Firstly, let me acknowledge that there might well be a few advantages. Perhaps the fact that you and your spouse get married while you are young means that the two of you can be more easily moulded together into one entity, because as individuals you are not yet as “set in your ways” as two people who are older.
Perhaps there will also be a certain joy and confidence that comes from growing up together, knowing that no matter what life brings, you and this person are supposed to be together. There is also the joy of knowing that the two of you have already been through so much together. Your spouse can be an aspect of security in your life, trusting that they will be there, day in, day out, no matter what. As you grow up you will obviously influence one another greatly so that hopefully the two of you would become more compatible over time.
Perhaps again you might not have to deal with some of the issues that I have raised on this blog, that for me arise from not knowing whether or not I will get married. If that question has already been settled so early in life then you can confidently move forward and develop your plans around that. You don’t have to keep your life in limbo as a single person might do.
These are the primary advantages that I can think of when considering the idea of getting married young. I think that it would be a good choice for people who know exactly what they want to do with their lives and ideally have safe and predictable career paths and are generally happy to live calm and quiet lives. On the other hand, it could be considered that the security of marriage would be a great asset in an unpredictable world or an unpredictable life.
However, I was struck by a number of disadvantages. Sincerely, these are things that I would have encountered if I entered marriage at a young age, and now looking on at an older, unmarried age, I consider them disadvantages. They are mainly to do with knowing yourself and knowing your spouse.
I am quite conscious of my own self and my personal identity as an individual. One reason why I resisted the idea of marriage as a young person (although admittedly I did not have anyone to marry) was that I wanted to be “Me” for a few years. I had spent so many years as my parents’ daughter, and I did not want to jump straight from that into being someone’s wife. I just wanted to be me as myself, functioning as a person in my own right. In many ways, I know that I have been a little late in developing emotional maturity compared to other people. However, when you get married as a twenty year old, I simply cannot believe that you fully know who you yourself are as a person, who you will grow into, who you will want to be. I understand that you and your spouse will be influencing and moulding one another. However my big fear would always be that with age you will get somewhere where you feel that as an individual you want to head in this direction, but that your marriage is pulling you in the opposite direction. So you might feel trapped in your marriage.
However, if you were to wait until you had attained greater self awareness, then you might be better able to accurately predict where you want to go as a person, and you might then be able to deliberately structure a marriage and choose a spouse around this. As a person I have personally always been outspoken about my faith and my pursuit of Christ. However in recent years I have attained an assertiveness and a self-assurance about my faith and myself which might have strongly disturbed the balance of an existing marriage, if I entered into marriage while I was less confident. I know that as a person you will never stop growing. So it could be argued that any new growth after marriage could possibly challenge an existing marriage, no matter how young or old you are when you get married, so it does not actually matter what age you are at marriage. However as a person I feel now as if I have kicked into my stride, as if I know that this is the person I was born to be and the person I want to be. From this point forward, I am quite confident that all growth in my life will tend towards a certain direction. I am sure that this awareness can come for people who are much younger than I am. However I would definitely advise against getting married until you attain that measure of self-assurance.
Knowledge of people
I think that self-knowledge is one big factor in this issue. A mirror-image of this issue would be your knowledge of your spouse, and their own self-knowledge (as well as their own knowledge of you). However, the thoughts that truly triggered this post concerned knowledge of people generally. That is both you and your spouse as human beings, plain and simple, as well as others outside the marriage.
When you get married at twenty, you have only had twenty years experience of observing people, seeing how they react, how they behave. You have only had twenty years experience with your own self. You cannot necessarily state how you yourself will definitely behave in such and such a situation, if it is beyond anything you have ever yet experienced, and if it tangles up within it a complex mix of variables that you cannot as yet even imagine to be possible.
If however, I were to identify one single disadvantage of youth regarding relationships and marriage, it would be this: that you might be lashed strongly by deep romantic feelings, but you would likely lack the experience and knowledge of how relationships are likely to work out, regardless of feelings, AND you would also lack the knowledge of the changes that can often be brought to relationships and the feelings that undergird them within marriage itself.
If you are madly in love with your spouse (which of course you should be, at any age!) the difference between twenty and thirty is that at twenty you might never have seen people end their relationships who started off as deeply in love as are you and your spouse. When thrown head-over-heels, you might not appreciate how possible it is to quickly stop rolling and instead fall into a rut. At thirty years old however, as long as you yourself remain single and you cultivate a sufficiently wide social circle, you will have seen all these things, and within your very own age group. So because of this you could plan around these issues in your own marriage, in a way that you just could not do if you were only twenty years old.
Once again, you could argue that knowledge at forty years old will be greater yet than knowledge at thirty, and then greater still at fifty – so why get married at all? Why not keep postponing it indefinitely, for the sake of accumulating greater and greater knowledge and understanding?
I think that the point is that thirty years old, for instance, is an age by which you will usually have experienced a broad spectrum of behaviour as an adult. When you are getting married at twenty, those twenty years will often have been sheltered and protected by parents or other loving adults. Even where things are happening right around us, as children we often fail to see things, which we grasp so much more quickly as adults. I believe that this is why we might struggle to learn concrete lessons from the marriages of our own parents, but will much more quickly pick up these lessons from the relationships of our own peers.
I also remember how strongly moved I was by romantic crushes in my younger years. It is only literally now, so many years later, that I am starting to be confident that I understand the dynamics of how these things work, at least for me. If I had gone ahead and made a life decision based on those feelings, would I not now be living in deep regret, if I was joined to someone who was not actually a good fit for me, especially if our lives and our character traits started pulling us off in opposite directions?
All that said, the truth is that some marriages contracted in youth succeed and succeed excellently. A few years ago someone posted on Facebook that her grandparents (or possibly great-grandparents?) were celebrating their seventieth wedding anniversary (70) – or could it even have been their ninetieth (90) wedding anniversary?! Either way, I was astounded, and deeply impressed. That is definitely an achievement that you can only reasonably hope to attain if you start very, very young! 😉
…rejoice with the wife of your youth.
Heart image courtesy of Petr Kratchovil at http://www.publicdomainpicture.net