Honestly, though, neither my husband nor I really knew (or probably would have even cared) about the sociologists’ data or getting new insurance. We had met, dated and decided that we wanted to spend our lives together. But there were two problems — or, I should say, two perceived problems.
Our Two Stupid Reasons Not to Marry
One, we wouldn’t have our degrees for another year.
Two, I thought you needed at least nine months to plan a wedding.
I don’t even want to discuss number two. It’s just ridiculous. At the time, most people seemed to have a nine-month to a year engagement. It’s just what you did.
Looking back, I just shake my head at myself. If it was time to get married, we should have just gotten married. I could have put together a beautiful ceremony in six weeks if I needed to.
But the first reason — that we hadn’t yet graduated — seemed a little more serious. I’m not sure who, if anyone, ever told me that a degree was a requirement for marriage. Maybe earning a degree proved your “adultness”? Your fitness for marriage? More likely it was, again, just “what people did.”
As Kevin and I talked that recent Sunday afternoon, we had to chuckle a little. What was it about having 30 more credit hours under our belts that would have made us better spouses?
To use a word from Boundless author Carolyn McCulley, I could already see Kevin’s “trajectory.” I had observed him cultivating the qualities for a godly husband and father. I felt confidence, even with his as-yet-unearned-degree, that he was heading in a certain direction — a direction I wanted to go as well. I think he would say the same for me.
But were we mature enough to marry at 21 and 23? Sometimes, David Lapp writes, young adults feel that they should delay marriage for “identity exploration” and “self-focused development.” Did taking that extra year help to grow and develop our identities in ways we might not see now?
It’s possible, but I have to agree with Professor Theophilus here who writes:
It simply is not the case that first men and women become mature, then they take on responsibilities. Rather, only after they begin taking on responsibilities do they become mature. Responsibility itself is transformative.
I know that I matured much more my first year of marriage just by actually living sacrificially than I did that year of waiting. I do think there is an admittedly-elusive-to-describe level of maturity needed for marriage.
But I also realize now that there could be no worse preparation for marriage than to “focus on myself.” I can’t become more prepared for marriage by concentrating on fulfilling my own needs. As God’s Word tells me, love is not self-seeking (1 Cor. 13:5). A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. A wife is to submit to and respect her husband (Eph. 5). “My” simply goes out the window in marriage.
So, our degrees did make us more marketable. But they wouldn’t have affected our ability to marry well. Looking back, we realize that we didn’t gain a thing by waiting. But we did risk some things and simply lost out on others.
What We Risked
Gary Thomas, in his Boundless article titled, “Marry Sooner Rather than Later,” sums up some of our struggles that year:
Just because our culture seems to think it’s fine to wait until you’re nearly 30 years old to [marry] doesn’t mean you should ignore what you know is obvious: God designed you for sexual relations; God limits all sexual activity to marriage; and if you’re finding it difficult to control yourself sexually, He gives clear advice: Find somebody to marry.
Kevin and I had already found that “somebody” in each other. We were waiting for some arbitrary societal timeline instead of looking to the biblical qualifications for marriage. Because of that, we had a year of temptation and, I’ll just say it, aching for each other.
We should not have gotten “married for sex.” But I wish we would have realized that once we decided to marry, and marry for wise reasons, it was foolish to delay.
Mark Regnerus, Ph.D., tries to explain this balance:
While I certainly understand the biological urge to mate, we need to remind young adults that values like generosity, courage, dependability, compassion, and godliness live on far longer than do high testosterone and estrogen levels. Simply put, family and friends ought to do their best to help young couples discern whether there is more to their love than sexual desire.
At the same time, he argues, we should not ignore our desire for sex:
Many [evangelicals] plan to marry in their mid-20s.Yet waiting for sex until then feels far too long to most of them…. It’s battling our Creator’s reproductive designs. The data don’t lie. Our sexual behavior patterns — the kind I documented in 2007 in Forbidden Fruit — give us away. Very few wait long for sex.
The world seems to tell us it is OK to have sex young, but that we should wait on marriage. God tells us that His plan is perfect — the two go hand in hand.
Kevin and I had found biblically suitable spouses in one another, and, putting ourselves through that temptation just wasn’t necessary.
In addition, I think we were living a kind of “half life” during our engagement. As each day passed, we were cementing our lives together more and more — spending most days together, cooking together, eating together, worshipping together. Acting married.
But we weren’t married. And, though we didn’t know it then, we weren’t enjoying the full benefits of marriage or able to grow fully from its challenges.
We were living life side by side, still experiencing it as two individuals. My money was still my money. His time was still his time. Our homes were still our separate homes. We weren’t yet learning the sacrificial love and cooperation of marriage. Our lives were knit together by experience, but not knit together in the ways that mattered most — commitment and responsibility to each other.
It was like having the pedal to the metal while the car is still sitting in neutral.
What We Lost
I think we just missed out on a lot of fun too.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. You’ve probably heard that marriage is hard. And it is. God has used my marriage to stretch me and sanctify me in ways I never could have foreseen, and I’m thankful for it.
But what an abundantly generous God that He allows something that He designed for His glory — to show the picture of Christ and His Church — to also be such a joyful experience for His children. I’ll just say it: Marriage is amazing.
It was amazing that first year. It is amazing still.
I don’t want to minimize the hiccups and times of stress. But I can honestly say to you that while the adventures we shared as a dating and engaged couple were wonderful, the adventures we share as a married couple have been exponentially better because we know, without a doubt, that we are in this life together.
I highly recommend it.
As David Lapp looks forward, he is optimistic. He writes:
Did I get married too young? 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.
Looking back, I have no regrets either. Except that I didn’t do it sooner.
It’s not that the only happy marriages are young ones. And it’s not that a young marriage is automatically a wise one.
But I do wonder if there are others, like Kevin and I back then, who would benefit from asking one very simple question. When it comes to marriage, “What exactly am I waiting for?”
Copyright 2010 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.