I have apparently crossed a milestone in my life. I am now at the age where all my friends seem to be getting married. I’m not entirely sure why. I just keep seeing notifications on my Facebook feed about people getting engaged or married and even having children. These are people my age, and even a couple years younger, getting married. I’m only 22 – I thought that was supposed to be young!
Now, this scares me on a couple levels. First off, I feel nowhere near mature enough to be settling down with someone, finding a permanent job, etc. Facing the prospect of graduation and then more grad school to come, I feel like I’m just getting started with life. I still feel like a kid who has no idea what he’s doing, and I can’t possibly fathom how a person of 20 years could feel like they’re ready to settle down. I mean, when I was a little kid, 20 years old seemed like you were reaching senior citizen status, but now it feels like 22 is the new “terrible twos”. Secondly, it kind of scares me that these people have been dating their significant others for years now – and I, on the other hand, haven’t had a date where I really connected with the person in years. This makes me feel way too far behind on the game; thinking about this for too long makes me have the impulsive urge to take up knitting in preparation for my life of spinsterhood. So I try not to think about it.
But the thing about all these people around me getting married is that it’s incredibly difficult for me to be happy for them. I mean, I wish them all well and whatnot, but considering that age at marriage is the number one predictor of later divorce, the realistic prospects really aren’t that bright. I hope that these people do not become a statistic, but statistically speaking, they will be. For example, women married before the age of 25 make up 64% of all divorces in the US, whereas those who get married in their late 20s make up only 16%; men have similar figures. Certainly there are other factors that play a role, but age at marriage is a very significant one. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for young married couples to be and stay happy, but it is just less likely to be the case. To be happy for these couples that are likely to face dissatisfaction as a result of this decision is very difficult.
Despite these marriages frightening me and make me uneasy, they also reveal something interesting. Of these individuals that have gotten or are getting married, all of them are religious. Now, this could be because most of my friends are religious, so it’s just more likely for me to know them. But I do have a fair number of non-religious and atheist friends, and none of them that I know of are considering marriage at this time. There are a couple that I know of that live with their partners, but I haven’t heard of any who are considering marriage. This could also, of course, be just an increased social circle for Christians that makes them more likely to meet someone. Certainly I know that it’s more difficult to meet new people as an atheist, without that weekly Sunday club meeting to go to. And of course, those one-on-one “Bible studies” that are all about “Jesus” *wink wink*.
But I think that the difference between my religious and my non-religious friends in terms of marriage is actually a significant one. It seems likely that there is an increased push towards marriage for Christians, since sex is off-limits until they tie the knot (or at least, it’s supposed to be), whereas non-Christians don’t really have that restriction. And of course, since one’s hormones are usually surging around this time of one’s life, the only recourse for Christians is to either be a naughty Christian or to get married early and start pumping out children (well, if you’re a Catholic and can’t use contraception). That, to me, would explain the difference in age of marriage here. Of course, it’s not as though Christians are likely to explicitly say, “Yes, we’re getting married because we think it’s high time to have sex already,” but such thoughts can easily be disguised with a little cognitive maneuvering. “We’re at that point in our relationship where we were ready to make the commitment,” or, “I really love him/her and this is the next step in showing that,” or perhaps, “We feel God was leading us in this direction” (funny how God sometimes agrees with one’s hormones when you really want him to!).
There are likely other factors related to this as well. After harping on the “sanctity of marriage” for years, Christians have drilled it into their heads that marriage is a crucially important thing. Atheists, on the other hand, don’t seem to have as high of an opinion of marriage on average – though of course, that’s not to say that they all think it’s terrible and that none of them get married. But there seems to be a sense that marriage is not as big of a deal for non-religious folks. I’m not placing judgment on this either way – it just is what it is. But inasmuch as young married couples are more likely to experience dissatisfaction and get divorced, the attitudes surrounding marriage can surely be important.
Of course, I say all this with no malice against marriage. I think it can be a wonderful thing if done properly. My parents (and grandparents, and aunts and uncles) offered me a great model of what a good marriage looks like. But I think likely part of “doing it properly” involves having some practical experience of the big bad world out there to make sure that you’re mature enough to handle it. And maybe my friends are – who knows? That’s for them to decide. But all I can say is that I certainly don’t feel anywhere near ready to get married. It just makes it difficult for me to believe that others could be.
Anyway, with that said, I do truly wish the friends of mine who have gotten married and are getting married soon the best of luck. The realist in me says, “Tread with caution,” but the optimist in me is hopeful that these marriages will be happy and successful. As for me, I’ll work on my knitting skills.