I was 23 years old, standing in front of all of my family and friends, when I committed myself to another human being for the rest of my life. There was an ocean view, a sunset, a saxophone. It was the grand finale to a 5-year long courtship during which my husband and I tried (and failed) to keep our hands to ourselves.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. We were certainly not the first Christians to get married young, and we won’t be the last.
I grew up in Eugene, Oregon where it isn’t so strange for people, Christians or not, to get married young. Growing up, I had never really given much thought to marriage. If I thought anything, it was probably that I would never get married. I wasn’t the girl with a notebook filled with images of lace and flower arrangements and wedding cakes. I didn’t have my bridesmaids’ dresses picked out. I certainly didn’t have any criteria for a future husband. In high school, I never really had boyfriends. They seemed like more trouble than they were worth. And I was career oriented. I wanted to get to college, graduate, do something important with my life. For me, it didn’t seem like a relationship would really fit into that trajectory.
But the very first time I spoke to my husband on the phone—I was eighteen and he was nineteen at the time—I knew that we would get married. I even walked into my house and told my roommate that I’d just spoken to my future husband. And I held fast to that belief. Rarely in my life am I ever sure of anything, but when I am, I’m really sure. And so, five years later, he did become my husband.
When we moved to New York City about a year after we were married, I didn’t anticipate quite how strange people would find our arrangement. Either a glance at my finger or the mention of a husband would elicit, “You’re married? How old are you?” I always found these remarks to be somewhat hostile, the tone falling somewhere between: You have no idea what a mistake you’ve made! – and – But you haven’t even lived!
We were aliens. People couldn’t understand it and I spent a lot of my time explaining my choice. It was embarrassing. Eventually, when meeting new people, I got to the point where I wouldn’t bring up the fact that I was married unless I had to, just to avoid that perplexed expression on people’s faces.
Now this, the embarrassment and avoidance, I blame on youth. But the marriage? Not so much.
Perhaps there was some naiveté attached to our decision to get married when we did. We sometimes talk about how we would do it differently now: no bridal party, no shitty catered food, much better wine, probably less people. But when I look back at the photos of our wedding, I don’t regret anything. Mostly, it feels like looking into a time capsule. Like, “Oh yeah, that’s who we were back then.”
I understand why people think it is weird. Marrying young, especially in your early or even mid-twenties is such a gamble. I just turned 30 and I feel like I’m just getting a handle on who I am as a human. But, you know, so is he. And we’ve been lucky enough to grow and change together.
I know a lot of couples who didn’t stay together—young people who got married for various reasons: religion, lust, blinding passion—who later got divorced. But I also know a lot of couples who got married later in life (my parents for example) who also got divorced. There is no formula for what makes relationships work, and only the two people participating in the relationship know what makes them stay together.
I’m aware of the opportunity costs associated with committing yourself to another person for the rest of your life. If you are committed to fidelity, you lose the chance to have many sexual partners, or to learn from other long-term relationships. Your intimacy—sexual and emotional—is tied to one person, which our society views as a negative but I think can be a positive thing. But monogamy is not for everyone.
I’m also aware that marriage, as an institution, is something people object to. I can understand this, too. I know people who are in committed, long-term relationships who have chosen not to get married. And there seems to be no difference in commitment level between those relationships and my marriage. In fact, if my husband and I had just met, we may have chosen not to marry but to simply live together.
When out east, or even in a city like Los Angeles, or in an academic environment like when I was in graduate school, I always feel the need to apologize for the fact that I got married so young. But the thing is I’m not sorry. I’m aware that people look at me, at my wedding ring and my changed last name, and make conclusions about the type of person I am. And that’s okay. Maybe they’ll get to know me and find out that I’m a proud feminist, I have a complicated relationship with the religion I grew up in, I’m really skeptical of institutionalized power and privilege. I know that this all seems contradictory to the fact that I got married at 23. But I’m still not sorry.
My husband is my constant advocate. He’s smart, he challenges me, and he’s a really fun guy to be around. The more years I get to spend around him the better. This shouldn’t suggest that we don’t have really hard times. We do. And we’ll continue to. But still, I’m glad I married him when I was so young. And I recognize how lucky I am to feel this way.
I’ve come to look at it like this: getting married when I did gave me a kind of freedom to believe that I would be okay if I moved away from home, or questioned our religion, or went to grad school, because I always had someone I intensely trusted to bounce ideas off of. In many ways, our relationship has allowed me the freedom to discover who I really am and the kind of person I want to be.