Did any of you catch the recent “Princeton mom” flap? Princeton alumna Susan Patton, in an open letter to women attending Princeton, advised that they should find a husband in college–otherwise they’d wind up divorced from a not-very-smart man they’d meet later in life. (Ouch!) Then Kathleen Gerson fired back, countering that it’s objectively better for young women to marry later in life.
And then Ross Douthat turned it into an opportunity to slam liberal elite academia, which I admit may have been the highlight of the whole thing.
Debates like these intrigue me because my husband and I married young–he was 21, and I 20 on our wedding day. Our oldest child was born a year and a half later. We did indeed meet in college (although not at Princeton), and I’ll tell you that after nearly eleven years of marriage, I hold no regrets about wedding earlier than most. In fact, I’m quite glad for it.
Still, I’d never envisioned or planned on being a younger-than-average bride, and I certainly wasn’t in a rush to lock down a smart husband for fear of getting stuck with an intellectually-inferior neanderthal. More than anything, I hoped to eventually find someone who was a good match, a man who would make a good husband and a good father, someone with whom I enjoyed spending time. And, even though I really wasn’t looking at the time, Kevin was all of those things and more.
I know many will disagree, but it actually seems arbitrary and shortsighted to me to place such emphasis on age (or perceived intellectualism for that matter) when it comes to finding a suitable marriage partner. If a person knows they want to marry, why pass up a good option merely because you’re still a student? Especially when you consider the existence of ? Or, why settle for someone less-than-desirable because you can’t bear the thought of not finding a mate in college?
Part of the problem with that line of thinking (and what I believe these two women miss in their respective assessments) is that there is no magic age that determines if the union will last. On the contrary, marriages last when two people are committed to remaining married. Through better and worse. Through disinterest and ambivalence. Through babies and moves and doubts and crises of faith and life. Through all of it.
No doubt Kathleen Gerson would tell me that I severely limited my options on that warm June afternoon in 2002. In fact, I probably was the stereotypical young-and-in-love bride she tells women not to be–filled with youthful optimism and hope for the future, I walked down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon in D and joined my life to another’s. And, I never looked back. Maybe it’s because I was young, but I didn’t worry about the things I’d miss out on or about waking up disillusioned one day. I knew what I was choosing. I was certain that this marriage was the right thing for us. And while I’m no ivy league graduate and have only been married ten-plus years, I’ll tell you that if I were marrying today at age 31, I would pick my husband all over again. For sure. So it’s worked for us, but not because we were young, or because we were old, or because we’re both Princeton grads, but because we made an informed decision based on shared values and God’s leading. Because we both believe marriage is a sacrament. Because of God’s grace and love.
Let’s face it: at the root of all this chatter about what women ought or ought not do is secular society’s conflicted and uneasy relationship with the institution of marriage itself. People are no longer comfortable with the idea of one man and one woman pledging forever to one another in order to love and raise a family, and they don’t understand what it ultimately means to be a husband or a wife, or a man or a woman. And thanks to the wholesale acceptance of artificial contraception several decades ago, the very purpose of marriage has been reduced to Something That Makes You Happy. Until it doesn’t. And then you bow out, because what reason is left to stay together if children don’t really need both a mom and a dad, or if man and wife are not really one flesh before God?
Were I sitting at a table with Susan Patton and Kathleen Gerson (which I suspect I never will be), I would humbly suggest that marriage is a sacrament, a mystery, a holy institution created by God with the dual purpose of the procreation and education of children, and the good of the spouses. It is, as such, never to be taken lightly, and should also only be entered into after a period of discernment and prayer. Marriage is not merely another option on a bucket list that also includes a high-powered career and travel and obtaining a doctorate. It does not exist to oppress women or render them voiceless, nor should it be primarily viewed as a way for a woman to advance economically or socially.
And while age may be a factor in the future success of a marriage (as far as it relates to preparedness), I do believe there are more important and concrete things to focus on when discussing Holy Matrimony–and that unless marriage is understood for what it truly is, a difficult tension will always exist between the false ideal and the reality.
I mentioned earlier that I am glad to have married young. And it’s really, completely, utterly true. I know without a doubt that I would never trade the life we’ve built together to have had a year or three more of singleness and career development.
And so while I agree that there is an opportunity cost to every decision we make, I need only look at my husband and eight beautiful children to know I made the right one.