I planned on getting married by the time I turned 20. I'd dated the same boy for over a year, I'd been close friends with him for seven years, and it all made sense. He knew which rings I liked. Our families and our church were on board. Everything was perfect. And I was miserable.
I'd spent all of high school looking forward to the freedom of college, and suddenly I found myself semi-permanently attached to a boy and a plan. I kept thinking about opportunities I'd be missing out on… and worrying he might not be the right person for me. So I ended things.
Eight years later, I'm still not married. I'd tell you it's been awesome, but you probably wouldn't believe me. Society, and particularly the church, seems so uncomfortable with singleness. By the time we hit quarter-life, friendly faces are ready to pair us off at any moment, as if being single necessarily means we're incomplete. Some even come at us with warnings that we'll become "leftovers" if we don't find our mate soon. (Ask me if I've ever been called leftovers. I dare you.)
Then come the blog posts and articles, with stats and theories on why all our friends who ended up marrying their high school or college boyfriends got it right. The 2009 Christianity Today cover story, "The Case for Early Marriage," was just the beginning. This wedding season brought another bump in pro-early-marriage arguments in Christian publications and mainstream magazines.
In her popular article in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior encourages young adults to view marriage, not as the capstone, but as the cornerstone of our lives—an event that will allow us to form with our spouses. Her idea, put simply: Get married and grow up together as you grow old together. A piece in Slate and one in Newsweek similarly argued that we shouldn't wait until after we've "figured it all out" or "lived" before we tie the knot.
This line of thinking remains risky, presenting marriage as such a positive move for 20somethings when so many of them aren't ready. Surrounded by proponents of young love and young marriage, I felt a pressure beyond my years to make a commitment, and I am so glad I didn't give in to those expectations, having grown up and grown closer to God in the years since.
Sure, plenty of Christian couples marry young and go on to have strong, happy marriages. We can celebrate those well-matched young ones, whether they were especially mature or simply lucky to have found one another. But that doesn't mean that young marriage should become the biblical model for the church, particularly when we can't guarantee all will share their fate.
Immature Christians who marry too early may just find themselves in immature marriages instead of immature singleness. Some women who say "I do" right out of college soon discover that their husbands aren't adults yet. Lacking work ethic, maturity in faith, and growth may be easy to hide in undergrad, but blaringly obvious in the real world. While the demands of mortgages, bills, and babies, force them to man up, the growing pains that accompany the process may put unnecessary strain on a young marriage.
Pushing early marriage also has spiritual implications. We're the generation of leavers, stepping away from the church, and our faith, in droves. Much of this leaving is happening after college, right around the time we're expected to get hitched. For me, it seems wise for Christians to spend some time strengthening their own faith, and then look for a mate who's done the same.
The statistics about the sex lives of single adults, including single Christians, are grim. According to a recent study in Relevant magazine, 80 percent of Christian singles in their 20s have had sex, and 64 percent had done so in the past year. By age 20, 25 percent of single women in the general public have cohabited, but by age 30, 74 percent of women have done so.
So yes, early-marriage champs, the longer we stayed unmarried, the greater our chances of sexual screwups. You win on that one. But sex isn't enough to hold up an argument for early marriage (though we hear it again and again). Single Christians have the opportunity to throw the curve—to demonstrate that a life devoted to honoring Christ is in fact possible outside of the binds of marriage.
Exercising restraint and resolve to live a biblical singlehood speaks volumes to our fellow single men and women who treat sex as a casual thing. Living out Christian singlehood might also instill a bit of hope in the hearts of our nonbelieving friends; hope that there is more to life in your 20s and 30s than sex on the first date and late night booty calls. And trust me, folks, God is sovereign in our singlehood.
Marriage isn't the solution to the immaturity of today's 20somethings. We don't become grownups by putting a ring on it. My prayer for my generation is that we can grow into more mature followers of Christ, living as brothers and sisters in the faith as we walk through this journey.
God doesn't give us a timeline for when we need to marry; never do we reach cutoff point and become "leftovers." As far as marriage goes—perhaps it's okay that it comes a little bit later…don't you think?
Ashley Moore is the assistant editor for Christianity Today's ChurchLawAndTax.com. She regularly contributes to Today's Christian Woman, blogs at "Caffeinated," spills on herself at least twice a day, and has developed very strong feelings for her snooze button. Follow her on Twitter: @ashgmoore.