I have a daughter who is a freshman in college and has been dating a senior since the beginning of the year. They will be 20 and 22 years of age this fall. We have encouraged a biblical dating model. Both she and her boyfriend love the Lord and would like to get married this fall. Her beau will graduate in May.
So many of our Christian friends think that she is way too young and should complete college first, or they say it's a negative that she hasn't dated anyone else. They would like to remain sexually pure in their commitment to Christ, and each one believes that this is the person that God would have them marry. Any thoughts or suggestions?
P.S. As a mother I cannot find any biblical support to require that she have a college degree before marriage or that she date numerous men before choosing a husband.
You're right that Scripture is silent (for obvious reasons) on the merits of finishing college, or not, before getting married, as well as an ideal number of suitors to have before settling on a husband. The more men a woman dates, the more practice she gets at giving her heart away, risking having it broken. Serial dating is arguably the opposite of rehearsing for the permanence of marriage. Given the recreational and often reckless nature of our current dating culture, you could make the case that the fewer boyfriends a woman has, the better.
Scripture does talk about youthful marriage (Proverbs 5:18, Malachi 2:14 and Malachi 2:15), and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes it clear that it's better to marry than to burn with sexual passion. Given the number of unmarried evangelicals who make the move from burning to satisfying their sexual passions, this passage urging marriage is more relevant than ever.
It sounds like your daughter has a wonderful opportunity in front of her, no matter what others may say. But when it comes to early marriage, there are plenty of detractors out there. Despite a long history of young people getting married and having children during their prime season of fertility, conventional wisdom at this minute seems bent on the notion that the longer you wait to get married, the more prepared, self-aware, and divorce-proof you'll be.
Thankfully, a number of insightful articles and even a book have been released very recently that dispel those myths. There is nothing magical about the passage of time that makes you better prepared to get, or be, married. An intentional 20 year old can be more ready to wed than a 30 year old who's simply let time go by with no thought to becoming one in marriage. And it's often those who've walked away from an early proposal who are disappointed and frustrated that another (or a better one) hasn't materialized later on.
Age at first marriage matters. But it's not everything. And its effect is often overstated or misconstrued. According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, it's those who are very young when they marry — under 18 — who are at a significantly higher risk for divorce.
Another study led by Norval Glenn at the University of Texas found that when bride and groom are between 22 and 25, and they stay married to each other, they have the happiest marriages. The point of the study was not to identify the "it" age for getting married, as much as to show that intentionally delaying marriage beyond the mid-20s does nothing for improving a couple's shot at marital satisfaction. In "Did I Get Married Too Young?" columnist David Lapp writes about all this and more, explaining why he and his young bride, 22 and 21 respectively, did the right thing getting married when they did.
Steve and I went to the Focus on Marriage simulcast where more than one speaker mentioned the likelihood that some of the couples in the audience got married because they wanted to have sex. As long as you're no longer a teenager, the desire to remain sexually pure is a great reason to get married. Marriage is God's design, not least as an aid to holiness.
In "The Case for Early Marriage," professor Mark Regnerus writes,
I have found that few evangelicals accomplish what their pastors and parents wanted them to.
Indeed, over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church-going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I'm certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I'm suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don't and won't.
The solution Regnerus puts forth isn't more and stronger abstinence pledges, but better support for earlier marriage. "Our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans — including evangelicals — are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging it and delaying it."
After years of studying the sexual behavior and family decision-making of young Americans, I've come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage — that more significant, enduring witness to Christ's sacrificial love for his bride. Americans are taking flight from marriage.
He admits up front how countercultural and difficult it can be to believe in early marriage these days. But his article gives wings to the idea and provides tremendous help, encouragement and wisdom to anyone considering doing it.
After laying out the measurable, social-scientific reasons, for doing what they did, David Lapp writes,
I may not have the freedom to globetrot at my own leisure or to carouse at a bar late into the night. But when I step into our 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment, warmly lighted and smelling of fresh flowers and baked bread, I do have the freedom to kiss my beautiful wife and best friend — the woman I pledged to always love and cherish, and to raise a family with. I have no regrets.
A new book called Marry Him shows the downside to delaying marriage. Author Lori Gottleib talks about Jessica and Dave, a couple who almost got married at 23. When Dave proposed, Jessica said no to "the guy I want to spend my life with." Gottlieb writes, "Jessica turned him down for one reason and one reason only: She thought she was too young to get married." And now? Jessica is 29 and still single, unable to find anyone who measures up to Dave. Who is happily married to someone else.
The widespread belief that people in their early 20s are simply too young to get married can have the unintended consequence of leaving people still single well into their 30s and beyond; often unhappily so.
I tell this story not to frighten you or your daughter (or Boundless readers) into thinking they had better take whatever offer they get because it might be their last, or best, or their only. But to be thoughtful: If she (or anyone reading) is in a relationship where both man and woman believe they can serve the kingdom of God better together than they can apart, and they have the support of their families and/or their Christian community (which will be a big part of their marriage's success), then being in their early 20s is, on its own, no reason to delay marriage.
Again, thank you for writing on behalf of your daughter and especially for not dismissing her desire to marry young out-of-hand. She is blessed to have a mom like you!
Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.