Mention marriage to a twenty-something today and she’ll likely break out in hives, either because the idea of getting married anytime soon instills panic, or because she desperately wants to get engaged, but can’t get her significant other to commit. Blame it on the dating apps, point to society's pressure to somehow achieve a career, personal life, and family simultaneously by the age of 30, but early marriage is no longer a must for young millennial women. In 1960, the majority of women were married by 20. Today, that number has climbed to 27.
This isn’t really anything new to us, as we’ve long seen the rise of women putting their education and careers first and the decline of the dating culture into a hookup culture. But, what’s interesting to examine are the new minorities – the women who are still getting married young. What defines their choices when the expectations have changed?
It all seems to boil down to the dichotomy of the view of marriage as “cornerstone versus capstone.” As many women sought to cast off the 1950s-housewife perception of womanhood – to focus on education, career, and the self instead – marriage slowly moved down the to-do list to an ultimate goal once all others were checked off. However, the idea of marriage as a cornerstone – a step in a journey, not the final destination – promotes a more positive, embracing perception of marriage as something that has a place in a modern, millennial life. Jada Cato of Panama City, Florida, who married when she was 19 and her wife was 18, views her marriage as a bit of both. "It's a capstone because I don't plan on doing it again and it caps an old part of life. It's a cornerstone because we continue to build a life," she says. "Getting married doesn't have to keep you from doing everything on your bucket list. You're just doing it with someone by your side, which makes it even better."
Sydney Otto, of West Des Moines, Iowa, married her husband when she was 22. While her faith, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, promotes family and young marriage, Sydney’s decision was largely influenced by her parents' marriage.
“My parents got married when my mom was 19 and my dad was 23, and they had such a fun life doing everything together," she says. "I wanted someone to go on adventures with, and I wanted him to be my husband!”
Gina Schneck, of Provo, Utah, didn’t always foresee a young marriage in her future: “When I was a young teen, I imagined myself getting married later in life. My mom married when she was in her 30's and that seemed like the ideal situation to me—having the time and space to establish myself as an individual with a solid career and sense of self before settling down with a permanent partner," says Schneck. "Then I met my now-husband (at age 20) and knew within the span of three or four months that I could marry him. It was a terrifying and exhilarating realization.”
No matter the preconceived notions about marriage, love is ideally at the core of the decision. That no matter what you may have pictured for your life or what stereotypes you entertained, love was the motivating force. Which is crazy reassuring, right? That people my age are still falling in love and committing to each other despite all the apps encouraging you to keep swiping left and right forever? That the main reason people marry is not for security or expectation, but because they found another human they want to spend the rest of their life with? *sees light at the end of the tunnel* As Jana Sudnick, of Sonoma, California, says: "we graduated college together. We moved to a new city together. We supported each other during graduate school and drastic career changes. Getting married young means I have experienced most of my life's major milestone with my best friend by my side."
But what about those who make the argument that you can be in love and still, should, wait to get married – should wait, so you can maintain independence while discovering yourself?
“The rhetoric about marriage being a ‘ball and chain’ is damaging to young people who are still seeking adventure and fun. It’s like you can either explore the world, explore yourself, or be married. And guess what, ladies – you can do it all!” - Gina Schneck
“Discovering the world with someone by my side, someone who has different opinions and perspectives than me, allows me to step outside of my own preconceived notions and to become more selfless in the process," Schneck says. "Being a twenty-something, I'm very adaptable; I'm still being molded. So to have the opportunity to grow with another human being, one who challenges me and gives me the courage to try new things, means that I'm able to constantly discover new pieces of myself and to become my best self in the process. The way my husband sees me/loves me changes the way I look at myself.”
The concept of marriage being a “ball and chain” also implies that once you get married you can’t have the same kind of silly, twenty-something fun you used to have anymore, something Rachel Gartner, from Tampa, Florida couldn’t disagree with more. “Nothing beats the drunk walk home from the bar with your spouse. It’s a nice feeling to just head home, to your home, with the person that loves you," Gartner says. "They already married you, so they still love you when you drunkenly decide you want Easy Mac, ice cream, and Bud Light Straw-Ber-Ritas (true story).”
All in all, many of these young couples believe marriage is a joyous building block in their lives, a lifetime of experiences with their best friend, and always having someone to count on. And, there's always the relief of finally finding your person. "I love not having to date anymore," says Cato. "It really stressed me out. I also take comfort in the security of being married. Knowing that there is always someone in my corner makes me happy." So what should you consider, or tell your friends to consider, when considering marrying young?
“Ask yourself an essential question: Are you seeking a marriage or are you seeking a wedding? It’s easy to romanticize the idea of marriage, especially when they are preceded by some really cool moments: the engagement, the wedding, the reception. But those are not the moments that make a marriage. A marriage is built upon the quiet moments alone with your spouse when you realize there is no place you’d rather be," says Ben Newhouse from Birmingham, Alabama who married his wife Sara Newhouse when they were 23 and 21, respectively. "A marriage is shaped by selfless acts for the other person that often go unrecognized but hopefully never unappreciated. A marriage is defined when forgiveness is granted even if it’s undeserved. A marriage is work…sometimes arduous work…but with the right person, it’s always work worth doing.”
Stay tuned for our upcoming #marriageIRL series, featuring words of wisdom from couples who married young.