Young wife, happy life?
I never imagined I'd be the "type" of girl to get married young. And if that sounds judgmental and presumptuous, you're right. I was judgmental and presumptous about college girls wearing engagement rings, or people making life-long commitments before their 25th birthdays. I think my exact opinion was: "Pssssshh" with a somewhat disgusted look, probably rolling my eyes.
And that's a majority opinion in his country, in this decade. While it used to be normal and expected for young women to settle down and get married before the ink dried on their high school diplomas (and in some subcultures, that's still the case), mainstream society has taken a major shift. Young wives are widely assumed to be old-fashioned, anti-feminist, super religious, ignorantly inexperienced, destined for divorce—usually all of the above. This new societal stereotype is everywhere from whispery gossip to TV plots. A "smart and educated young lady" knows better.
Yet as life happened, I willingly signed a marriage certificate in 2008, with an 8-month-pregnant belly between us. I was 22 years old.
Six years later, I've had more than just my perspective shifted. I've grown and matured in so many ways—mostly because of things in and around my marriage. Yes, marriage is challenging and getting married at a young age sets us up for unique obstacles, but there are also little-known perks to entering marriage and adulthood roughly at the same time. It's not all bad decisions and dead ends.
1. We grew up together.
My husband is 30 years old, but I remember him at 18. I remember him living with roommates and delivering pizzas, fresh out of high school. We've been together through college classes, internships, big moves, small moves, graying hair, changing bodies. We've watched each other launch careers and tackle goals that we once dreamed up on thrift-store furniture, in what feels like former lives.
We grew up together, but also because of each other. I'm proud of the man he's grown into, and I know he feels the same pride and respect toward me. We've come a long way, and it's nice to have someone witness the progress.
2. There's less baggage.
We both have separate pasts. We didn't "save ourselves" for marriage, or have a highschool sweetheart storyline. But in a way, we did. He's my first and only adult relationship, so all of that grown-up intimacy—the shared apartments and pets and memorable traveling adventures—is something I've only shared with him. I didn't spend a bulk of my life with someone else; how could I? I was off the market by 20 years old. All of our baggage is checked together.
3. It's relatively easy to combine lives.
In a lot of ways, it was pretty easy to join our lives together. We didn't have deeply established adult lives, habits, and patterns to change. Instead, we developed a system and rhythm as we went. I started my career with a new last name. He didn't have a set-in-his-ways lifestyle to uproot. No pre-nups, no complications. There's something to be said for building a life on a single foundation, rather than figuring out how to merge two separate structures.
4. We learned the hard lessons sooner rather than later.
Getting hitched at the beginning of adulthood helped me chop away the delusions of Happily Ever After or a rom-com plotline long before resentment or bitterness settled in my heart. Marriage also provides real-world lessons on things like sacrifice, commitment, companionship, compromise, and unconditional love. It's hard to change and grow with another person, no matter how old we are, but the effort and struggle teaches us a lot. It can make us better versions of ourselves, giving us opportunities to understand faith, endurance, forgiveness, and patience. It tests our limits, breaks us down, and helps us develop more mature perspectives than the typical dating pool allows. Young marriage isn't easy, but the important things rarely are.
5. We didn't waste money (because we didn't have any.)
Our "wedding" cost less than $100. And that was totally acceptable and understood.
6. We had very low expectations.
I didn't wait a decade for "The One," or for a magical time when my stars aligned. If I spent years planning and dreaming up the perfect wedding and marriage and husband and life, I would have been severely disappointed. Instead I went along with life, choosing to be—and stay—in love.
7. We've shared every milestone and achievement.
We've gone from mouse-infested apartments and empty bank accounts to a comfortable adult life and everything in between. Everything we've accomplished—separately or together—has been met with a familiar high-five.
8. Crazy, wild memories? We've got 'em.
The fact that my husband has first-person memories of me at 19 years old and all of the ridiculous, passion-fueled memories that come with a young romance is something I'll be quite grateful for as I hit middle age.
9. We're happier, apparently.
According to the National Marriage Project's 2013 report, "Knot Yet," the most satisfied 20-somethings (between 20 and 28 years old) are married, as opposed to being single or cohabitating. In fact, those who reported their marriage as "very happy" were largely between 24 and 26 years old. Another study showed that those married between 22 and 25 years old have the greatest likelihood of having an intact marriage. And The Huffington Post reported on more research that showed clear benefits to getting married in our 20s.
10. We've got nothin' but time.
Even if my marriage implodes and we change and grow in opposite directions, we'll still have plenty of time in our lives to move on to new experiences. We'll have learned important lessons from our marriage, matured in ways we needed to, and we'll take that growth with us.
On the flip side, my young marriage can give me that much more time with the one person who's stuck by my side through every stage and evolution — and loved me through them all. The one person who has been there for every milestone and moment, and who knows every past version of myself. At the end of it all, time is what matters.
Read more about Michelle's young marriage at EarlyMama.com.