Do Mormons get married too young?

Once a group of us ladies were playing the game “Two Truths and a Lie,” and one woman told the following truth: “I got maternity clothes for my nineteenth birthday.” Someone asked, “Why on earth would someone give you maternity clothes for your nineteenth birthday?” Her matter-of-fact response: “Because I was pregnant!” (But she was married at 18, so it was okay.)

Married at 18, wearing maternity clothes at 19…and I’m a Mormon!

It didn’t used to be uncommon in the Western world for people to marry at 18, 20 or 22, but in this day and age, with more people going to college and (quite sensibly) postponing families of their own until after they’ve finished their educations and at least started their careers, marrying so young seems sort of horrifying. Within Mormon culture, of course, marrying young is still expected and encouraged. It is the subject of this recent article in The Universe, “Leaving with a diploma but not a spouse.”

After dating a girl before his mission and getting back together with her following his return, Steve Prince thought he found the girl he would marry. Now Prince is graduating from BYU, and he’ll be leaving without a princess. [Ed. Poor Brother Prince--I'm sure he's never heard that one before.]

While there are not specific statistics available, Michael Goodman, a BYU religion professor, said he believes the number of unmarried students leaving BYU is increasing with time. Goodman previously served as a bishop in a BYU singles ward and currently teaches an LDS Marriage & Family class at BYU. In his time serving those two roles, Goodman has fielded many complaints and concerns about the subjects of marriage and dating. …

These complaints are often aimed directly at the young men. Goodman shared the concern about a lack of proactive behavior from men toward dating.

“I would say there are a whole lot of brethren who need to become anxiously engaged in trying to get engaged,” he punned.

Goodman goes on to say that many women are also postponing marriage (often on the recommendation of their parents) until they have achieved other goals first. This trend is frustrating for those men who are anxiously trying to get engaged.

On the face of it, these concerns seem ridiculous, even absurd–I mean, you’re what, 22, 24, for crap’s sake? You’ve still got plenty of time left, kids. Both of my younger sisters got married before I did. A friend of mine (not LDS) joked to me, “You’re behind schedule.” “I’m not behind,” I snapped. “They’re ahead!” I confess that because I couldn’t envision myself getting married at my (then-)tender age, I couldn’t imagine how someone even younger than me could be ready for a lifetime commitment.

There are real risks and down sides to marrying young. Women who marry young often fail to finish their degrees. There’s some psychological maturation that goes on during one’s twenties whether one marries or not. The 21-year-old you married may be a completely different person at 29. Because members of the church are encouraged to marry and cautioned against waiting “too long” (and–let’s face it–because it’s normal for sexually mature people to want to have sex and the church forbids us from having the unmarried variety), young adults often rush into marriage with the wrong people. The result is unhappy marriages and/or divorces. We’ve all seen it, even with the supposedly fireproof temple marriages. It’s very sad.

However, there is another side.

Something I appreciate about Mormon men is that they’re not afraid of commitment or responsibility. I waited until the ripe old age of 26 to get married, but my husband was not quite 22 on our wedding day, and he was a father before he was 23. He was going to school full time and working two jobs to support our family while his peers were getting drunk and barely finishing their homework. Most of those guys eventually grew up to be productive and responsible citizens, but they put it off as long as they reasonably could. Obviously, you can stay single your whole life and still avoid being a reckless slob, but by marrying young, Mormons generally avoid the extended adolescence that’s become so common in contemporary culture because they can’t afford to indulge in it the way single people can. It doesn’t mean they automatically mature, but they force themselves to take on responsibilities that help them mature much faster than they might otherwise.

That’s the silver lining to all the awful and true consequences of marrying young, which I can’t dispute. I worry about my own daughters sacrificing their educations and economic self-sufficiency on the altar of early marriage. And people do get a skewed view of marriage and what it’s all about when we make them paranoid about putting it off “too long.” Temple marriage is seen as the end game rather than the beginning. (Not to mention the light at the end of the long, chaste tunnel. … I don’t recommend examining that metaphor too closely.) Men are encouraged to marry as soon as possible after returning from their missions, but freshly-returned missionaries often don’t realize that the rules for working with a mission companion are different from the rules for working with an intimate partner. (A mission teaches lots of good life skills, including people skills, but it isn’t practice for marriage.)

My marriage is good now, but the first few years were rough (as they are for many people). My husband and I both had growing up to do, and fortunately we managed to do it together. Many young couples do, even when it’s painful. The early years of marriage require more patience and maturity than most 22-year-olds have. (More, even, than most 26-year-olds have.) But when I think about the perils of marrying young, I have to remember that I married a very young but very good man–produced in no small part by a culture that teaches men and women not to postpone the responsibilities of adulthood when the blessings of marriage and family are within reach.

You shouldn’t get married before you’ve found the right partner. When I was a teenager, my family’s home teacher was was a life-long bachelor. We saw him finally get married at age 55. Did he wait “too long”? Well, his wife was a perfect match for him and they were very happy together, so you tell me. The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this post–the one who got maternity clothes for her nineteenth birthday–was a good friend of mine. Once we were talking about how she had married at such a young age (she was seven years younger than I) and she said, “You know, at eighteen I had no idea what I was getting into, but I did know that I was willing.” Meaning that she was willing to give up whatever she had to give up and take on whatever she had to take on because she had met the person she wanted to share her life with. That’s how it should work, whether you’re 55 or 18.

Young marriage has its (well-documented) pitfalls, but I don’t think the solution is necessarily people marrying later (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but rather being more aware of the factors that influence their judgment and their expectations. Things like pre-marital counseling (the real kind, not the five minutes you get from the temple sealer at your Saturday morning wedding) may help. More reflection on the purpose of marriage (as opposed to the necessity of it) may help. People shouldn’t get married if they’re not ready, but the biggest part of marital readiness isn’t age–it’s being willing. And that willingness among young Mormons is a characteristic of our culture that I don’t want to change.

Comments

  1. Rebecca,
    Then why 18? Why not 17? That does happen, even in the temple. Is that ok if they are willing?

  2. I got a good chuckle out of that DU article. So dire…like these poor kids are being cast out of Eden or something.

  3. well written and thought out. I would venture to add wellness to willingness. Spiritual and emotional or mental wellness is and often neglected in young marriages.

    Rebecca, I really don’t think you can put a blanket age on readiness for marriage. We all mature at different speeds. I feel few are ready at 18 is our society, fewer still at 17. So many parameters have to be considered. I feel premarital counseling should be highly encouraged for ALL marriages.

  4. whizzbang says:

    Generally yes, Mormons get married too young. I get sick when I see the child bride phenom. going on especially when I see as I have very recently a child bride get divorced to her hubbie of 25ish years. She just walked away from it all, church, husband, family. She is now having the life she never ever had because she was strapped with no education and a kid before the age of 20. I think leaders put too much pressure on singles to get married. I am the product of that and it ruined me from listening to church leaders and just doing it because you’re supposed to. Now I listen to what they have to say but I decide what I do because I and not them live with the consequences. I loved Elder Baxter’s talk in the most recent GC. The mold of the Church is married and rich and if you aren’t that then you’re out of the club and who wants to get married just to get “better” callings?

  5. I started dating my husband at 16 and then got married the summer after I graduated high school. I was shocked that I was getting married so young, it definitely wasn’t in my life plan. (Actually my plan was to meet the man for me at age 28. And he wouldn’t be Mormon so I wouldn’t have to go to church anymore. Epic fail.) I was terrified that I’d screw marriage all up. I was young and fickle and for a few years after I got married I had nightmares in which I’d be having sex with some random guy and then suddenly remember I was married and realize I’d completely ****’d up. I was also terrified that I’d get pregnant too soon. So I put some serious thought into whether I ought to be getting married so young. I prayed about it. I thought about it some more. And it was definitely the right choice for me. But other people my age certainly had no business getting married. What was the difference? Most of them were getting married because they (felt they) had to. A few were pregnant, but most were emotionally unable to stand on their own. Some were counting on marriage to bring them happiness. I wasn’t. I was willing to get married when the time was right and I had the right partner, but I didn’t need to get married. I really like the willing-to-marry part of our culture. It’s a less self-centered way to think than the popular culture espouses. But I’m not a fan of the need-to-marry part. Although, I think the popular culture espouses the need-a-man-to-be-happy part too so maybe that’s not exactly a Mormon thing. We just tack on the marry bit.

    @mmiles: Willing doesn’t mean you get married before you are ready. I got married once I could financially support myself. Not in high style, but still, I could manage ramen noodles and rent. I would have married at 17 if I had already finished high school and was ready to take care of myself. But I wasn’t. And if I hadn’t been ready at 18 my husband and I would have worked until we were ready.

  6. Pedro A. Olavarria says:

    No.

  7. Yes.

  8. I married in my late twenties, and prior to marriage received a great deal of advice on ‘living on love’ and ‘sticking through the first year.’ Such advice, it turned out, was completely useless to me as much of it assumed that I would be starting out marriage young, financially strained, and quite possibly as a student. (None were true, though I’m not exaclty old either.)

    Were the skills and goals I had earned through my twenties necessary to marriage? Yes, they have made my marriage quite easy. Would it be wise to delay marriage in order to first learn and achieve? No. Would it be wise to hasten marriage knowing that anything necessary can be developed ad hoc? No.

  9. Oh. Slightly different topic. I’ve observed that many individuals rush into a marriage based on a few scare tactics. First, that when one is older [than 22] that there is no one left of quality to marry so you’d better get married young while the dating pool is large and [dilutes] the divorcees, creeps, and hopeless causes. Second that when one is older marriage is “more difficult” because you’ll be set in your ways and can’t “grow” [up] together. They’re both true to an extent, but not so true that one needs to panic and marrye one’s first or n-th dating.

  10. Your analysis reminds me a bit of Red Families v. Blue Families: in red states, the slogan goes, “families form adults” — the struggles of marriage and childrearing force the kids to grow up quickly — while in blue states, “adults form families” — people wait until they’ve become responsible citizens before taking on the responsibilities. A few nice (and relevant) reflections on that book here and scattered throughout the interwebs.

  11. #4 whizzbang: “I think leaders put too much pressure on singles to get married.”

    I like to think my 17th birthday interview with the bishop was a classic of its kind.
    Why didn’t I have a boyfriend?
    Did I want to finish up a nun?
    (And yes, he was that blunt.)

    I married at 25, after completing my PhD and obtaining gainful employment. I was 18 when I met my husband, but marrying at that age would have been a disaster for both for us. Instead, we got 7 years as best friends, and a great foundation for our marriage.

    Marriage has to be to the right person at the right time.

  12. Zionssuburb says:

    2 comments about marrying young and having children young. And BTW, I am brother of 3 sisters, and the father of 4 daughters, I drill into them that they must have a means of support, no matter what, an education or a craft in case the statistics catch up with them. I’ve also been married young (22 – without a degree) (divorced, but for complicated non-young married issues) and married at 30 (with a degree making Career money, and so was she). There are 2 issues that come to my mind. My later experience showed that it was harder to integrate our lives after both were in careers, been on our own supporting ourselves, etc…I think there is REAL value to the early marriage and the bond that can form while struggling to make ends meat. Living in a crappy apartment, trying to keep a vehicle running, saving for a home, struggling with the thought of paying tithing or paying for diapers, or whatever it may be. It seems easier to walk away from a marriage at an older age. The second thought is around having children while older, or waiting… I had a fantastic relationship with my grandparents, when I was growing up they were still youngish and vital, able to keep up with us kids. I see many families now where children are interacting with grandparents much later in life. At the vital stage of life where a child is naturally breaking away from a family, and forming their independent identity (my parents suck man!) a great relationship with a grandparent can make a real difference in their lives, and helps bridge the gap during those teen years. If my grandparents would’ve been in their 70′s, 80′s when I was growing up, I don’t know that I’d be in the church, or have much of a relationship with my parents. Maybe that isn’t the case, but as generations choose to have children later and later, if I wait until my 30′s and my daughter waits until her 30′s… I’m 60 by the time my first grandchild is born, and I’m 75 when they are 15… I’m 80 when they are 20… and that’s only if you’re the oldest child. At 25, the difference in 2 generations is nearly 10 years younger grandparents. This should not be overlooked in my opinion.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this, Rebecca. I second the idea of real marriage counseling, of getting everything that tends to come up in a marriage on the table.

  14. I got married two days after my 21st birthday and divorced when I was almost 27 (also for non-youg married rasons). Now I am almost 32, and I am still too young to get married.

    My mother was 18 and my father was 19 when they got married (not Mormons though) and both of them were the ripe old age of 26 when they had their sixth chid (me) (no twins). We turned out fine. I have seen it work well both ways. My sister was 20 when she had her first child, but my brother was 37 when he had his. The time was right for both of them, and it was not relative to maturity level.

  15. I just our church would advocate some degree of social maturity before marriage. Would it be too much to demand an NFL rule of being out of high school for 3 years? Demand that you vote in at least one presidential election first after the zge of 20?

  16. rameumptom says:

    Maybe we are asking the wrong questions here. For centuries, people married even in their early teens, and made their marriages work. For me, the issue isn’t how young or old the persons are, but how mature – especially spiritually mature.
    Too many parents have not truly prepared their kids to be married in a timely manner, whether they get married at 18 or 26. Instead, we focus the young men on missions and eagle scout, and the young women on their dream date in the temple. But we do not teach them much on communication, relating, planning, budgeting, compromising, and hard work. Today’s YW program teaches the girls that they are precious daughters of God, and that the universe revolves around each of them. Parents reinforce that concept by giving each of them their own IPhone for broadcasting how special they are to their own cloistered groupies. It is time we begin teaching them about life and true spirituality. Our LDS pioneers did not protect young men and women from the hardships, but taught them how to manage those trials.
    Next, it is time we upgraded the American school system. It was designed for the 19th century. Kids graduate from high school and are prepared for nothing regarding adult life (except sex). Perhaps it is time to change the program to year round schooling; more Internet classes, where kids can progress faster through their school work; college/tech courses beginning at 14-16 years of age. In this way, most of them can have their degrees or training completed by the time they leave on a mission. Then it doesn’t matter if they marry at an earlier age, because most of the schooling is now accomplished and they can leave high school with much of their college finished.
    The concept of early marriage was implemented in a day when a high school diploma was sufficient for most. Marrying early, then, simply fit in well with the concept of being adults and moving forward with the farm or other life career.
    I do worry about people waiting too long to marry. It affects many other things, such as Church growth, size of families (the USA is barely at replacement level for births), etc.

  17. I respectfully question the accuracy of those (#12, #14) who claim their divorces were unrelated to being married too young. Perhaps not the MAIN factor, but a contributing one? Just wondering aloud.

  18. “On the face of it, these concerns seem ridiculous, even absurd–I mean, you’re what, 22, 24, for crap’s sake? You’ve still got plenty of time left, kids.”

    While true, I think the real concern is that, once you’ve left BYU, your pool of spousal candidates, for lack of a better term, significantly decreases.

  19. I think we need to have two different discussions here – one on marrying young and one on having children young. A lot of the issues raised in the OP come directly from or are compounded by children not marriage (financial dependency, dropping out of school, personal maturation etc.) And it seems to me what we are seeing are more and more Mormon couples that are still marrying relatively young but putting of kids. This is a model that I can support and have lived. My wife and I got married at 21 (6 months after I returned from my mission, but we knew each other since we were 13 and were very good friends by 16). The 5 years we spent as married, childless students were some of the best and most important years of our life. We ended up with 3 Ivy-league degrees between us, reasonable debt loads, and a clear path to family supporting income. We took school seriously and without the form of extended adolescence that seems so wasteful. Heck we were sorority house parents at 21. After 5 years of marriage we were pretty sure that our marriage was on solid footing, that we both wanted to be there and we were ready to have a family. A lot of the strength of our marriage is built on the relationship we established in those first 5 years. We now have 4 kids, starting still earlier than most. There are few things we would have done differently in retrospect (my wife says she would have gotten a more marketable degree, for example), but by in large this model worked. If asked for my advise these days I highly encourage couples who marry young to think about this model. Let them both finish their education, establish an economic basis for both partners and the family, build a relationship independent of kids and then welcome a family. Then marrying young actually becomes an asset in my opinion. Longer to establish a relationship etc. without the biological clock putting pressure on these decisions. While my wife and I have only ha 4 kids we could still have another before her risks went up and if we had made a couple of different decisions we could easily have 7 kids by now that we could support if we felt that had been right for us. I will stop there but this model has been so positive for us in so many ways. My wife got to stay home and raise our kids until they all entered school which was important to us. However, we are still young enough that she can, if she wants, begin to pursue another career etc. These types of options would have been available had we waited until our mid-late twenties to get married.

    So I would submit that it may not be so much young marriage that concerns me in Mormon culture, but bringing kids into the equation in such early marriages. Even if a mistake is made through rushing into marriage for the wrong reason or the wrong person, without kids it is much easier (if still hard and unfortunate) to undo the mistake. If you marry at 19, 21 or 23 why rush kids? Given the chastity-sex constraint this seems the most plausible and sane alternative. Even my mother, a straight-laced women of her generation advised us strongly to take a few years before kids to build our marriage. She was wise!

  20. Sorry for the length response here is the synopsis: Mormon’s don’t get married too young, they have kids too soon after marriage.

  21. Jim (17) my divorce was because my ex-husband was shackled to a terrible family that he was not allowed to break away from–he will be 36 and it still has not happened. Age is not the factor; terrible in-laws are. Those who think in-laws cannot make or break a marriage either have great in-laws, do not live close to them, or are not married to a mama’s boy/daddy’s girl.

  22. Chris Gordon says:

    I’m feeling like age is an arbitrary measure here. The larger question is whether we’re preparing our youth and young people adequately for marriage in the right way? THAT answer is largely no, but I don’t feel like age is the issue.

  23. My wife and I were 21 when we married. We were not too young, but we probably were too young to become parents (which we did a year later). Of course we all grew up together — wife, oldest son and me — which was probably not the best for our oldest son.

    The key, I think, is entering mariage with commitment and open eyes. We were fortunate to have received excellent counsel from parents, grandparents (including this incredibly long list of questions my wife’s grandmother suggested we discuss long before the wedding), bishops and others prior to our marriage that helped us in that decision to marry. We’d known one another four years by the time we married (including the time I was on my mission), and that long term friendship was a big help (the decision to marry came after the mission).

    We did struggle in those early years. And we’ve struggled a few times since. But I wouldn’t give up a day of our (so far) nearly 32 years of marriage.

    That said, my children have not followed our example. Our oldest son married at 28 a young woman he met and dated (and then lived with) during their college years (he’s not in the church). Our active LDS daughter graduated BYU unmarried and has some concern about that since she lived far from the center of Mormondom and worries about finding someone whom she can marry in the temple. (I think the “size of pool” issue is a significant one for faithful single graduates who move to areas where the church is less concentrated.)

    I agree that whateer advice we give young people TO marry, we also need to temper that with plenty of counsel and example about HOW to BE married and all that means.

  24. I’ve read a couple of interesting books by Christian sociologist Mark Regnerus. He mentions that among Christians the marriage age as a whole has gone up steadily along with the rest of the culture, and that right along with that obedience to the law of chastity has steadily gone down with the rest of the culture. He argues that Christians have about the same rate of premarital sex as the rest of the culture only they feel more guilty about it. He also feels that a part of the reason premarital sex is so common among Christians is because the marriage age is higher so they feel they have to wait forever for marriage.

    Interestingly enough he talks about eternal adolescence among males as an issue which causes a shortage in the market for viable males, causing serious relationship issues among females, especially a lowering of standards for what constitutes a viable male.

  25. I think the reasons for significant stress in marriage are as myriad as the causes for any other social phenomenon, and though many of the above try to reduce to a single reason here or there, the fact remains that people are different, raised in different families, have different experiences and expectations, and are faced with different situations after they marry. That it ever works (putting two individuals together and asking them to be one) is a testament to the adaptability of the human spirit and what support the gospel can provide to that adaptability.

    I have my own stories to tell, but once again, they’re a specific set of factors and one factor off changes the whole mix. My sister and I married within 3 days of the same age (18) and she is happily married to that same man 24 years later while my marriage ended after less than 2 years. She had her first child a year younger than I did, so that must explain the differences in our marriages, right? That’s bad social science.

    Good points, Zionssuburb. Rameumptom, agree wholeheartedly to both. FBOFW, the church is not going to establish rules about marriage because we don’t really know what factors make marriages work other than the prophetic counsel we receive in the PotF. Those prescriptive guidelines seem as useful for parents and leaders as for prospective partners.

  26. I wonder what the influence of a world that says that personal actualization is more important than family actualization is on successful marriages. My personal observation is that more stress is caused by this expectation than anything else, and that that pressure from the outside has grown exponentially in recent generations. I agree wholeheartedly with the closing statements in the OP: “People shouldn’t get married if they’re not ready, but the biggest part of marital readiness isn’t age–it’s being willing. And that willingness among young Mormons is a characteristic of our culture that I don’t want to change.”

  27. Sidebottom says:

    Can one spelunk in the long, chaste tunnel?

  28. I think if you are old enough to get the priesthood you are old enough to get married. Girls should wait to get married until they have their first period. Just my two cents.

  29. It’s interesting how these kinds of posts often turn into “my way was best” or “my way was a mistake.” I think as long as we are wary of the extremes, things will usually work out. What are the extremes? That’s the question. No doubt it will be different for different people.

    I hope my kids get in at least two years of adult life dating different people before committing to one person. At the same time, I hope they get married early enough to safely have as many children as they want, as spaced out as they want. But ultimately, whatever they choose will be due to their circumstances and personalities.

    Getting married in my late twenties allowed me opportunities and independence I wouldn’t have had otherwise. At the same time, it meant delaying sex, and I probably would have finished my education a little more quickly had I been married earlier. Enjoy life, ignore the voices that say “marry early” or “marry late,” date seriously but not too seriously, and don’t worry too much about getting married at any specific age.

  30. whizzbang says:

    @11-Oi! my YSA bishop told us that you can’t be happy unless you’re married. As if it’s some physical impossibility and when you walk out of the Temple or wherever you are now automatically happy. I believed it too. Now, I believe that if you aren’t happy marriage should be the last thing you should do because it’s too much pressure on the other person to make them happy 24/7, as I found out. I have had to pretty much unlearn everything in the Church at age 26 when I got divorced

  31. I’d answer the question, but I’m still trying to figure out if Super Bowl III was played in 1969 or 1970–and, if it was 1969, was it before Nixon was inaugurated.

  32. John Taber says:

    @Chris #27: “I’m feeling like age is an arbitrary measure here.”

    Then why is it that all but one of the divorced women I met online (where I eventually met my wife) married at 18 or 19? The variable with them was how long the marriage lasted. How old they were was almost constant, with one outlier.

  33. American Eagle says:

    I know this is a tangent, but I have to ask: what is the Mormon consensus on a double wedding? (Siblings, best friends, or a divorced parent/child getting married on the same day)?

  34. RE: #4, #11- I also think that pressure has created an unhealthy dating culture in LDS communities. With so much pressure for every relationship to lead to marriage, many seem to be scared to even start a relationship at all. What if it fails? What if it doesn’t? It fosters a sort of inactivity in dating among the younger set.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    why is it that all but one of the divorced women I met online

    John, surely it doesn’t take much effort to see that what you are presenting is not statistically reliable representative sample. It’s anecdotal, but insufficient for drawing causal connections.

  36. rogerthegentleradical says:

    It depends. People should get married upon achieving adulthood. That timetable varies dramatically depending on the individual. Non-adults (of any age) getting married yields tragic consequences altogether too often.

  37. American Eagle says:

    Jim (17) my divorce was because my ex-husband was shackled to a terrible family that he was not allowed to break away from–he will be 36 and it still has not happened. Age is not the factor; terrible in-laws are. Those who think in-laws cannot make or break a marriage either have great in-laws, do not live close to them, or are not married to a mama’s boy/daddy’s girl.

    EOR,

    Can you give us some examples without outing your identity?

  38. whizzbang says:

    the problem is some leaders , general and local, have this idea that if something worked for them in marriage then it will work for others, when it isn’t the case. Just because they met someone in 1950, worked their way through school with 5 kids and the wife stayed home doesn’t mean that that will work for you today

  39. As others have said, maturity is a big issue, but there are others. My wife and I married in Utah at age 20; she with one year of college left, and me with two. However, married life was economically cheaper in those days (early 1970′s). One year of tuition, not counting scholarships and grants, equalled about 6 months of rent on our low budget apartment. Neither one of us left college with any student loan debt. Our own kids, on the other hand, came of marriage age after we had moved to the Seattle area, and everything was more expensive. 1 year of tuition equals about a year and a half of cheap rent. Books are horrendously more expensive, even in online editions. Add that to a general cultural inclination in the community towards later marriage, even among our fellow ward members, and our kids married later, and came into marriage with large student loans. So while my siblings and my wife’s siblings all married before age 24, our kids married at 32, 28, 27, 25, and the last one at 23. The oldest two married after college; the others all had to finish school after marriage. Ironically, the one who married at 23, a boy, finished college quicker than any of the others, got his CPA, bought a condo, and is probably better off financially than any of the others.

    Early marriage can encourage maturity, and finding the right partner is a huge factor. Increased economic difficulties sure have painted a different landscape for early marriage than my wife and I experienced.

  40. @ Jason (#10): Thanks for bringing up Red Families v. Blue Families. In my opinion, this book is absolutely essential reading on the topic of early vs. late marriage and family formation. The data really call into question some of the assumptions Mormons tend to make about their marrying practices (as exemplified most recently in Elder Ballard’s conference talk a few weeks ago).

  41. rogerthegentleradical says:

    Looking for early marriage to drive maturity is a real toss of the dice. I don’t know that I have the ego strength to recommend that anyone ever follow my personal example but my edict to my children that I will pay for no marriage before college graduation and employment has worked for them.

  42. Meldrum the Less says:

    It is far better to wish you were married, than to wish you were not married.
    (From the lips of a thrice divorced LDS woman.)

  43. rogerthegentleradical says:

    My version: it is better to be alone than to wish you were. Twice divorced but happily married (now)

  44. I realize that on paper (or screen) it would appear that when it came to marriage and children, I did everything wrong. If I were to recount for you the story of my marriage, you would see the red flags popping up all over the place. Turn back! Abort! Abort! The only thing I have to recommend the way I did it is the fact that my husband and I are happily married fifteen years later. (And getting happier!)

    I had a more verbose version of this post in which I explicitly acknowledged the role of luck in successful marriages. I wish that part hadn’t ended up on the cutting room floor. We like to think that we have so much more control over our lives than we really have. That’s probably a good thing because if we constantly thought about how little control we had, we might give up and just let life run us over. But every so often it’s good to step back and realize that some things in life, no matter how well we plan or prepare, just can’t be predicted.

    When I agreed to marry my husband, I was not expecting what I ended up getting. If someone had been able to show me what I was getting into, I would have turned and run the other way. (No offense, honey.) I was no better prepared at 26 than my friend was at 18, and I doubt very much that I would have been better prepared at 36. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. You can worry or fantasize, but you can’t know. The decision to marry has to be based on both reason and hope, and sometimes hope argues against reason. It would sure be nice if our hopes always made sense, but then we’d all be gods.

  45. Meldrum the Less says:

    I really liked comment #16 by Rameumptom and wanted to follow it with this story.

    Once upon a time a football coach looked at his team that had lost about as much as it had won and realized that most of the teams that beat them were bigger than them. (He failed to notice that they were also stronger, faster, more talented, or better disciplined.) Coach determined that in order to win they would all have to gain weight. So they spent the entire off-season eating every meal at Chuck-a-rama. (An inexpensive and legendary all-you-can eat restaurant in Salt Lake). By the next fall each player was about 50 to 75 pounds heavier and they all expected to win. They lost every game.

    I think the training that we give our youth in preparation for marriage is analogous to the training this football coach gave his team. Our youth are fat with admonitions to keep it zipped. They are fat with the self-centered illusions of perfect temple marriage. But they are neither strong, fast, talented, nor disciplined in the areas most important to successful marriage and most of our youth leaders are not even trying to train them to be so, often because they are just as fat.

    Hard work on the gridiron will make a fat person lose weight. They will be lighter and all else being equal this is a disadvantage in football. All else is not equal. We are so afraid of this loss that we fail to realize the advantages of shedding a few pounds to increase strength, quickness, etc. Young people need to do more dating and less praying and less worying about moral purity.They need to get physical and intimate to a degree. Sex drive is given to us for a purpose. Bridle your passions, don’t lock the horse in the barn. Youth need to think of playing all four quarters of the courtship game and not plan on sitting on the bench, too fat to make it through one quarter and still expect to win.

  46. Sidebottom (27) – I’m torn between “Spelunk this” and “Spelunk yourself.”

  47. American Eagle (37) my husband worked 12 hour days and when he was not working or sleeping he *needed* to be with his family. His mother would call and complain if he was not there, or his sister would want him to come over and do something even though she had her own husband. I am the youngest of 6 children, I moved from my parent’s house to my husband’s house and suddenly I was alone; all the time. His family was outright mean to me because I had “stolen” him away from them. I was living hundreds of miles away from anyone I knew and these were the people I was forced to be with. I hung on to the marriage for the sake of my vows as long as I could. We separated hoping it would get better, and the separation ended in divorce. I still love him and will always care about him, but I don’t think I could have remained married to him much longer than I did. I would never ever have wanted my children to be raised around that horrible family.

  48. Rebecca J, I agreed wholeheartedly. Many times the places we are led, as right or appropriate as they are, do not look good on paper/screen. They don’t sound good when you describe them. I sometimes feel like a Mormon Elizabeth Taylor because two divorces does not sound good, look good, or feel good in Mormon parlance. I stand by where I went. It wasn’t the yellow brick road, but it was my yellow brick road. If we only measure the fact that two people are still living in the same house together and don’t want to kill one another as success, that’s a hollow definition. I can’t imagine anything that would have taught me more about becoming a better person than the experiences I’ve had, harrowing as they may have been. I do regularly try to describe in appropriate detail the vistas and the dark roads of the journey with a profound hope that my children don’t repeat anything unnecessarily difficult, but difficult is often extraordinarily useful. How “should” my life have unfolded? I have no clue. But it’s been good. I believe more than ever in pressing forward “with a perfect brightness of hope.”

  49. #30 whizzbang
    I would appear to have been horribly insensitive.
    Please accept my apologies for any hurt or offence caused. This was entirely unintentional.

  50. whizzbang says:

    @49-I wasn’t offended or upset, not at all! I was just relaying what my bishop had told me

  51. #50
    Ok. Thanks

  52. #44, I’m glad you added that, because it really, REALLY bothers me when people tell me (I’m 37) that I must not have “prepared” well for marriage if I’m still single. (or the guy I’m “supposed to marry”–because we still believe in Saturday’s Warrior-style predestination??–isn’t prepared yet, or whatever) I’m as prepared as I can be, but luck also has a lot to do with it. Timing, other people’s agency… there are all SORTS of things we can’t control when it comes to dating, getting married, and staying married.

  53. My marriage story is the narrative from Hell – to those opposed to early, exclusive courtships and marriages. It is the ideal narrative (the stuff of dreams) to those who love sappy, young-love-turned-out-wonderfully stories.

    I have family and friends who married at almost every possible age (almost wrote “conceivable age” – not a good choice of words), in almost every possible situation, and had children early, late and not at all. There is no constant among them that gives me confidence to posit what will work and what won’t.

    I tell my own children that I hope they marry whenever they feel like it is right – but that they wait to have children until they feel they are ready in all ways. Iow, I tell them that I hope they don’t repeat my own marriage story, even though my own marriage story is almost a fairy tale in all ways – unless they feel otherwise.

    Bottom line: I try to teach them correct principles and hope they govern themselves responsibly – whatever that means for each of them individually.

    As is often the case, I’ve written about this in the past. *grin*

    “Why Should We Marry Younger than the Modern, Industrial World’s Average?” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-should-we-marry-younger-than-worlds.html) [The disclaimer at the end is important. Don't read the post with the wrong conclusions before the end of the post.]

  54. Chris Gordon says:

    @32, I’ll see your anecdote and raise you one more: I’ve never met one divorced LDS woman whose first marriage was when she was under 20, and I know several personally and of several more.

    See how arbitrary that is? I don’t mean to return snark for snark, but the point isn’t age, it’s lack of proper preparation. Increased age may or may not add to that preparation, and I’m not foolish enough to deny that preparation tends to seep its way in through osmosis over time.

    It’s one thing to harp on a cultural quirk that our young people marry young and make the sole fact a culprit, when the larger issue is that we have an admittedly skewed institutional culture of how we prepare our youth for the realities of marriage.

  55. I like Rebecca’s #44. People blame a lot on getting married too young — more than I think is fair. There’s no question age tends to mature people and that should help in a marriage, but a lot of people seem to get stuck on a plateau they don’t get over until they actually marry. Waiting for such people would presumably have diminishing returns. Plus, I’ve seen an alarming number of marriages with happy partners in their late 20′s and early 30′s get dissolved when they hit their 40′s, and I’m not convinced their age at marriage has anything to do with it.

    And a lot of the common thinking doesn’t make sense to me. For example, who’s more likely to want out? The guy who played the field until he was 30 and then got tied down, or the guy who got tied down at 20 and never got to play the field? Personally, having associated with many of the former, I’m sympathetic to the church’s encouragement for men to prepare themselves to make commitments.

  56. Not a fan of having to log into WordPress to comment simply because I have a defunct blog, by the way.

  57. Sadly not our choice, Martin. You can also just use a different email address.

  58. This place has become an asylum lately, and the inmates are definitely in charge.

  59. the larger issue is that we have an admittedly skewed institutional culture of how we prepare our youth for the realities of marriage

    Thank you, Chris Gordon, for saying in 25 words or less what would probably have taken me 1500.

  60. Rob (58) – Lately?

  61. I haven’t waded through all the comments yet, but I will say this: most people who marry young, especially while in college, and then have children are not financially able to provide for themselves without public assistance. I know, because I went through that myself. I’m not going to say if that’s right or wrong, but I will say it is interesting that those in the primarily conservative LDS culture would promote a practice that essentially requires government subsidy. Am I the only one who sees the irony?

  62. I am graduating from college in a few weeks, sans husband; I’m pretty much the only girl from my circle of high school friends who isn’t currently married. I can theoretically understand that their choices work for them, but if I’m being honest, it baffles me that anyone would want to be married right now. I love the extraordinary flexibility of this life stage: having the option to go teach English in Lebanon/au pair in France/get a suitably crappy job in a city you’ve always wanted to live in is the thing that makes up for the lack of stability. Then again, I still can’t bring myself to buy a phone with a contract, and hope not to have to buy a car before I’m 25. Commitment isn’t really my style just now.

  63. StillConfused says:

    Don’t get married if you still expect/need financial support from your parents. Don’t get married if you have never lived away from your parents home. Don’t get married if you do not have a skill set sufficient to support yourself and a child (true for either gender).

  64. Anselma (62) – Everyone should enjoy being single while it lasts. It’s better than the alternative, i.e. not enjoying it.

  65. John Taber says:

    And along the way Church leaders keep hinting that you really should be married; singles younger than yourself say that at your age, you haven’t done your duty; someone a little younger who you’re giving a ride to his disciplinary council berates you for being single . . .

  66. “Can one spelunk in the long, chaste tunnel?”

    Not without talking to one’s bishop.

  67. I’ve always wondered why The Church doesn’t just have “Single Adults” and then break it off into age groups. It is almost impossible for a single over 30 outside (or probably inside) Utah to go on Mormon-y dates.

  68. Danielle says:

    Generally when women marry young they are asked to forfeit their desires for a career and/or graduate education. When men marry young they have less playtime and more responsibility but generally their lives are carried out as planned.

  69. Teaching my kids to work–when they don’t want to and for longer than they want to and the same thing over and over–is really the best preparation for marriage my parents gave me and I hope to give to my kids. The younger they are when they get married means the less time they are given tools by their parents on how to do this work. Because make no mistake about it, marriage and parenting is HARD WORK!!

  70. whizzbang says:

    I am reading an autobiography from a late General Authority’s wife and she is saying her brother in the late 1930′s, “He fell in love with Lydia, who was a number of years older than he, and they were married about the time of his 18th birthday. The children came early and quickly, and caught an immature father unprepared to make a good living for the family. He worked hard in the orchards, and later at various jobs, but was always struggling” so, it sounds like this issue of Mormons marrying young goes back quite aways

  71. MarriedYoungDivorcedYoung says:

    Danielle #68. True story!

    Janelle #9 I know this is personal offense but you sound so ignorant when you group all divorcess with creeps and hopeless causes. At least ignorant people make comments like that so I know to avoid dating or friendship. So I guess a thanks is in order?

    I was married too young for me at age 20, too young to see the abusiveness that lay within my husband.

  72. I didn’t even pick up on #9′s comment. In my defense though, I am a creep so maybe that’s why it didn’t register.

  73. Stan Beale says:

    The tenor of many of the responses focuses on failure, whether it be the church in its approach to marriage, the family in preparing children for wedlock or the young people for their individual weaknesseses. What is missing is the simple reality that the world is much different than it was one hundred yeara ago. We may want to believe that “we are in the world but not of the world,” but in reality we have not been able to escape it or its influences. Let us take a short look at the U.S. in 1900 and (today)
    1. age of first marriage: men 25.9 (28.2) women 21.9 (25.9)
    2. divorce rate : 1% (41%) What makes this statistic more significant is when we look at age of first marriage and
    today’s divorce rate: Age Men Women
    20-24 38.8% 36.6%
    25-30 22.3% 16.4%
    30-34 11.6% 8.5%
    3. Average years of schooling 4.4 (12) for 1900 and (2000) A more detailed breakdown
    per cent 17 year olds graduating high school: 6.4 (72)
    per cent of 25 year olds with BA or above 2.3 (24.4)

    Sociologists ca provide a long laundry list of reasons why more marriages fail today. For example: decline of stigma against divorce; women can survive economically today if divorced, increasede expectation of divorce by the young, male chauvinist pig versus liberated female, increased mixed religious, racial and cultural marriages, easier to get divorces today, loss of community and family support as more people move away from where they grew up, less survival need for a spouse, mass media , etc.

    The point is that there are a lot of factors for later marriage and higher divoce that are beyond our control and difficult to avoid.

  74. My experience is that divorce becomes less likely the further people move away from where they grew up. Family support may make finding a babysitter easier, but having family nearby often causes more problems than it’s worth for a marriage.

  75. I’m getting married in about 3 weeks…we’re both 25. I think I was emotionally ready to get married a little earlier in my life, but I couldn’t afford it. Average American undergrad debt is 25,000….marrying into 50K of debt when you’re 22 and don’t have a set career seems crazy to me. If we want to be all pro-family and encourage early marriage, maybe we should support policies that help lift some of those roadblocks.

    It’s harder, economically, to be 25 now than it was in 1971.

    As a people though, I don’t see how you can avoid getting married fairly early if you’re serious about this whole chastity thing.

  76. norroway says:

    Plenty of people “avoid” getting married early when they’re serious about this whole chastity thing. They simply don’t have someone to marry.

  77. Yeah, avoiding getting married is easy. All you have to do is nothing!

  78. norroway says:

    Because single people who are looking for dates but not finding any are *always* doing nothing. Um…

  79. Chris Gordon says:

    Rebecca J. (59) – I’ve never once been complimented for being concise. Thank you! Just made my day.

  80. I’m not sure about your experience as a single person, norroway, but when I was single I didn’t have to make a special effort to stay single. Avoiding marriage is really easy if you’re doing nothing. Even if you’ve got people lining up around the block to marry you, doing nothing will probably keep you from getting married.

  81. Its a little funny and a little painful how many caveats and nods to the other side the writer has to throw out just to suggest it may not be a total disaster to get married in your early 20s.

    There is a cultural imperialism at work here, and the colonized is us.

  82. I married at the age of 18. It wasn’t my goal, but I found the right guy and beyond being in love, I knew we were right together. However. Almost every person I knew tried to talk me out of it. Told me I was throwing my life away, that I wouldn’t get my education, that I was being foolish, that I was acting emotionally, etc. I was really shocked at how much pressure I faced from members of the Church to not get married for the sole reason that I was 18.

    22 years later I can still say it was the best decision I ever made. College was better for me because I went to school with my best friend at my side–no distractions/drama from dating and roommates to keep me from studying and earning my degree. I fully realize I would have been less likely to earn my degree had I not been married. Counter-intuitive, I know, but in my case very true.

    Additionally I wound up having infertility. It took my entire 20s to get my children here. If I hadn’t married when I did I feel certain that I would not have the children I so enjoy today. I think a lot of people who are waiting are assuming that they have the luxury to wait and have it all later. But in my experience that would have been a bad gamble.

    What if I had listened to those people who tried to talk me out of marriage at 18? I would have missed out on my most cherished blessings. As a result I tell my girls, “As long as you have prayed about and pondered your decision and you’ve done your best to follow the Lord in your decision, then you have my support. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re 18 or 25. This is your life and your eternity and your decision to make with God.”

  83. My point is: why do we always assume that single people are doing nothing to get married, or that there’s something wrong with them, or it’s always somehow their fault? My goodness gracious, sometimes things just don’t work out. And that’s not “doing nothing.” That’s simply saying that luck/timing/fate/capriciousness/other people’s agency does have a role in these things. I can’t just say, “I want to be married,” follow all the insipid advice in those stupid books that promise you you’ll be married in a year or something, and then actually be married in a year. It doesn’t work that way.

  84. I still say the more important discussion isn’t about the age of marriage but the age of starting to have kids. That is where the asymmetrical financial dependence can start and when the demands of parenthood can come into dangerous contact with the process of individual and relationship maturation. There are lots of financial and social benefits to being in a stable partnership while going through school, paying off school loans, establishing your career etc. This isn’t to say that there aren’t potential problems with people getting married too early or for the wrong reasons or the the wrong person or without compability etc, but these mistakes are much less problematic to work out if children haven’t arrived. I think asking Mormon men and women to habitually forgo sex until their mid to late 20s (the average age for marriage outside our religion) is just asking for trouble, especially if you have serious relationships during that time. I don’t know about you but the idea of exclusively dating my now wife for 4 years waiting to get married so we had “matured” would have just been asking for all types of trouble for both of us. If you think you have found the right person and are ready for some why not commitment get married and live your life together? Go to school together. Get your first jobs together. Have some crazy fun together. Be immature together. Travel. Build your relationship on a strong foundation. Then when you are ready have kids. It is the pressure to “have kids” as soon as possible that is most dysfunctional. People treat this as “selfish” (especially for women). It doesn’t have to be at all. Those DINK years can be setting up the emotional, spiritual and financial basis for a self-reliant, functional family.

  85. racerxisalive says:

    Outside of “follow the spirit” I don’t think it’s possible to make calls about when people are too young to get married or have kids. I’m sure there are things that are really nice about getting married later when you are set financially, or having kids after you’ve had a few years to just be a couple, and be done with school and all that. But that didn’t end up being the plan for our family. Some friends of ours wanted kids earlier in their marriage, but felt they should wait, and then later down the road, they had kids, and some experiences that confirmed to them that waiting was the right choice. For us, we initially wanted to wait a while to start having kids, but then a few months later, felt very strongly that we should start trying for kids, even though we had a year or two of school left. We’ve also seen some blessings that came to use because we started when we did.

    It’s easy to make blanket statements and say YMMV but really if the spirit ain’t telling you what to do, I’ve got no idea if you are too young or not. And even if it is prompting you, the only thing I can say is that your chances are better, or at least that there will be some blessings for going along with it.

  86. Norroway, I am sorry I made a flippant remark that went over your head twice. I can’t think of any way to further explain my meaning without, I dunno, the Holy Ghost to help me out or something. I’m sorry that you feel judged, but I promise you that I don’t judge you, it never entered my head to judge you, nor am I laboring under the impression that you’re doing “nothing” with your life in any respect. (I don’t even know you!) You pointed out that people trying to live the law of chastity can avoid getting married simply because circumstances haven’t conspired to allow them to marry. I pointed out, further, that people trying to live the law of chastity can always avoid getting married by simply…not getting married. No one forces anyone to get married in our society.

  87. racerxisalive

    Of course Spirit and personal choice trump all. What I think the objection to is the social pressure and norms that can interfere with these processes. These are very powerful and influential forces that play heavily in our community. We give LOTS of advice, much of it from very authoritative sources which get interpreted and foisted on people. “To the Mothers in Zion” for example or all the recent talks telling men to stop putting of marriage. There weren’t listen to the Spirit riders in any of those, though of course it is always implied no?

  88. While attending a BYU ward several years ago, my bishop once lectured the congregation for the duration of sacrament meeting about how if we did not get married while attending BYU, we would probably not get married. I was horrified by what he said and stopped listening because he was being absolutely ridiculous. I’m happy to report I escaped college without a spouse, lived on my own for quite sometime, and found my husband in Washington state, and din’t get married until the ripe old age of 27. Shocking, I know.

  89. I have two teenage daughters and dread the thought of either marrying young, defined arbitrarily by me as younger than 24-25. In 2010 one of their cousins, in Utah, got engaged over Christmas break to a guy she had dated for about a month. The cousin was 18 and a senior in HS while her fiancee was a 23 yr old RM BYU student. (why he was trolling Provo HSs for dates is a mystery to me, but I did not attend BYU and am unfamiliar with the dating scene there.) They got married a few months later during her HS spring break in a Utah temple. A few months later, and before she graduated HS, she was pregnant for a second time-miscarried the first time. Earlier this year she delivered a healthy baby, financed by Utah taxpayers.

    Much to my relief, my two daughters were completely creeped out by the whole thing and their ick factor went off the charts when they learned she was pregnant. Ths they are in no rush to repeat this mistake and seem firmly comimitted to finishing college-undergrad at least-and,hopefully, missions before marriage. A lot can change, to be sure, but thanks to the awful decision making of my niece, I have additional rhetorical ammo to use with my daughters.

    From what I observed, nobody in Utah tried to slow things down: parents, Bishop, or SP. I suspect if they had not married in a temple, there would have been someone saying “what the hell are you two thinkin?!?!”

  90. rbc (89) I’m creeped out by that as well. 5 years is such a huge age difference at those ages too.

  91. You know, one could use statistics and personal anecdotes to support an argument against single motherhood or divorce and make snarky remarks about those people’s reliance on government assistance, but that would probably make one a jerk.

  92. Single mothers and divorcees don’t need the snark of the general membership though–they get all the snark they can handle from the administrative body of The Church. As an added bonus, they even are subject to such rank snark/ comments about “self-reliance” whether or not they even utilize public assistance. Hooray!

  93. hawkgrrrl says:

    I agree with the OP that raising men who view commitment as status and a rite of passage is one of the best products the church has to offer. The church does a pretty good job with men in general. With women, not so much.

  94. Hello! This is an awesome blog, very interesting and smart!

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