Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Marrying Too Young

One of the things that bothers me in my small town is seeing so many people marrying young. Sometimes it almost seems as if they are doing so because they can’t find anything else to do, because they have no hope, or because they can’t think of another way out of their current situations. I’ve faced this, sort of, just recently.

Spawn brought home a gal he dated in high school this past Sunday. She had her “fiancĂ©” with her. They are both 19. My husband and I looked at each other, having the same thoughts, which start with “uh-oh”, and congratulated them and asked them a few questions. As usual, they have no plan, haven’t really thought ahead, haven’t set a date, etc. I suppose it’s something to say, something to give them both hope to get through the days.

I’m not really surprised at the gal. I suspected she’d be the sort who’d want a safety net. She’s unhappy at home, didn’t do well in high school, flunked out of her first semester in college, and is working as a stocker in a grocery store. She was never very ambitious and was always willing to hitch a ride on someone else’s life, she did it with Spawn, and she’s always had this fiancĂ© in the background, and she’s doing it with him. I have no problem imagining who put the arm on whom for something more definite.

When I see a young girl like this, so desperate to change her situation but so insecure in her ability to do so on her own, I wish I were a dream fairy. I wish I could visit her subconscious and tell her that she can do it by herself, for herself, and that she will never know what she’s capable of until she tries. I wish I could help her believe that the way things are today is not the way things will be forever; that there are other options, other means, second chances, and an infinite number of choices ahead of her that don’t involve anyone other than herself. I wish I could make her believe in herself and give her the motivation to get up and try again and again. This choice on her part seems more like giving up than anything else.


I got married young, too. My husband and I discussed it Sunday night. We had a plan. We had goals, we felt definite. While we may have been opting for “somewhere else” rather than our home situations, neither of us were in such dire straits that we didn’t feel like we had no choice. Marriage was just the one we decided would be best – we had both been the youngest of several children, and having old parents was a problem for us – we wanted to give ourselves a chance to be married without kids before having any. We had common goals in education, living arrangements, etc. I could list more reasons, but I won’t. I will admit, however, that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t marry at 21, I’d wait at least another 5 years. There are things I didn’t find out about myself, or my spouse, until the deed was done, despite dating for two years, despite thinking I had done a good job of assessing probabilities.

I don’t think there is a perfect age for marrying. And, some people are not going to learn life’s lessons alone, they need to be in a relationship with another person to do so. Sometimes that speeds up the arrival of the lessons, sometimes it delays them. I can only choose for myself, not for anyone else.

I have talked with my children, particularly my daughter, about this kind of thing. I’ve told her what I’d do differently if I could. She’s told me of her hopes and wishes and dreams for her life after high school. I hope she can follow through on them, and I hope I can help her if she needs me to do so. Same with my boys.

As I looked at that young girl on Sunday, I saw her … optimistic desperation. I can’t think of a better phrase. She had that panicked look in her eyes, along with a smile that said “please approve of me, please approve of my choice, please let me know this is the right thing to do.” I’m not the right person for that; I’m not even the person whose approval or acceptance would mean anything to her. Kids try so hard to grow up so fast, and then wind up regretting their lost and abandoned childhoods.

Underneath all this philosophizing is the mean little fact that I’m glad it’s not Spawn she’s engaged to marry. He has plans, a roadmap of sorts, and if he can stop being a slacker and start taking his own life seriously, I think he’ll achieve his modest goals. If he can be as pigheaded about achieving them as he is about not cleaning his room, he’s home free!

Anyway, one of the aspects of my husband’s job, which was also mine for several years, and which I hear about every night of the week, is that we always know who’s getting divorced, remarried, re-remarried and so on in town. Over and over, we see couples marrying very young, divorcing within fewer than 5 years, often with tiny children to take care of. The wife remarries, raises kids, divorces and marries a third time, and, not quite as often, but still pretty frequently, so does the husband. I don’t know what they’re hoping for or looking for. I really don’t get why marriage is supposed to solve whatever problem it is they’re encountering, but so many couples seem to get to the point of divorce long before they get to the point of growing up.

I guess that’s the hard part – growing up. I’m still doing it, and I’m 46 years old. So’s my husband, and he’s a little older. We grow up when we get married and find out where our faults and our partner’s faults unhappily coincide. We grow up when we have kids and have tiny, helpless people depending on us. We grow when friends and family die. We grow up more when parents die, whether they’ve left a mess behind or a tidy, neat package. We think of our own childhoods, our own lives, our own mortality. We grow up when we can no longer blame someone else for our problems and have to face our darker selves, alone, and with adult honesty. We grow up when we help a loved one through their dark times, too, and when we see how often heroism and tragedy travel hand in hand. When we see how others believe in themselves, we can believe in ourselves, too.

I suppose that’s what bothers me about early marriages. Here in small town America, kids, and adults, don’t see how many options there really are. They have no friends who’ve done things differently, their parents are all cut from a similar cloth, they haven’t traveled, they haven’t had interesting jobs, they haven’t really explored the world. They have no experience of life in the big, wide world.

It’s hard to believe that have any idea what they’re doing. But I do wish them luck. Even if they just say they’re engaged for the next couple of years and then chose alternate paths, maybe this arrangement was what they needed, when they needed it. Meanwhile, I’ll try to hide my joy that it’s not something I’m having to face as a parent. Yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Humans must have been like this since day one. Why else would there be a really old aphorism that says "too soon old, too late smart"?
Things are better than they used to be but sometimes progress seems soooo slow.