Our firstborn got married this past July, and we are overjoyed for him and his wife. They’d dated long-distance for two years. After hours-long Skype conversations and scads of money spent on air travel, they were more than ready to tie the knot and start their life together.
All four of us newly minted in-laws are in full support of this marriage. We have watched our children bloom within this relationship. We see them bring out the best in the other. We know they are earnestly following Christ.
And they are very young: He is 20, and she is 21.
These details have garnered more than a few raised eyebrows. Surely they would have been best served by his finishing his undergraduate degree before they married. He may want to attend graduate school. Isn’t it a bit early for marriage?
Weighing the Risks
We live in a highly educated area with several universities just down the road. My husband and I both have graduate degrees. The truth is, we don’t come from a demographic that generally supports marriage at this point in a person’s life.
Marrying this young isn’t just odd for our demographic—it’s countercultural across the board. Men have typically waited until their mid-to-late-20s for marriage, and the common marrying age for women has been on the rise for a century. According to The New York Times, “the median age for marriage in 1890 was 26 for men and 22 for women. By the 1950s, it had dropped to 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2004, it climbed to 27 for men and 26 for women.”
Then in 2013, the Knot Yet Report revealed that those averages are higher still: Couples now are postponing marriage to age 29 for men and 27 for women. The delayed marriage trend appears to come with some excellent effects, including decreased divorce rates and increased incomes for college-educated women.
Why, in light of this, would we not merely acquiesce to this very young marriage, but wholeheartedly encourage it? What of the risks? The potential for divorce? The unavoidable struggles of navigating early adulthood compounded by this life-changing decision? As parents, we are hard-wired against risk. For two decades, we have tallied the potential perils in schools, sports, and organic milk. We want the very best for our children, so why would we support this countercultural choice?
The prevalent message in our culture is that young adulthood is the time to build a foundation for a healthy life. Those in their early 20s are encouraged to pursue education, travel, and gain life experience, all unhindered by wedlock. Marriage is viewed by many as something that comes only after adequate time to develop personal identity and establish a strong financial footing.
But inherent in this delay is a reality we as parents are very cognizant of: Young adults, like all of us, are sexual beings. When marriage is delayed, so is the opportunity to experience sexual intimacy within God’s parameters of a marriage covenant.
Our son and his wife found each other early in life. They desired true intimacy, with all of its difficulties and privileges, including sexual expression. Obedience to God, then, for them meant marriage—and trusting that God will be faithful to them in the risks and challenges they may face as a young married couple. As parents, we believe that, in the case of our son and his wife, early marriage was their best, healthiest, and only faithful option—one that stands in stark contrast with the prevalent trends of sexual expression among young people today.
Playing the Field
While there are certainly young adults, Christian and non-Christian, who choose sexual abstinence, many today are sexually active long before marriage looms. A 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 41 percent of high school students report having had sexual intercourse. This is actually a downward trend from recent decades; in 2009, nearly 50 percent of all high school students were sexually active and almost 70 percent would be by the time they were 18. While a smaller percentage of teens are sexually active today, the number that are is still significant. One can expect that a sexually active teenager will continue this activity into young adulthood, married or not, while many others who were not sexually active as teenagers will become so—again, married or not. This gives rise to a variety of sexual experiences among young adults, one of which is the casual sexual encounters within “hookup” culture.
A hookup is a conflicted concept from the start. Perhaps best defined by author Donna Freitas as unattached intimacy, it doen’t necessarily assume intercourse, but the interaction between partners is sexual and is, by definition, free and unassociated. In The End of Sex, Freitas clarifies that a hookup requires unattachment and the active suppression of emotion. Partners must “drain themselves of feeling.”
At best, the concept of unattached intimacy seems an oxymoron—and yet, according to both Freitas and Lisa Wade, author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, this is the social currency on most college campuses today. Further, in her Atlantic article “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin lauds hookups as empowerment for young adult women, who through them can enjoy “sexual adventure … and temporary relationships that don’t get in the way of future success.” While I wholeheartedly endorse the future success of women, a hookup’s potential emotional toll—for both women and men—is more than concerning.
But hooking up is not the only option available to young un-marrieds; others pursue sustained, quasi-committed dating relationships that may flounder, eventually lead to marriage, or that may continue in limbo indefinitely.
Not long before our son’s wedding, a 20something colleague of my husband asked if it was wise for our son to marry when still a virgin. How could he decide whom to marry before he’s had sex with her—or anyone else? Before making that commitment, before permanently hitching their wagons to one another’s stars, shouldn’t they at least try living together?
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Source: Christianity Today