One of my favorite ‘fun facts’ about myself is that I got married in college when I was just 20 years old. Megan had turned 21 exactly 7 days before our marriage (which proved clutch for our honeymoon in Colorado, as we wouldn’t have been able to rent a car otherwise!). At the time we got married, I had a year left of schooling, and Megan had a full two years left en route to her Master’s degree.
In our generation, that raises some eyebrows and drops some jaws! After all, before deciding when to get married, there are some other considerations to make, like, you know, who to get married to, and if you even want to be married. For us, getting married, getting married to each other, and getting married young were all pretty simple decisions, despite their gravity, and I’m happy to walk you through our journey.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to focus in primarily on how we decided when to get married - and how I would coach others to determine their own marriage timelines. However, this conversation obviously must be predicated on the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of marriage.
Why Marriage? And To Who?
Call us traditional, but there was never a doubt in our minds about if we thought life-long marriage was a good idea in general. Nothing communicates and encourages love like a true and permanent commitment, without any ifs, ands, or buts about it. I can’t tell you how deeply fulfilling it is and how rich it feels to know that I’m going to live my entire life with my best friend - to know that the memories we are making now will only be built upon for years and years and years to come. I’m not competing with any other guy. I’m not trying to ‘win’ Megan’s continued affection and interest. I’m not wondering what will happen with our relationship ten years from now, or fifty years from now. She’s chosen me, and I’ve chosen her. There’s no more ‘if’ about our relationship - our relationship is - and now we just get to live it. That’s incredibly comforting and exciting.
Despite what our culture may promote, none of the alternatives to lifelong marriage can compete on the same level with the unity, wholeness, and depth of love that marriage nurtures. Ultimately, every alternative strikes me as more or less a means of self-protection, and that’s precisely why they all guarantee a lesser experience. Love in its purest form is selfless, not selfish. True love is focused on giving, not receiving. And honestly, true love has already been modeled for us; marriage is simply an illustration of it. By marrying Megan, I give to her my every breath for my entire existence, no matter what. I couldn’t possibly give her anything more if I tried! I’m laying it all on the table, holding nothing back. This is what abounding love is like. It may sound scary for some of us, but I promise you, there is no greater experience of love in relationship than lifelong marriage.
There was also never a doubt in our minds that we wanted to marry each other. From date one, we knew. Actually, in all transparency, we felt pretty confident about it even before our first date. But that’s a story for another day. For the record, we didn’t initially tell each other that we knew we wanted to eventually get married - that would be too forward, even for us! But as the year and a half of our dating and engagement went on, we both felt assured in our relationship all along the way. I can’t say this is the case for everyone, so if you’re wrestling with questions like, ‘Who should I marry’ or ‘Is he / she the one?,’ feel free to talk to me or someone you trust. Lifelong decisions aren’t the kind you want to take lightly. That said, once you know who you want to marry - and that they want to marry you, too - you’re ready to figure out when.
The Burden Of Proof
I remember when Megan and I got engaged and soon after nailed down our wedding date, it came as a shock to those who didn’t know us as closely. We often found ourselves feeling the need to add some sort of qualification to help people feel at peace with our decision. And of course, we received plenty of unprompted ‘words of wisdom’ about the difficulties and responsibilities that marriage entails, undertoned by not-so-subtle hesitancies.
So, why did we get married so young? Well, quite plainly, for the same reasons anyone gets married! (You know, like at any age). At the end of the day, we wanted to get married, we were ready to get married, and we were able to get married - so why wouldn’t we? In our minds, the burden of proof belonged not to getting married sooner, but to getting married later.
Think about it. We know that marriage is the natural result of a healthy, values-driven, mutually beneficial and mutually enjoyable dating relationship. We also know that in nearly every society for all of history, people got married young. It's only in the most recent generation or two, probably in large part due to our affluent and materialistic culture, that we've promoted the idea of getting married later in life.
Yet generally, when it comes to the conversations around when to get married, we have it in our heads that we need to have a strong case for why we think it's better to get married at young age, as if getting married later in life were the default option. In my opinion, this script should be flipped! It's deciding to wait longer to marry that should require thorough justification, whereas our default ought to be to get married young, particularly if both parties are already wanting, ready, and able to marry.
Make no mistake: there are legitimate reasons why it may be best to wait longer to get married, and I’m thankful for the people in our lives who loved us enough to question whether we really were ready for marriage. This was some of the best preparation we could have asked for! We took significant time to evaluate - alongside trusted friends, family members, and pastors - our commitment, readiness, and ability to be married. We’d encourage anyone to do the same.
Wanting, Ready, and Able
For most couples, these are the big questions. How do you know that you want to be married, are ready to be married, and are able to be married? I’ll do my best to define those terms.
By wanting to be married, I mean that in your heart, whether you've spoken it out loud or not, you desire and intend to be with each other for life. You are no longer trying to discover if each other is 'the one' or 'right for you.' Instead, you're simply processing when to move forward in the relationship and take those next steps / make that commitment official. You know that love is a choice, not a feeling, and you’re more than content with your significant other being that indefinite and ultimate recipient of your love.
If that type of commitment and assurance still feels elusive, that’s okay. I’d rather wait until I truly knew than move forward blindly. After all, we can get so caught up in our own love story, and so wish to see it’s promised lovely ending, that we ignore the deep-down thoughts of our hearts. We can so easily ride the rush of emotion all the way into marriage, as if our relationship was happening to us rather than something we intentionally cultivated. I’m not convinced that type of marriage will thrive. We’ll be better off if we pause to think level-headedly and vulnerably about our relationship, consciously pursuing growth one step at a time.
By ready to be married, I'm mainly speaking to spiritual, emotional, and relational maturity level. You are rooted in the values and beliefs that shape you, and for the beliefs you keep an open mind about, you can’t foresee them having a drastic effect on your potential marriage. You know yourself - your personality, your preferences, your interests - and you know their’s, too. You know how to resolve conflict, and how to interact with one another in a mutually life-giving way. You respect both your and their individuality. You are prepared to sacrifice your life and your dreams for the sake of serving the other’s. You have a fantastic friendship with one another. You are excited for the endurance-race of marriage that lies ahead, and you've settled that divorce is not even an option.
Have you ever heard that the first year of marriage is a difficult one? Well, I think the main reason we’re told that is because people didn’t take this area of readiness seriously until they were already married. On cruise control, we can spend most of our dating days simply having fun, enjoying each other, and ‘putting our best foot forward,’ sometimes in lieu of addressing some of the relational cornerstones I mentioned above. Obviously, I can’t actually fact check this opinion. All I know is that Megan’s and my first year of marriage was the most fun we had ever had in our lives! And truthfully, it’s only getting sweeter and sweeter as every year passes. Of course, there’s always room for improvement in our relationships regarding these areas of maturity, but we don’t want to go into marriage as a rookie in them if we can avoid it.
By able to be married, I primarily am referring to logistics. You have enough money, through work income, or in the very short run, even through student loans and / or support from parents, to be married. Practically, you can make it work, and in a way that you and your families are comfortable with and on the same page about.
In regards to the logistics and finances, I would caution against letting those things be the final say or bottom line decision-maker regarding getting married sooner or later. From what I’ve observed, where there’s a will, there’s a way :). However, I would also caution against writing money off like it doesn’t really matter or not fully taking it into consideration. The reality is, logistics & finances can make a significant difference on the experience and quality of your first years of marriage, and if you choose to go the more difficult route by marrying younger, you want to know well what sacrifices you'll be making in light of that decision.
For Megan and me, we started dating February 3rd of our sophomore year in college, in 2014, and were engaged on November 30th that same year. We knew we wanted to marry, and we thought we were ready, but we were torn at first between getting married over the coming summer, or waiting a year later until after I graduated. I’m sure our parents hoped we’d wait another 5 years, but we couldn’t realistically see ourselves delaying it further than summer of 2016. Below are some of the considerations we made at the time in deciding our on our timeline: what’s best for us, what’s best for others, and what makes the most sense logistically. Keep in mind we wrote this back in December of 2014 :)
What’s Best For Us?
We love each other, and we want to be married to each other. If we know this is true, that we want to be married, then it seems like getting married is the more natural and obvious option. It should require a particularly compelling reason in order to wait - more than just a cultural expectation or a logistical complication - and we can't think of one.
If we get married this summer, we will get to have our early years of marriage with the same community of friends we are already with, as well as mentors & pastors who all know us very well and have our trust. We know we will need help in the first years of marriage, regardless of if we wait or not. If we get married this summer, that help will come from people who know us deeply and understand us, and who are very familiar with our specific relationship - these people will be much more equipped to help us well. However, if we wait, we will likely be in a new city for the first years of marriage, and thus the people that are trying to counsel us will hardly even know us. That would not be a best-case scenario.
If we get married this summer, we will still be in college, and still be in the same town, and living similar lifestyles in general as we did before, apart from being married of course. Because everything else would stay the same, this would allow us to focus intentionally on making the adjustment to marriage well and healthily. Being a college student is a role we are very familiar with. We know the ins and outs of what it means to be in college, and thus it is not a stressful thing for us to be in school. On the other hand, if we wait to marry, we will be most likely be in our first year of working life, first year of living in a different place, first year of being around new friends, and first year of living a totally different lifestyle, all at the same time of learning how to be married. Making all these adjustments at the same time will certainly be more stressful for us than spreading them out.
If we get married this summer, we are in a much better position to live our dating relationship as we set out to do from the beginning - waiting for marriage before engaging in sexual activity. We know that regardless of if we are married or not, as we continue to add history and memories to our relationship with one another, we will continue to grow closer to one another. If we get married this summer, this is an awesome thing! However, if we wait, this will increasingly become a taxing thing on our relationship, as it may make our choice of abstinence more difficult. Knowing what's best and healthiest for us in our relationship will become harder to discern and harder to execute the longer we wait before being married, as our lives slowly blur into one another’s. We don't want to have to spend all of our effort just trying to not be married by constantly maintaining clear lines of separation physically, emotionally, spiritually, logistically, and financially. What a lame goal! We’d much rather get married sooner so that we can shift our efforts to the needs of those around us.
What’s Best For Others?
If we get married this summer, then we can be a demonstration to our community of what it looks like to have a healthy marriage. Not that we’ll necessarily do everything perfectly, but simply that we’ll remain present and involved in everyone’s lives even in our learning. All of our friends who have gotten married in the past immediately moved away after marrying, meaning our friends here are still missing a living model! We want to be married in college so that we can show our peers a picture of what it looks like to cultivate a healthy marriage and give them the opportunity to learn from our experience. If we wait until later, maybe we would have an easier time adjusting to marriage ourselves, but it'd would be at the expense of giving our people an example of first-year marriage. We feel like others will have a better start to their marriages if we get married this summer as opposed to waiting.
We also feel like by getting married in college and continuing to be full time students, working part time jobs, and volunteering [nearly all] our free time, we can empower others to do more than they thought they could. We’ve noticed that many people, after getting married, decide to pull back on their volunteer commitments and their involvement within social circles in order to ‘focus on their marriage.’ And while that may be needed for some, we don’t believe it’s a helpful precedent to set, as it creates an unsustainable expectation of marriage. When couples get used to having so many free evenings and weekends in their most formative years of marriage, it can feel impossibly difficult to shift gears and return to giving away time and resources freely. We want people to know they can still live missionally and purposefully, even as newlyweds!
Lastly, we will be able to do more for others in general once we are married, because when we are married, we will have more to give. As a dating couple, we are not primarily one unit, but two individuals, meaning our contributions to others’ lives are done mostly independently from one another. I can serve someone, and Megan can serve someone, but there is a limit to the ways we can serve. That’s a shame, because we know that every team is greater than the sum of its parts. When we are married, we will be one and share all of life together, meaning our capacity to be others-oriented will be much greater.
What Makes Sense Logistically?
In our opinion, it's a lot easier to face a logistical issue than it is to have relational issues. So it's worth mentioning the logistical side holds the least weight to us out of the three. After all, even if getting married this summer does make things harder for us, that's okay! We don’t believe that doing whatever is easiest is a proper basis for decision-making anyway. But, that said, we do think there are a lot of logistical pros to getting married this summer.
For one, a more difficult first couple years financially is actually in many ways desirable to us, because long term, we want to have a marriage that is very frugal for the sake of abundant generosity. If we get married this summer, we will be forced to live cheaply, meaning living on little will become easy and normal for us. School of hard knocks, if you will. Then, by the time we’re both graduated, working, and making plenty of money, we will be able to save and give much more as a result of our reduced lifestyle expectations. It won't be nearly as difficult to live simply, give generously, and work hard, because we will be used to it. In other words, our capacity to handle our finances like we really want to will be exceedingly higher. But if we wait to get married, we’d make plenty of money from day one of marriage, meaning it would be solely up to our own self-discipline to live simply. I anticipate that we wouldn’t be nearly as frugal in this scenario, resulting in less money given and saved.
Regarding Megan’s school tuition, if we are married, we can borrow money at a much cheaper rate compared to the rates Megan is currently taking on her student loans. We’ll also have significant financial aid benefits, scholarship opportunities, and tax credits available to us if we’re married, saving $5,000 - $10,000. Currently, Megan is taking $23,000 each year out on student loans. If we can get married and together take out anything less than that, then marriage is the more advantageous option compared to staying separate.
On the value of ‘husbands need to be prepared to provide for their family,’ let’s keep this in perspective. If a single man turns 18 and his parents cut him off financially (a perfectly common situation), he would thus have the responsibility to provide for himself. Now, is it wrong for this man to go to college because it would require him taking on debt? More specifically, is he failing in his responsibility to provide for himself by taking on a student loan? Of course not! He’s making a calculated investment that will pay dividends in the future, and he’ll certainly have food to eat and a place to live in the meantime. This principle remains unchanged even if he were married. Can you imagine if the cultural expectation was for doctors and dentists to remain single until they finished all of their schooling, or worse, until all of their loans were paid off? It’s unreasonable. We know that they are providing for themselves and their potential family through loans in the short run, but in the long run, through their own income generation. So it is with us; we’ll be well provided for in every season.
Numbers-wise, our situation isn’t as bad as one might think. After paying for our honeymoon and buying two cars with cash, we’ll still have about $10,000 saved up in the bank, thanks to our intensely thrifty spending habits. We’ll make another $7K in the summer months, and between the two of us we’ll work about 40 hours a week during the school year at low wage jobs. We will also have Megan's accounting internship, starting about 9 months into our marriage, which will provide around $10,000 more dollars. I’m sure we’ll also be blessed with some amount of cash via our wedding and each of our graduations. Between these incomes, we’ll be able to pay for Megan’s fifth year of school out-of-pocket, and maybe even begin chipping away at her loans from years 1-4. Before we know it, I will be out of school and working full time, and one year later and Megan will do the same. At that point we’ll finally have normalized incomes and expenses and can begin aggressively paying off the debt!
[edit: or so we thought … in retrospect, the truth is we went from a $113,000 schooling bill to 100% debt free before Megan even graduated, thanks in large part to a miraculous and life-altering moment].
Overall, we found that if working hard and living cheaply meant we got to be married sooner, we were more than happy to do it! If we waited to be married and lost that extra motivation, there’s no way we could have sustained our pace. Getting married young gave us the incentive we need to make the logistics work, and we haven’t looked back!
You Thinking About It?
Obviously, Megan and I decided to move forward with getting married young, and we’ve had a great experience. We’re definitely biased. But we can’t help but think that our decision to get married young has been a significant contributing factor to our enjoyment of marriage and life. We’re never tempted to compare each other to a previous partner, as we are each other’s first serious relationship. We never really had to sacrifice or compromise any major lifestyle preferences, because we never had any in the first place! We’ve gotten to grow up into adulthood and form those expectations together, from the start. It’s been amazing.
So, unsurprisingly, my opinion at the end of the day is that if you're both wanting to be married, you're both ready to be married (emotionally, spiritually, maturity-wise), and you're both able to be married from a practical sense, then you should get married! I believe in a broad sense that getting married young is healthy and good.
But even so, I never aspired to marry young. I didn’t start dating Megan as a result of an ideal to marry soon. Rather, my relationship with Megan came first, and then came our timeline for marriage, as it should be. It just so happens that I met the most amazing human being on the planet when I was 18 years old! Whether or not you agree conceptually with the thought of marrying young, my guess is that if you meet that person in your life, you might find yourself pursuing marriage, too :)
Did you read this whole thing?? If so, kudos to you! Turns out there's a lot of processing that goes into a decision as big as this one haha :). If you're processing marriage yourself, let me know if anything you read here was particularly helpful, or if there's anything you'd want me to weigh in on more!
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