I Got Married at 23. What Are the Rest of You Waiting For?

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 1 2013 12:12 PM

Marry Young

I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?

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I started out thinking this way, too. When I was entering college, my philosophy was “men die, but your college degree is forever.” I imagined myself an independent, spirited sort of woman. I wrote off the girls I knew from high school in Texas who didn’t finish college or who selected their universities based on their boyfriends’ plans. Getting a “ring by spring” was nice, I supposed, but it wasn’t a grand achievement. Getting a 4.0—now we were talking.

I wasn’t anti-marriage. I thought I would get married, but it would be later after a flurry of accomplishments. When David and I started dating, his senior year and my sophomore year, I worried he would derail my education. He definitely had all the qualities I wanted in a man: intelligence, ambition, good character, plus he was a true gentleman. Still, I asked him, “You’re not asking me out because you want to get married by graduation?” This was a Christian college we went to, so my question was not out of bounds. I still regret those words. Looking back, my artificial, rigid timeline of success almost derailed my real happiness.

What I did not realize was how thoroughly marriage would jump-start our independence. On paper, our unmarried peers looked more carefree. But many of them also relied on their parents to supplement their income, drove home for long weekends and holidays, or stayed on their parents’ health insurance and cellphone plans (even though they had decent jobs!). I put David on my health insurance. We bought our own family cellphone plan and Netflix account. When we visited our parents once a year, we paid for the plane tickets and still did our own laundry. We loved our parents and siblings, but marriage made us realize that we were now a separate family unit.  

Months into our marriage, my grandfather died. I was crushed. The funeral was stressful. I wasn’t able to explain to David the backstories on everyone in my extended family: He couldn’t remember who was married to whom and certainly couldn’t tell my identical twin uncles apart. Still, David comforted me, navigated the family drama, grounded me, and made me thankful for the promise of a long marriage.

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Sure, being married young entailed sacrifices. We had to be particularly careful about money. David took the bar exam shortly before our first wedding anniversary. This should have warranted a lavish vacation: Most new lawyers celebrate finishing the bar exam with a trip to Europe or Asia. That was too expensive. Instead, we pricelined a hotel five subway stops away and had dinner at Pizzeria Paradiso. For the anniversary portion of the celebration, we special-ordered a cake from our favorite bakery and recounted our favorite memories from our first year of marriage.

Sometimes people delay marriage because they are searching for the perfect soul mate. But that view has it backward. Your spouse becomes your soul mate after you've made those vows to each other in front of God and the people who matter to you. You don’t marry someone because he’s your soul mate; he becomes your soul mate because you married him.

Marriage doesn’t require a big bank account, a dazzling resumé, or a televised wedding—it requires maturity, commitment, and a desire to grow up together. My husband and I married young. We don't have a fairytale marriage or a storybook ending because our story continues. Going forward, we anticipate new challenges and joys: children, new jobs, new hobbies, new cities, family weddings, and family funerals. There will be things we can’t predict. But one thing is for certain: We are committed to each other and we will grow through them. We don't have the details of the later chapters, but we know who the two main characters are.

Read Amanda Marcotte's rebuttal to marrying young at XX Factor.

Julia Shaw is a writer in Washington D.C.