It’s really not surprising that we look at young marriage with such disdain — most of the things we hear about it are negative. For example, Olivia Wilde has said that marrying her Italian Prince ex when she was just 19 “stunted” her growth
. Reese Witherspoon, who married Ryan Phillippe when she was 23 — a year older than I was when I got married — blames their divorce, at least in part, to their being “ridiculously young
.” I’m not trying to discount what these women are saying; I’m merely pointing out that we tend to only hear about the young marriages that don’t
work out, and it creates a bias. Young marrieds are basically working with two narratives: the crazy-in-love/impulsive kidults who eventually learn the error of their ways and divorce (see above/the whole “starter marriage” phenom), or the super-religious couples who are just naïve and really, really want to have sex (see FYI Network’s show Teenage Newlyweds
). And even though I don’t identify with either of those stereotypes, people have long since judged me based on those constructs.
Of course, there are
some compelling statistics against marrying young. Like everyone else in the English-speaking world, I’m aware of the popular belief that approximately half of marriages end in divorce (though recent data suggests that the more accurate estimate is closer to one third
). So I understand why some people would think it’s helpful to discourage young couples from rushing into a legally binding contract. But the thing is, the age at which you marry isn't that big of a deal when compared to other factors, like how much you make or whether you graduated from college, both of which play more significant roles in how likely your marriage is to last, according to a 2012 report
from the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project.
And since decent human beings would never say, “Oh, you make under $50,000? You don't have a bachelor's degree? You're too poor and uneducated to get married,” why do people think it’s okay to shame me for marrying young? Plus, having a baby before saying "I do" presents the exact same divorce risk as getting hitched early, yet because the former is more common — the average woman is 27
when she marries for the first time, but is 26 when she gives birth for the first time — people seem to feel better about hating on baby-faced newlyweds than couples who put the baby carriage first. In a perfect world, partners in both scenarios would receive the love and support they need to be successful, rather than criticism that will pile onto any disadvantages they may already be facing.
I’ll be honest. Until I got engaged, I was like you: secretly judging the couples I knew or had heard about who were marrying early. I was especially hard on the women, whom I wrote off as being unambitious, dependent types (did I mention that I’m the worst?), so I guess I can thank karma for what I went through once I got engaged. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my husband didn’t experience any of the same negativity that I did. Part of that is his upbringing; he’s from an evangelical Christian family, so he grew up attending the weddings of individuals who were too young to legally rent a car. To him, getting engaged when you’re 20 and 23 is normal and something to be celebrated, not defended. Even his friends — frat bros who couldn’t imagine getting married themselves — were psyched for us. Meanwhile, I had people asking me, “Are you sure?” with the kind of concerned expression you’d give a drunk person who’s insisting that yes, she really does need
a tiny feather tattoo. Like right now. And she knows a place that accepts walk-ins.