Monday, August 15, 2011

Marriage: Too young, too fast, too soon?

A parish priest recently told us that his parents had been married 52 years when his mother died after a long illness. Less than a year after her death, his father was getting re-married. The priest said his brothers were appalled. "How can he do this? Doesn't he honor Mom's memory?" The priest pointed out two things to his brothers. First, their parents had been best friends and talked about everything together. It was possible that their mom had given her blessing to any future relationships. Secondly, their father wouldn't be eager to get remarried if his first marriage hadn't been wonderful. His enthusiasm about marriage was a wonderful testament to the relationship he had enjoyed with his first wife.

Everyone is an expert when it comes to what makes a successful relationship. Maybe we should think twice.

Peter, my husband and I attended a beautiful wedding this weekend. The couple was married in their college chapel, where the groom's father officiated. There were a few unusual things about the wedding celebration. The reception was in the barn of the groom's parents. The bride and groom arrived in a large tractor.

And the bride is nineteen. Jennifer is one of my former campers and my host sister, since I stayed with her family for two summers while working at camp. As I've talked about this wedding, many people have expressed surprise and mild disapproval that someone "so young" is getting married. Why?

Young people can vote and enter the military at 18, so clearly society has decided they are responsible enough to make civic choices and life-and-death decisions. I see no reason why a mature 19 year-old wouldn't be capable of choosing her spouse. The couple has been dating for years, both sets of parents approve of the match, and they will be moving to the groom's parents' farm, ensuring financial stability as they begin a new life together. Even when I share these details, though, many people think it is irresponsible, although they can give no reasons why.

She's got her dancing face on. :-)
Another common critique of couples getting married is that they haven't known each other long enough. Everyone has a cut-off point before which it is unwise to get married. For some it's six months, a year, two years... as if once you reach a certain point, only then will you know if you're in love. My parents were 24 and 25 when they met in early August 1975. They started dating a week later, were engaged in mid-September, and married January 3, 1976. My mom said it would have been sooner, but my Grandma didn't want to plan a wedding before the holidays. :-) My parents are still happily married 35 years later, despite only knowing each other for five months before their wedding.

Finally, there's the "rebound" argument. Again, there is an arbitrary length of time after ending a significant relationship that one must wait before possibly being serious about a new person. To begin dating "too soon" means one is emotionally vulnerable and too likely to turn to any port in a storm rather than being discerning about a potential spouse. There may be some validity to this argument, but it is impossible to put a timeline on grieving.

As with so many things, when we judge a relationship, we judge it according to how we would feel/react in that situation. I wasn't ready to get married at 19. I wasn't ready to marry Jeremy after five months. I know what worked for me, in my situation. There is a time and place for offering counsel, but make sure you are doing it because of a specific concern, not because the couple hasn't followed an arbitrary timeline.

To Jennifer and Joshua, married 8.13.11: May God bless you always and in all ways.

Blessings to Keith and Jennifer, my brother and sister-in-law, married 8.15.09. Happy anniversary! We love you!


  1. I agree. Randy heard something recently about how youth pastors need to stop promoting purity so much and focus on promoting marriage. That is not to say that purity is not important, of course. But that if the relationship in which sexual expression is holy is attractive and valued young people will be more willing to wait till then. Additionally the biological reality of sexual awareness has been put under major pressure when an individual has to wait until...finishing college, becoming established in a career, being debt free, etc. etc. These are all good things, of course, but they only make it harder to reign in God-given passions and contribute to the absence of sexual purity in too many young people, Christian and otherwise.

  2. That's interesting. One of my pet peeves about Christian culture is the expectation that of COURSE God is calling everyone to marriage, so the discernment is about with whom and when, not if. But you raise a good point, that marriage is not particularly discussed, just assumed to be good at the proper time. Seems as Christians we have a lot of work to do to improve the situation! :-)