“Most traditional college students are emerging adults—they have adult-style freedoms but lack some or all of the typical adult responsibilities: work, marriage, and children. They can put off those responsibilities for years, never committing, changing jobs and relationships. Some exhibit little interest in stability. That’s why it’s difficult to put age brackets around emerging adulthood; it resists being tied down, because its inhabitants resist settling down.”
(from Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker
What would you tell your emerging adult child about getting married at age 19 – 23? Is that too young for marriage? Old enough to drive, old enough to vote, old enough to drink, old enough to join the military. Marriage? Maybe you should wait. Wait for what? Stability? The current cultural script in the West is not one that promotes stability for our children emerging into adulthood; it promotes delayed adolescence. The pattern set for emerging adults is living in a bubble of irresponsibility funded by “free money” (college loans or parent’s) which allows them to live without engaging the truth of personal fiscal responsibility, and encourages them to practice relationships without regard for responsibility other than reproductive health. Spending 3-5 years in the responsibility vacuum stunts our growth. It doesn’t make us better at making choices, it makes us worse. It doesn’t make us more ready for grown up life, it makes us less ready. It doesn’t make us more relationally stable, it makes us more prone to relational instability. This script we lay out for emerging adults means they often reach thirty years of age with habits and beliefs predisposing them to quitting anything that gets hard whether its a dream, or a job, or a marriage.
So we got married young. I was in my second year of college. We had a baby during our second year of marriage, and she was born with health issues requiring several corrective surgeries from the time she was 18 months old. How does that look to the odds makers and pundits today? A recipe for disaster and failure. The distraction and pressure of marriage probably meant my grades would suffer. My wife’s choice to marry early and have children would keep her from reaching her potential. Our children would be neglected. Actually my grades began improving from the time we got married to the point that I made the dean’s list my last three semesters whereas I had almost failed out during my first three. My wife did not pursue a college education but she went into business for herself and built a successful one doing what she loves to do and was a stay at home mom at the same time, which she loved even more. Both our kids were raised in a two parent home and both graduated from college themselves. Both are good kids and better people.
Our cultural script is contributing to cultural rot and we could use a rewrite. If we look at what our colleges produce versus what 5 years of marriage produces there is no comparison in value added. Marriage is an education in itself. Marriage teaches lessons no college teaches. Marriage 101 is what every employer in the nation looks for in any job candidate: show up every day ready to work. Communication? I took my little family to my speech class at Old Dominion U and demonstrated live for them what it takes to communicate in the most important environment they would ever see; not a board room but a living room. (I got an A on that speech). Cooperation and Teamwork? Bring a baby home from the hospital and figure out that no one but you and your spouse are there to get it to stop crying. A marriage degree is worth much more than any degree offered by any college. We should stop discouraging our young people about marrying young because “they need to go to college and figure out what they are going to do with their life.” We should get people ready to marry earlier. We should tell them the truth about one of the most important things to them: that if they want to have a lot of very satisfying sex for the longest period of time they should get married because married people all have more and better sex than non-married people (the “marriage kills sex” myth is something to take on in another blog post another day). We should tell them that getting married creates stability from which they can strive together for their dreams. We should tell them that being responsible for children and a spouse makes being responsible to a job look easy and makes them more employable. We should stop valuing education above relationship and financial stability above human community. I know this isn’t what we hear from our culture. It is counter-cultural, but when you look at our culture do you want your children to be conformed to it? Does it look healthy? What kinds of things are elevated and celebrated?
Marriage is a good thing. It is better than college and it is more effective than college at producing a better community. I’m not suggesting we all run out and begin setting up arranged marriages for our kids. I am saying we should spend more time helping our kids study for marriage than studying for the SAT.