Hoo. You knew I had to get into this one.
There is a lot to be said for Peter’s well penned takedown of this WaPo op-ed encouraging early marriage. In fact, I tend to agree with it by and large. I think people should get married whenever the hell they want. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks and all that.
However, I do feel that Peter short-changes Mr Regnerus’ op-ed in a couple of significant ways.
As commenters to his original post have pointed out, the fertility argument for early marriage does have some weight, since the later women get pregnant, the higher health risks they, and especially the children, face. Also, I believe there is some statistical (and definitely a lot of anecdotal) evidence that, generally, the older you are the less well you raise small kids. Your fifties are probably not the best time to deal with one or several teenagers’ idiosyncrasies…
I also think that the economic argument is not as irrelevant as Peter makes it out to be. Yes, you’re not going to get married at 22 because yay, we will save more, contribute more to economic growth and reducing the world’s carbon footprint. But conversely, if you’re an op-ed writer and you think getting married early would make society and the economy more healthy (and I think there’s a lot of weight behind that opinion), it doesn’t hurt to commit a few words to paper to raise awareness of that.
More importantly, I think Peter glosses over what is (to me) probably the most important point the op-ed makes: that of peer pressure.
As a 22 year old who will get married this year (inch’Allah), I’ve experienced it. It’s real, and it’s notable. There is a very strong “ideology” (for want of a better term) that tells us each and every one of us must enjoy ourselves, start our careers and — for the love of all that is holy! — go through many, many, preferably long steps, including but not limited to, dating, assessing “sexual compatibility” (whatever that means), going “exclusive,” meeting the parents, moving in together, having a pet, having a kid or two, et caetera ad nauseam ad infinitum before we even think about getting married.
I never stop being amazed at the paradox that the more marriage is cheapened, contractualized, made commitment-lite, covenant-lite (sorry, the financial and biblical pun is irresistible), the more we are told to be careful and risk-averse when it comes to entering into it. After all, do you really need seven years of shared rent, a golden retriever, a boy and a girl to know whether your mid-life crisis divorce will succeed? It’s Sex and the City as life ethic.
Please don’t look for someone whose life outlook and deepest sensibilities complete yours — how quaint! But make sure to find out on the first date whether he likes 80s pop non-ironically or grunts weirdly during sex, so you can quickly move on to the next guy. And for the love of God never stop bar-hopping, never stop reducing courtship to a mating dance and a checklist of the most shallow criteria, and please, please extend your adolescence for as long as damn possible.
Hang on, please let me catch my breath.
I don’t have a problem with people getting married after 25. Do whatever the hell you like. But I am annoyed by the seemingly endless array of people who think you have a problem if you even consider marriage before 25. And that really is, more (or less) subtly, what we are told.
My basic take on when to get married is this: life is short. I will be dead tomorrow. No one can ever be sure whether someone will always be “the right person” for you. But it’s actually pretty easy to make as damn sure as you can ever be. And once that day comes, there’s no room left for hesitation.
To me, that’s when you get married, whether you’re 21 or 71.