Is early marriage doomed?


A few weeks ago I mentioned the high school graduation of my 17-year-old daughter, Emily. In this post I will mention that, in 11 days, she is getting married. Remember my column about the boy who asked me a question about dating that sparked one of the most responded to WORLDmag.com debates of 2010? Yep, that's him.

Commence the tomato throwing.

But before you start in, know that the decision to allow this did not come easily.

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In February I read an article in The Wall Street Journal written by David Lapp. In it he argued that getting married young has its advantages. Granted, he married at 22 and at time of writing was a tender and understandably defensive 23. But he had some good points: Just because, statistically, marrying later seems to work better, is marrying young necessarily a harbinger of future marital disaster?

No, says University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, author of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. Although many young people are bucking the trend of marrying later and later, waiting until they are settled in their careers, have the money to buy a home, or are otherwise "set up" to marry, Regnerus says having life planned out perfectly beforehand doesn't necessarily lead to a long and fulfilling marriage.

In his article, Lapp quoted Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of Emerging Adulthood, who said many of the younger set delay marriage because they want time to be independent and to live alone and without the responsibilities of a spouse.

Regnerus concurs: "In a society that values its independence above all things, marriage is going to take second place." This begs the question: Does some ethereal, society-dictated "independence" actually mean anything? Is higher education, career building, and "me-time" a reason to delay a God-given institution, one that calls for just the opposite, a laying down of lives?

All these are questions one considers when his or her 17-year-old daughter falls in love.

What, then, is a parent to do?

A 2010 Barna study reports that, for teenagers, marriage is eclipsed in priority by college and career goals, a "getting-to-know" God checklist, and international travel. Marriage, shackled to its "ball and chain" stereotype, falls well into third place on a teen's priorities.

Is a parent-a Christian parent then-to underline the culture's priority, or do we dare riskily embark on another, lesser-marked path? One that isn't about statistics or means or mediums that say those who marry young are doomed, but is about the raw and uncertain that is marriage?

For my husband and me, we've chosen the latter. Emily's fiancé is everything we would have wished for her. But should we have them wait for 10 years to make absolutely, positively sure they aren't making a mistake?

I don't think so. Marriage is, like C.S. Lewis' Aslan, not a tame lion. Despite the books and the seminars and the blogs written to help us navigate the dangerous pathways, sometimes you just have to say a prayer, raise your sail, pull up the anchor, and set off.

For my girl and the one God has given her, I choose to crack the champagne over the bow of the marital ship, wish them "bon voyage," pray for a safe but wildly delightful passage, and most of all, Godspeed.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.


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