The plastic colander smacked the wall and clattered to the linoleum, tottering unevenly on its side before coming to rest in the gaping silence between us...two people, separated by a distance much wider than the kitchen in which we stood.
I'll always be grateful that he ducked when he did, because my aim wasn't nearly as bad as my temper.
People sometimes give us a hard time for having gotten married so young. "How did you even know who you were at 22?" they ask. "Wouldn't it be better to wait until you were a more fully-formed person? How did you even know what you wanted in a spouse at that age? How could you possibly have been ready?"
Maybe these are valid questions. (A more valid question might be, "Shouldn't you have learned to control your temper before you got married?")
Had we been characters in a southern novel, one of us would have stormed out of the kitchen, slammed the screen door and stalked off into the woods behind the house, leaving the rat terrier bewildered and barking in the yard.
The reader might have doubted whether those characters were going to make it.
Yes, we were young. No, we certainly didn't know what we were getting into, and we probably weren't ready. And yes, I definitely should have learned to control my temper. (I'm still working on that.)
My suspicion, though, is that nobody ever really knows enough to be ready to get married, no matter how old they are. Marriage isn't something you are ready for ahead of time.
At 22, when I still thought I knew almost everything, I thought I was ready. I thought I understood marriage. I expected it to be predictable, expected that when we said, “I do,” we would stroll through a pair of grand double doors and enter a story that was waiting for us to take our place as its central characters. I didn't realize that before we could occupy our story, we had to write it from the beginning.
Why do weddings so often happen at the end of the book? Marriage is hardly the ending of anything…marriage isn't really anything at all when it starts. It's an idea we have, maybe, a set of expectations. A half-empty page on which we are about to start writing.
The story unfolds gradually. It's not all that romantic, actually. It's not all fuzzy soft-focus lenses and smiles and breakfast with fresh flowers on the table. No matter how compatible the characters seem on the premarital counseling quiz in the pastor's office, there are going to be conflicts. Sometimes it's an argument about who forgot to buy more toothpaste. Sometimes it's realizing that he has no idea how to clean the sink the way I want it to be done. Sometimes it's teething babies that keep us up all night or vomiting cats that ruin our carpet or broken down cars that need new engines we can't afford. Sometimes we forget we are supposed to be serving each other, and we get hung up on how difficult life is on our side of things.
Life is full of conflicts...how would we develop the plot without them? The challenge of getting married young is to figure out how to handle big problems as half of a couple when we don't yet know how to handle them ourselves.
Had we waited to get married, we would still have faced difficulties. It's the process of dealing with those difficulties that develops our characters and changes us into adults. It shapes us into better versions of ourselves, the grownup versions who know we can deal with hard things...not because we know the answers ahead of time, but because we have dealt with other hard things and survived to tell the tale.
Deciding to marry young is deciding to develop your character in tandem with someone else's. It's giving up the right to make all your own mistakes in isolation in exchange for the privilege of having company to share the pain when you screw up. You can't predict what bumps and trials and struggles and situations you are going to encounter. It won't always be easy, but the fortieth or fiftieth time you fold someone's socks for him or pick up his pajama bottoms off the floor and put them in the hamper, you learn that it isn't about easy. It's about the countless tiny sacrifices, the ones you make over and over, the kind that get on your nerves in the short-term but in the long term lay the foundation for a life of serving each other. Over time, it's those little sacrifices that smooth the rough edges of our characters, that form us into a pair, a team, a unit.
As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a sacrament, meaning that participating in it intrinsically changes something about us. We also believe that marriage is a vocation, a life calling. If we wait to answer that calling until we feel we are worthy of it, we will never get around to answering at all. Postponing until the perfect time, until you're perfectly the perfect version of you means you will be waiting forever. A marriage is something you grow into together, not something you enter into fully grown.
When you know are called, you know it.
As for the parts of the story you don't know, the things you can't anticipate or predict, you must do as good readers do and suspend disbelief. Leave room for the mystery inherent in the sacrament. Leave room for the characters to grow. Give the Author some credit and let the plot unfold, even if you can't see how the characters are going to evolve or whether they will be compatible in 20 years.
My attempt at assault by colander that night was just one mistake in a long line of mistakes I've made in our nearly twelve-year-old marriage. Through edits, backtracks and revisions, we have written a story that is full of ups and downs, challenges, frustrations, joys and triumphs. Without him, my character would certainly have turned out differently. Our decision to join our lives twelve years ago put us on a path together that has irrevocably intertwined us. Five houses, two cities, three foster children, two chronic illnesses, four rabbits, three dogs, four cats and three biological children later, we have been through a lot. If we weren't grownups when we got married, we certainly will be by the time the story is through.
Maybe marrying young isn't for everyone, but it was the right thing for us. I will always be grateful for the privilege of sharing a story with the one I love. Even though we don't know how it will turn out in the end, we have made it this far together, and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.
Abbey Dupuy is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom to toddler twins and a preschooler. She writes about parenting, practicing gratitude and celebrating the liturgical year with her young family at Surviving Our Blessings. In her spare time, Abbey enjoys running and going places that offer free refills on coffee or Diet Coke. She has also recently starting making rosaries.
Thanks, Abbey! Please check out the other guest posts in my On Marrying Young series.