back over our lives together I can think of no better way to have spent the past, no better way to spend the future, than continuing to grow together.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

" people should not get married in their twenties as a general principle, the reason being that people change a lot over the years and you might find yourself changing into different people who were no longer compatible. Better to wait till your thirties, she argued, than to get married in your twenties and risk having to divorce if you grew apart."

It seems like there's a weird underlying assumption that people stop changing in their thirties. Is it that the commenter thinks that twenty is still a child and thirty is an adult and that once you hit thirty you're done, you're a grown-up and you won't change any more? Because if people change throughout their lives, then what makes thirty the magic age to get married?

Darwin said...

She seemed to think by mid thirties someone would have got settled into her career, decided where she wanted to live, how much she wanted to travel, etc.

Which is part of why it struck me: because I would probably have a very different job and place to live if I'd been single for ten or more years longer.

alicia said...

Because of the growth is to me a good reason to marry young, if God has provided the right partner. In marrying, I chose to grow together with my husband, and he did likewise. We've been married 43 years now.

Finicky Cat said...

I married at 22 as well. If I'd waited till my thirties, we would have missed spending that whole decade together. Life is too short for deliberately postponing marriage!

Julia said...

I recall a time someone posted on our local parent email group asking the "best" spacing between kids. I replied that (since I have five, an unheard-of abundance in NYC) I have a variety of intervals, ranging from under two years to more than nine, and that there's not a right or wrong or better or worse, just different issues that need to be worked through in different ways and that it's in doing that work that we become better parents.

I think something similar is true for marriage: there are different pluses and minuses for the age you marry and the age difference between the spouses, and as long as you accept the work of it as being something that can lead you closer to each other and to God, it's fine.

Anonymous said...

Great post. My mom says the same thing, but her reason is that you're too immature in your early 20s to make a lifelong commitment and therefore liable to botch it. But we make all kinds of decisions in our early 20s that affect the rest of our lives. This is why you need experienced older people who care about you in your life, as mentors and role models, to guide you along until you find your footing. Besides, waiting has its own drawbacks. Also, I didn't stop botching decisions in my 30s.

Brian said...

The problematic assumption is that those who remain unmarried later are choosing to do so positively. While many (especially many of the faithful) meet their spouse young, when both are in a given state of life, many of us don't (being a practicing Catholic surrounded by secular sorts at college and in the workplace, for example). As a result we age out of the beginning state of adulthood and enter a sort of race in "catching up" to the changing economic and social roles that any potential spouse now seeks as they too age (if I met a woman at 18, we'd both be young students, while anyone I meet in my thirties has degrees, an established career, and possibly owns a home; given the assumptions at play in male and female roles, I'm forced to consider state-of-life issues that I didn't plan to). I so often see those who married young (even those who like Darwin have argued in favor of us single Catholic guys) fall into the trap of assuming that their bountiful experiences are necessarily the experience of every man, and thus that those who are in a different state must have deliberately opted for that — consequently false reasons (or the inverse of how actual reasons originate) are bandied about as if fact.

P.S. Happy Anniversary! I don't seek to chastise, merely respond to that issue falsely addressed herein.

Darwin said...


That's a good point, and one that I try to be very aware of when writing about these issues. Too many people in conservative Christian circles act as if someone who is single must obviously have walked away from good chances to get married at a younger age. As it is, my sister is in exactly the same kind of situation: in her thirties and would desperately like to meet someone to marry but has not yet succeeded in doing so.

The particular social media post that had inspired this one was by a woman who said she'd been engaged for eight years in her twenties but then broken it off because she realized she and her fiance now wanted different things with their lives, and so she was explicitly advocating that people should not marry in their twenties even if they had the chance, because you needed to allow for the fact that you might grow apart. While I have no opinion on that particular person's relationship, I did think that the general point was somewhat worth commenting on as the general culture these days seems to apt to think that people should naturally develop separately in marriage rather than committing to developing together.

But I apologize if this came off as sounding like saying that people who don't marry young are obviously falling into that way of thinking. That certainly was not my intention.