My girlfriend and I have been dating for a little over six months now, but we have been acquaintances since elementary school and good friends for over a year. We are both committed Christians, and we want to seek and follow God's will in our relationship.
Her family adores me, and my family loves her, too. She is a nearly perfect match with the list of qualities I want in my wife, and she is excited about the idea of being married to a minister (God is calling me to be a vocational minister).
We will be attending the same university this fall, and are both financially set at least until we graduate from college, and we should owe little or no money in payment for college loans after graduation. We have talked about marriage, we have both been praying about our relationship, and we both want to submit ourselves to whatever plans God has for our lives. So far everything seems to indicate that she is the girl I should marry.
The problem is that I am only 18 years old, and she is only 19. I am going to be a freshman in college this fall, and she will be a sophomore. Wouldn't it be extremely difficult to be married while we are college students, especially if we have a child while in college? It seems like a very long time to wait, but shouldn't we wait to get married until we graduate? If so, and if she is the girl I am to marry, should we wait to get engaged until we get closer to graduation, or should I propose sooner than that?
Transitioning from high school to the university is a major life change and requires hard work and discipline, usually much more than most students are used to, at least if you want to graduate with a decent grade point average, as I'm sure both of you do. Obviously marriage is an enormous life change, and the early years are especially challenging, often beyond anything we've experienced up to that point in our lives. Jumping into marriage and college at the same time would require heroic levels of maturity and selflessness, not typically found among 18 year olds, at least not any I knew when I was 18.
You might infer from that opening paragraph that I'm opposed to the idea, but I'm not necessarily. Yes, marrying as young as you both are is the exception rather than the rule, but based on your description of your situation, I'd say if any couple was the exception, it might be the two of you. I personally could never have imagined tackling both college and marriage at the same time, but that's not to say it can't be, shouldn't be nor hasn't been done.
You've already mentioned several things that would be my immediate concerns. First, are you mature enough to handle such significant life change and the responsibilities that come with it (especially for you as primary provider)? Second, do you have the support of both sets of parents (especially hers)? Third, will you be able to survive financially, given that you will both be (I assume) full-time students without job income? Fourth, what will your plan be for pregnancy, should it occur? (She can get pregnant from day one. Don't count on birth control.)
The flip side of the coin is dating/courting for four years. That is a long time to be in such a serious relationship that will want to move into the next phase, but won't be allowed to. Right relationships have a natural forward momentum to them that leads to marriage, and if things keep moving as I suspect they will, it will be like driving around with the parking brake on.
My advice is this. If you think the two of you and your parents have a pretty good grasp of the reality of what marriage in college will mean for all of you, then stay open to the idea of marrying while in school, and let the relationship move along at a natural pace as God leads you. Don't force it forward and don't pull back the reigns; just follow God's lead. On a practical note, I'd advise that you get at least one year of college under your own belt before you consider anything, just so you know what you're getting yourself into.
The very best thing you can do at the moment is find a mentoring couple and begin a process of discipleship. It sounds like your girlfriend has been settled in the college town for a year, and hopefully she's connected with a church and maybe has some ideas about who might be a good couple for you guys to pull up close to. At your young age it is absolutely essential that you get around older couples who've weathered some storms and who can provide biblical counsel and wisdom.
Building a relationship with an older couple will also help inform your decision about marriage. As you invite them into your lives, and they invite you into theirs, they will be an indispensable sounding board for you. The best I can do from a distance is to say, generally, you might be able to pull it off and don't immediately dismiss the idea simply because it isn't the norm. But only someone close to you can really help you evaluate whether such a major decision is advisable for the two of you specifically.
In other words, live this relationship out in Christian community with solid accountability and discipleship, and let those close to you help offer counsel as you proceed. Think realistically, properly order your expectations, and pray like crazy. God will lead you and He'll give you the grace for whatever path He takes you down.
As for the timing of your proposal, it's a little early to ask that question. Just take the next step of mentoring and discipleship. You'll know when it's time to propose.
Copyright 2008 John Thomas. All rights reserved.