Marriage Red Flags: Too Young or Too Soon

Last week, Jodie Paterson made an intriguing comment on my post about marriage. She suggested divorce has become ‘normal’ because people get married too soon in the relationship. I found this idea interesting, since people usually point to people getting married at too young an age as a high risk for divorce. While age certainly plays a part, perhaps the length of a courtship has an even larger influence. 

Back in my days as a self-proclaimed dating expert, I did a lot of research on dating statistics. Around the web, I still see the same number. The average American couple dates about 2.5 years before proposing marriage. Various articles around the web claim that the likelihood a couple will get married decreases with every year that passes beyond that point. Perhaps that’s why some of the women I’ve met say they have an 18-month limit. If they date a guy for that long and they haven’t at least discussed marriage, the guy is out the door.

Having been in a relationship for 5.5 years, that time limit just seems crazy to me. I don’t understand why people put a time limit on marriage anyway. To me, marriage is one of those things that happens in its own time. Don’t get me wrong; I do want to be married someday. I just don’t feel like I need to be married right now, nor do I don’t want to pressure my boyfriend into a marriage he doesn’t feel ready for, nor do I want to do the same to myself. All in good time. There’s no rush.

This photo, “”bride with a mirror” is copyright (c) 2014 mahmoud99725 and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “”bride with a mirror” is copyright (c) 2014 mahmoud99725 and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

There is a lot of pressure to rush, though. My boyfriend and I had been together for less than a year the first time someone asked when we were getting married. Many people I meet seem amazed to hear we are unmarried despite the length of our relationship.

Where does that pressure to get married come from, anyway? Sure, people may casually ask when you’re going to get married and even act surprised if you’ve dated for a long time without getting married. Is that really enough pressure to push people to marry before they’re ready? My parents rarely give voice to their desire to see me married, so maybe I don’t understand the pressure others are under. In other households parents may be louder about their desires to see their children married.

That still doesn’t make sense to me. How does a person make what is supposed to be a permanent, life-long decision based solely on their parents’ opinion? Or is the motivation factor seeing everyone else getting married? For me, going to four wedding over one summer, two of which I was in, was enough for me to happily proclaim I was not ready for marriage. Watching marriage after marriage through a Facebook feed might make you want to join the fray, but that summer was just too much.

All around, marriage is an intense endeavor for anyone at any age. The red flags I hear over and over are age and cohabitation. Now I wonder, are we possible looking at the wrong thing. The internet is full on information on how to get someone to propose, how long you should wait for a proposal and what to do if you don’t get a proposal as soon as you want it. Maybe we’re focusing so much on getting married and not enough on having a good, healthy relationship.

When I think of marriage, I imagine it being little different then dating the same person for life. You still have to work at the relationship, to make each other feel valued and important. If, as soon as the rings are on the fingers, all effort falls away, the relationship is destined to fail. What is the point of dating someone to see if they are ‘the one’ only to marry them and find out it was all a ruse. Furthermore, what’s the point of the ruse. The wedding? If that’s all it’s about, count me out.

The older I get, the happier I am that I’m not married, yet. Marriage is something I want, but not something I intend to rush. Who knows, maybe I’ll avoid all the stress by eloping. That won’t piss off too many people, right?

What do you think about the idea that the divorce rate (which has been steadily falling) is partly due to marrying too soon in a relationship? How long did you date your partner before marriage? If you’re not married, are you on a timeline? Do you have an age you plan to be married by? What will you do if you don’t reach that goal?

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38 thoughts on “Marriage Red Flags: Too Young or Too Soon”

  1. My husband and I “dated” for seven years before finally getting married. In fact, we eloped. But I don’t think at all that that has been what has kept us together for the subsequent 17 years. We never went through marriage counseling, either. That doesn’t mean we have a perfect relationship. We don’t. But we DO have an understanding that we are not quitters for the best interest of our kids. Not romantic at all, but it works!

    1. I think the things that keep a relationship together are those unromantic things. Commitment can be hard sometimes. I remember a preacher in a liberal church saying something great about marriage and love. He admitted that there might be days where you wake up and don’t feel love. However, having been married, having committed yourself to this other person, you’re obligated to work on it and discover what made you love them in the first place. No relationship is perfect and some should be dissolved, but I think a lot of marriages would survive if both people in the relationship had a bit more determination and selflessness.

      Also, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you put “dated” in parenthesis?

      1. It was more hanging out than anything. We never lived together prior, but it was not formal dating in the strictest form of the word. We were more friends and pals than romantic partners from the get-go.

  2. I think some people place too much emphasis on marriage and not enough on the relationship. I’ve certainly known people so intent on marrying their boyfriend / girlfriend that they ploughs on with it even though there were difficulties in the relationship, a lack of common ground or shared values or goals, and unsurprisingly it’s continued to place a strain on the marriage. I think the investment has to be in the relationship and if that succeeds then marriage (if that’s important to both people) naturally arises as a consequence of having built that solid and stable foundation. I got married at 20 (husband was 21) and so we experienced many naysayers telling us it wouldn’t last. However, here we are together 21 years later, married for 18 of those, and we are probably the most happily married couple we know. But that’s because we were together for enough time before we married to tease out all those things, big and small, that could either bind us or cause friction in future. Age was irrelevant but a strong commitment to the relationship was not. I hope my response makes sense. It’s always a challenge to articulate something based on lived experience and have it translate to others.

    1. “Age was irrelevant but a strong commitment to the relationship was not.”

      Perfect. There are things that the numbers say make a marriage more or less likely to succeed, but every relationship is different. I think you hit the nail on the head. If you don’t mind me asking, how old were you guys when you started dating?

  3. What do you think about the idea that the divorce rate (which has been steadily falling) is partly due to marrying too soon in a relationship?

    Part of it, I believe, that it’s become less stigmatized than it was years ago. It’s become easier to obtain one as well.

    How long did you date your partner before marriage?

    Two years.

    If you’re not married, are you on a timeline? Do you have an age you plan to be married by? What will you do if you don’t reach that goal?

    Sometimes these notions about marriage and timelines seem too clinical for me. I thought that marriage ought to be magical and that I’d know when it was time only when it was time.

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about marriage being stigmatized or how easy/hard it is to get. I never really looked at it from that perspective. It was just always something I felt young people felt a huge pressure to do.

      I agree on the idea of a timeline. Not only is that way more pressure than a person needs, but I imagine people would feel pretty bad if they’re not married by their ideal date. We don’t need to keep the idea of an ‘old maid’ anymore. Just get married when it feels right.

  4. My husband and I were together for 7 years before we got married. I was very nearly 30 when I got married and I know that I wouldn’t have been ready much sooner than that. I was engaged once before, years ago to someone whom, if we had married, would have ended up being an ex-husband by now. I think it’s different for everyone though, I know people who are perfectly happy in a marriage that came only months after meeting in their early twenties and I recently learned of a cousin who will be 42 when she gets married next year. Statistics may show a correlation between age and length of relationship in regards to divorce but I somehow doubt that it has a whole lot to do with it.

    1. I think it’s a combination of many things. Age age and length probably don’t relate to marriage success as much as maturity. It just so happens that the older a person is and the longer a relationship goes on, the more mature two people will be in that relationship. But then, not everyone reaches that maturity at the same time. When I look at my friends, I see two types of marriages: 1) people committed to each other, knowing full well it won’t always be easy but determined none the less. 2) People who are just oh so in love and are marrying a Disney fairy tale.

      I don’t think those who marry a Disney fairy tale make it far. Life is a little harder than that.

    1. I do like to think about the future in my relationship, that’s important, but it shouldn’t be a burden on the present. I mean, how can the future be anything if your relationship doesn’t have all it needs in the present?

  5. I’m happily married for a second time. My first marriage shouldn’t have happened. I was pregnant and was pressured by family to marry. We had dated for eight months and the marriage lasted for seven years and fought nearly everyday. After my divorce I entered into a five year relationship with a man who was lots of fun and a great companion, but not someone I’d want to marry–we both knew this.
    My now husband and I dated for 18 months before we married. He proposed at 6 months and I told him I’d marry him in a year. We’re happy all the time.
    Kudos to you for not rushing things. My oldest daughter dated her husband for 8 years and my younger has dated her fiancé for 5. They’re in no rush to marry either.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about all that but I’m happy it all worked out in the end. I hope that whole marrying due to pregnancy thing dies out soon. That just isn’t a solution to anything.

  6. “If you’re not married, are you on a timeline? Do you have an age you plan to be married by? What will you do if you don’t reach that goal?” I used to have a timeline. I wanted to be married by my mid to late twenties then have children by my thirties. I would have probably become very sad had I not reached that goal…which I most likely will not. I do not know how long I will date someone before marrying him. Like we’ve talked about, I figure I’ll know when the time is right. If that’ s in a few years, great! If it’s in a decade or so, that’s fine too. Great post, TK. 🙂

    1. Yep, I’m in the same boat. I admit, I might be a little sad if I make it far into my 30s and I’m not married. Then again, who know how I’ll feel when I hit 30. Maybe I’ll still think I’m too young. It will all happen when it should.

  7. Ooh, a great piece! I’ve just written a bit about the variety of marriage nowadays, fits in quite well! http://www.RebeccaWhenImPosh.com/weddings

    I think divorce is now more common just because it’s more ‘acceptable’ in modern day. Whereas before, divorce was most frowned upon, so it took a lot more thought before you actually did it. Nowadays, theres always that thought in the back of your mind – if it doesn’t work, we could just get divorced.

    I think it’s the same kind of thing with tattoos – 20 years ago, there was almost no tattoo removal treatment and it was taken a lot more seriously. Now, you know you can just pay a few hundred pounds and have it removed again if, after a few years you don’t like it.

    With the number of young people entering into religious ceremonies of marriage too, I think that also adds to the ease of divorce.

    It’s a horrible approach, and I genuinely believe marriage to be far more serious that what it is perhaps now portrayed.

    1. I don’t know that divorce is easy. As I said, the divorce rate has been steadily decreasing these past decades. That’s good sign. People don’t feel like that must get married anymore and are now allowed to think more about whether they want it or not.

      It’s interesting comparing rural areas to urban areas. Most people I know back home are married. I think a lot of people do it because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do. In the urban areas, there’s a lot less emphasis on marriage. Most people I know out here aren’t married even if they are in a relationship. They don’t mind waiting for the right moment. There’s no rush.

  8. I think getting married has to be at the right time and would be the most special moment in our lives. I don’t really have an age to get married, till I find the right one. I do think, however I would need to be in a relationship for a few years before I would even thinking bout getting married. If people have seen each other for a few months and they decided to get married, they may have fallen in love straight away but that still poses a risk.

    1. Yeah, it takes a little bit more than love to make a marriage work. Love is super important, but you have to have that commitment to love that person as they grow and change for the rest of their lives. We’re ever changing. Dating someone for a short period of time doesn’t give us a good idea of who they are today, let along who they’ll be tomorrow.

      1. That’s a great point, when I was with my ex girlfriend it was going really well to start of with and then when bigger subjects like having our own house or marriage gets involved, we just had too much of a difference in opinion. Also with work, it didn’t really work with the long drives and that so unfortunately the relationship ended. It’s a hard life lol

  9. I think that people who had low self-esteem tend to get married younger and faster, because they pretty much try to snatch up the first person they can because they’re sure that they wont get another proposal. . At least, that’s how I think I’ll end up…xD

    1. I guess that’s one way to look at it. I also think a lot of people get married fast because they want to have sex and figure they’re in love, so why not. I think part of the reason the divorce rate is going down is because people no longer feel pressured to be married before living together or having sex. They’re able to explore all of the relationship before making the decision.

      I know some people with rather low self-esteem. I actually think they won’t get married at all. A potential partner may just say they don’t want to get married and, fearing being alone, they’ll stay in the relationship with no hope of marriage because they don’t think they could do better. I promise you though, being single is far better then settling for someone.

  10. I think the divorce rate is complicated, and has more to do with societal changes in general – specifically, I think changes in longevity have a lot to do with it. People had to be in more of a hurry when most of the population was going to die by forty and the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth was super high. Couldn’t stand your wife in the South or old West? Keep her pregnant, eventually it’ll kill her.
    I think the divorce rate skyrocketed in the sixties and seventies because people were like “fifty years?!? What the heck? We didn’t expect to live that long much less stay married.”
    Now it’s settling down because people are being more careful. Longevity is more expected and not such a strange novelty. So we are adapting to it.

    1. You know, I’ve never looked to much into why the divorce rate skyrocketed back in the day. Regardless, it was necessary. A man or woman in an abusive or unhappy marriage deserves to get a divorce without shame and continue their life. As we have realized we don’t have to marry to survive and we don’t have to marry for money, we’ve lowered the divorce rate. Less people are getting married too. I think some people just aren’t meant to be married. If that makes them happy, good for them.

      When it comes to marriage, I think society is changing for the better. People have more choice when it comes to who they spend their lives with and why.

    1. That seems flawed though because, also in most cases, people remarry someone very much like the person they divorced. I think divorce today is more about just not wanting to work on the marriage when things get tough. That, or they just got married for the wrong reasons to begin with. Luckily, the divorce rate has been steadily declining, so we’re headed in the right direction.

  11. I’m intrigued by the idea too and think it likely has merit. I don’t think you can completely say it’s the length in the relationship more than age, though. It could be argued that the older you are, the more experienced you are and thus the more able to determine compatibility in less time. My MIL told me when we got married very young that the reason so many young marriages fail is because people do a *lot* of changing through about age 27 and people can’t handle it. Her advice was that if we could handle each other changing, we could make it.
    Well… here we are 21 1/2 years later! To answer your questions, we dated for a little over 6 months before getting engaged (as HS Juniors!) , which we then kept secret for almost a year. We got married at 18 after one semester of college (I was a month away from 19). We had dated for 2 years and 2 months. We’ve now been married for over half our lives!
    Keeping her comment about change in mind was critical to our success. As was, I believe, the fact that we did not have any kids for nearly 8 years. When our first child was born, she nearly ripped our marriage to shreds. The only thing that kept us from giving up on each other was knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that our relationship was strong and thus could survive this.
    In other words, success or failure in marriage is due to a wide array of factors, and yes, I think getting married too early in a relationship is one possible factor for some people.

    1. I think how we view change is a big deal. If you think getting married will make you or the other person act differently, you’ll be disappointed. If you think the person you’re marrying will never change, you’ll be disappointed. To me, getting married is simply a commitment to dating forever. You have to forever pay attention to the small changes and forever be there for them. More than anything else, you have to understand marriage is hard at times and do what you can to push through.

      I also think you were smart to wait on having kids. There’s no need to rush that milestone either.

  12. I agree with the mounting pressures of marriage! I think that in today’s society, so many people are fixated on the idea of marriage rather than valuing the relationship itself…Finding someone you can share that special connection with outweighs the concept of marriage…after all it is just a legal agreement and nothing more…I think anyway!

  13. I have been with my boyfriend for 9 years and we seem to have gone past the marriage asking question stage. (Hurrah!) It happened a lot the first couple of years out of uni, but now people seem to be accepting that it’s just not a big deal for us. My three friends who are engaged/married have all been with their partners for 9+ years, so I see more people taking it slowly than rushing in!

    1. Yeah, people don’t bug me too much about it anymore – unless I bring it up. Once I brought up the fact I wasn’t in a rush to my mom and she seemed disappointed. I still feel so young. I have a feeling I’ll always feel young when it comes to marriage, though. It’s such a huge step and there are no guarantees. You just have to take the plunge and hope it works out.

  14. My boyfriend and I are high school sweethearts, and have been dating for 2-1/2 years. He is 21, and I am turning 20 this October. Things have been going extremely well for us, I am happy to report. We are planning on getting married at some point in the future, I’m pretty sure. We talk about it from time to time, and even talk about how we plan to raise any children we might have and how awesome it will be to get to retirement together. We also joke about how we bicker like we’re an old married couple, and agree we’re on the right track.

    However, we’re not getting married or having kids anytime soon, and we have discussed that as well. My boyfriend very reasonably wants to wait until he has his career as an electrician going, so he can afford a ring, a house, and a pregnancy after the marriage. And I am more than happy to wait.

    I think marriage is something that isn’t for everyone, but I know it is something I want to do. I am not going to lie, I get very excited and even tear up a little when I imagine my boyfriend proposing, but I know it is something that needs to happen in its own time, and meanwhile, our relationship is very strong. I think marriage should only happen when a relationship is mature enough to go to “the next step” as it were.

    1. I don’t think affordability is a big deal because, if you want, there are cheap ways to get married (it’s not a big deal to me. No problem with wanting to raise money for all that. Very reasonable in fact). What I think is more important is life experience. No matter how long people have been dating, people should wait until they’ve had a job outside of college for a year or two before marrying. It’s just about having life experience. You only know so much of the world through the filter of high school and college. Getting a job after that and living life a bit is what will show you want you really want out of a relationship.

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