Half of all marriages end in divorce. The average age for a first marriage is 27 for women, 29 for men. 20% of twenty-somethings are married today. These hard facts are ingrained in us; their intangible implications even more so. There’s a real pressure for young twenty-somethings to stay unattached for as long as possible, as well as a growing fear of commitment that keeps couples in limbo, afraid to make any moves that could scare off potential mates. Plus, our increasingly open society makes marriage seem unimportant when unmarried couples can live and co-parent together without judgment.
With these rapidly evolving views on marriage taking shape, it’s surprising when young couples choose to ignore the stigma and get hitched in their early twenties. There’s a certain narrative that comes with young marriage: either you must be traditionally conservative and deeply religious, or you must be pregnant. But what about the real couples behind the statistics who decide that getting married sooner rather than later is simply right for them?
For Natalie, getting married at 22 right out of college just made sense.
“We knew we were it and did not see a reason to put it off,” explains Natalie, who started dating her husband in high school and got engaged at 21.
Despite attending a small college where engagements were not unusual, she still found herself justifying her decision to others.
“I am just now starting to see a difference in people’s reactions like I must finally look old enough for my marriage to be deemed acceptable. I was never embarrassed because I knew I did what was right for me, but I often felt the need to follow up with comments about how we ‘really examined our relationship first’ or something like that.”
Chantel, on the other hand, says that her mother was actually the one who experienced the brunt of others’ judgments.
“My parents were married when they were 20, so the thought that I was too young never crossed their minds. But people would react in such astonishment that at one point my mom started telling people I was 22 instead of 20 so that she didn’t have to explain herself or defend me.”
Chantel got engaged at 20 and married at 21 and says that she never felt any judgment from her friends.
“I was in a sorority and my sisters could not have been more excited for me. My best friend always told me that if it was anyone else she would probably think they were too young, but in her eyes, I had always been an ‘old soul’ so she didn’t expect anything else.”
Marriage, like any other major life decision, is a personal choice. We hear it all the time from the media and our peers: younger couples have a greater chance of getting divorced, your twenties are meant for personal exploration, getting married = throwing your life away and settling down, etc, etc. Millennials seem to have such a fear of commitment and authenticity that when a young couple decides to take the risk we respond with negativity and cynicism rather than with happiness, projecting our own insecurities onto these couples.
Of course, early marriage does come with its fair share of challenges. For Natalie, money is one of the hardest parts, although she realizes that her financial concerns are the same as any other married couples.
“My husband is still in school getting his Ph.D., so we put away a large portion of our income to pay off both his and my student loans. But, regardless of my marital status, I would still have those debts so that only half counts.”
The biggest drawback for both Natalie and Chantel, though, is the social judgment that comes with being a spouse at an age that many deem too immature for a serious commitment.
“One of the worst parts is society telling me that marriage will somehow hold me back from truly living,” says Natalie. “My husband and I have a good understanding of our priorities. For example, a few months ago I went to Ireland for two weeks while he stayed here. It’s more important for me to travel abroad than it is for him, so we made it happen.”
Chantel laments that being married in her early twenties can make her feel disconnected from her friends.
“Many of my friends still go out partying much more than I have ever wanted to. I don’t want to flirt or pick up guys at a bar, so it can be hard to relate to their lifestyle. The path I took resulted in taking on more at a young age, like buying a house and not relying on my parents. I don’t judge them but it makes our stresses dramatically different and therefore not very relatable.”
But what about the benefits that come with early marriage?
“The best part about being married young is having your best friend by your side earlier rather than later in life,” says Chantel. “Having that support and knowing that the other person will always be there for you allows us to accomplish our dreams and challenge one another to become better.”
Similarly, Natalie says that “I am confident in myself, who I am, and what I want my life to be. I never wonder ‘what if’ about our relationship. We both knew we were the one and we are committed to keeping it that way. We are always working together for our relationship and know that we have a healthy responsibility to the other. It makes us both very happy.”
Not to mention the other pros that include: not feeling rushed to start a family (because you’re getting married at the start of your most fertile years), growing together with someone instead of being strongly set in your own ways, and not having to deal with the habits that can form after a string of short-lived, uncommitted relationships.
The truth is that there’s no way to tell whether or not a marriage will last, no matter how old the couple in question is or how long they’ve been together. After all, marriage is first and foremost a decision, not a destiny. As with any milestone, its success depends on the people involved and their perspectives, not something as arbitrary as age.