The Case for Early Marriage
(2) Immaturity: Even if economic security is not a concern, immaturity and naïveté often characterize young marriages. While unlearning self-centeredness and acquiring a sacrificial side aren't easy at any age, naïveté may actually benefit youth, since preferences and habits ingrained over years of single life often are not set aside easily. Let's face it: Young adults are inexperienced, but they are not intrinsically incompetent at marriage. So they need, of course, the frank guidance of parents, mentors, and Christian couples.
Women, however, do tend to exhibit greater maturity earlier than men. As a result, it shouldn't surprise us when a young woman falls in love with someone three, five, even ten years her senior. Indeed, two of the finest marriages I've recently witnessed exhibit nearly a dozen years' difference between husband and wife. While there are unwise ages to marry, there is no right age for which we must make our children wait. Indeed, age integration is one of the unique hallmarks of the institutional church, tacitly contesting the strict age-separation patterns that have long characterized American schools and universities.
One common way that immaturity reveals itself is when parents or children make marriage into another form of social competition or sibling rivalry. Modern adolescence and young adulthood read like one contest after another: the race to win in sports, to get good grades, to attend a prestigious college, to attract the best-looking person, to secure that coveted job. Where does it end? Not with marriage. Even college students who wish to marry are painfully (or proudly) aware of the "ring by spring" competition. Marriage becomes equated with beautiful, successful people. Weddings become expensive displays of personal and family status. Clergy often get caught in the middle of this, and feel powerless to contest it. My father, a minister, told me that he'd rather "bury people than marry people."
Such is the pressure cooker of modern weddings. None of this is good. Marriage is too important and too serious to be treated as yet another game to play, with winners and losers. It's a covenant of mutual submission and sacrificial love, not a contest of prestige, social norms, and saving face. A trend toward more modest weddings would be a great start.
(3) A Poor Match: Marrying early can mean a short search process, which elevates the odds of a poorer match. In the age of online dating personality algorithms and matches (see "Restless, Reformed, and Single," page 28), Americans have become well acquainted with the cultural notion that getting the right fit in a marital partner is extremely important. Chemistry is the new watchword as we meld marriage with science. Should opposites attract? Or should we look for common interests?
There is no right answer to such questions, because successful marriages are less about the right personalities than about the right practices, like persistent communication and conflict resolution, along with the ability to handle the cyclical nature of so much about marriage, and a bedrock commitment to its sacred unity. Indeed, marriage research confirms that couples who view their marriages as sacred covenants are far better off than those who don't.