Friday, July 31, 2009

Young pups in love

Forty-one years ago last March, when David and I went to get our marriage license, he had to bring a letter of permission from his parents. In California in 1968, a woman could marry without permission at age 18, but a man had to be at least 21. I was 19 and David was 20—though in the excitement of the moment, he forgot his age and told the clerk he was 18. Good thing he had that letter.

Twenty-one years later, our 18-year-old daughter Molly brought an entire choir to our Illinois home from Rice University in Houston, Texas. After the choir left, one young man stayed. As we were getting ready to sit down for Sunday dinner, Molly said, “Byron and I have something we’d like to discuss with you and Dad. Would you rather do it now, or after dinner?”

I gulped, thinking of only two possible conversational topics. “Now,” I said.

“OK,” said Molly. “We would like to get married as soon as we can support ourselves. We were thinking maybe next year.”

“Whew!” said David and I.

This was the first time we had met Byron, and at age 19 he had a lot in common with a half-grown yellow lab. We trusted Molly’s judgment, though—and besides, I had clear memories of my parents’ reservations about the young pup I had brought home when I was exactly Molly’s age and he, exactly Byron’s. “Are you sure?” they asked me (they thought his manners needed polishing, and they didn’t quite get his sense of humor). “Are you sure?” David’s parents asked him (they were concerned that I ate too much and that my bikini was too scanty). “Yes!” we both said, and all four of them kindly switched into supportive-parent mode.

I believe in young marriage. When I saw Mark Regnerus’s cover article in the August issue of Christianity Today, “The Case for Early Marriage,” I sat right down and read it, smiling the whole way through.

It makes sense to marry when your sex drive is strongest, your body is most fertile, and you’re young enough to adapt to someone else’s idiosyncrasies. That is, if you’ve figured out how to support yourself (or if your parents are willing to help), if you’ve met the person you want to spend your life with, and especially if you both believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment and are willing to take one another “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

It’s been twenty years since Molly and Byron made plans to marry, and 42 years since David and I did. Our two granddaughters are now teenagers. I don’t know if, in four or five years, they’ll be bringing home young pups for their parents to inspect. If they do, Molly and Byron, take a deep cleansing breath and—if you reasonably can—give them your blessing. If young marriage turns out as well for them as it did for you and for us, we’ll all be blessed.

P.S. Before you leave a comment pointing out dismal statistics about young marriages, be sure to read Regnerus's article. Also, the fact that I am for young marriage does not mean that I am against later marriage or no marriage at all. I have happily married friends who married for the first time in their 40s, 50s, and 60s; and I have happily single friends who intend to remain that way. My daughter Heidi wisely broke her engagement to her high-school sweetheart when she was 18. All I'm saying--and what I think Regnerus is saying--is that society, and individuals, can benefit when young marriage is a socially approved and supported option.


Anonymous said...

Amen to that! My mother was 17, my dad 20, when they tied the knot. There are plenty of divorces in the extended family, and I am the second wife to someone who perhaps married too young the first time. But society's supports and pressures make a difference. And although I married at age 33, I would have preferred being a truly young bride, had circumstances allowed.

Lileonie said...

I see why you would believe in "young marriages", but why not suggest that young people live together for a while before tying the knot? Or is that too radical a suggestion for this blog?

Could it not be that some young people race into marriage without knowing each other well enough?

Just wondering?

LaVonne Neff said...

L, some young people certainly do rush into marriage without knowing one another well enough, and for many, living together first seems to be a good idea. Oddly, research seems to indicate that in the US and the UK, prior cohabitation increases the risk of divorce, whereas in France and Germany, it decreases the risk. Weird.

Anonymous said...

In response to Lileonie--it's been my surprise to see many couples live together for years, finally tie the knot--and get divorced soon thereafter. Seems as though the knot tying changes the house rules somehow.

PS You gotta love the hornrims! You both do look young--those were the days.