Monday, August 12, 2013

On Marrying Young: Marriage is Hardly the Ending of Anything

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 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.


  1. Either I have heard the collander story before, or I have come to know you too well in writing, Abbey--I knew this was you right away. Great post--I might need to use some quotes at another time :-)

    1. I don't think I have ever publicly revealed that story before, Kelley. :-) I choose to believe it's somehow a good thing that colander-on-spouse attacks seem characteristic of me.

    2. It's definitely the writing style that I recognized (or thought I did) and then I thought maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was and that I had heard the story. I promise you don't immediately come to mind when thinking of people most likely to throw a colander :-)

  2. So well written and I love the reminder of making sacrifices to serve our spouses. Thanks for sharing and I will definitely be following your blog! :)

  3. Lovely post. I especially like this: "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."

    1. Thanks. I know some people really disagree with that idea, but for us, it's been born out in so many situations. Maybe we would have handled them differently as individuals, but since we were already married, we grew into those decisions as a team (with God as the other member of that team, of course). It's a different way of being than we often see in the world around us, I think.

  4. I loved it! Some additional thoughts: I don't think anyone will ever 'find themselves' until they make God part of the picture. In the increasingly 'me-based' culture around us, I think people automatically put everyone else, including the Lord, out of the picture. I think that can be... problematic. And I think it (at least partially) explains how people can't understand how you were 'ready.'

    Another thought: No matter how well you know yourself, and no matter how long you've known your potential spouse, you will never completely know them until after marriage. For that reason, it is intricately important to make sure the key, most important pieces of the two of you are in line, and then take the rest on faith. My husband and I are two VERY different people with very different opinions, but where it counts, we are on the same page. And that has really saved us a number of times. Additionally, I really was blessed that he didn't turn out to be a crazy (even though I am... :) ).

    Coming from a culture that notoriously marries earlier (I'll give you two guesses), I really have come to believe that age isn't as important to the success or failure of a marriage as our (often skewed) expectation of what marriage is. Just as you mentioned, when all children see about marriage is the idea that it is the 'happy ending,' as society often portrays, it's detrimental. Then, after marriage, when the magic is lost and disenchantment sets in and things get REALLY HARD, they aren't prepared for it, and the first impulse is to give up. I know; I've been there.

    Of course, maturity is an important factor, but I don't think maturity is necessarily tied to age. I know a few people who are in their fifties who still aren't mature enough for marriage. ;)

    I married when I was 22, too, and it was one of the decisions I'm most proud of. There have been a number of items flung across my kitchen, too -- but, just as you said, I think marriage is like having children: It is a means of preparation for Heaven, and not necessarily something that we must be (or even possibly can be) completely prepared for beforehand.

    The important part is to (except in extreme cases) just stick through it alongside one another, and work together to make it work.

    Sorry about that novel. I wasn't planning on it: promise!

    1. You're right on about leaving God out of the picture. If we had it all to do on our own, it wouldn't matter how "ready" we were or how "compatible" we were- there are just some gaps that can't be bridged through human willpower alone. That's where the idea that marriage is a vocation is so important. If we truly believe we are called to it, then we are stuck with it, the good and the bad...flying kitchen implements and all. :-) Thank goodness vocations come with a huge side helping of Grace, right?

  5. Beautiful! And just exactly right!

    I was 23 and a year out of college when we were married. Jonathan was 21 and had a year and a half left. I don't remember that anybody thought that our marriage was a good idea except for a friend of mine. Years later, I got in touch with her to thank her for her support. "Oh, I thought you were nuts, too," she said, to my surprise. "I just thought it was none of my business."

    It's 34 years later now—five children (one of whom died long before birth), five grandchildren, several dogs, disabling illness, and a conversion later. We're still here. :-D

    1. And THAT is inspiring. A story of how a marriage has survived the ups and downs of everyday life and endured through the most difficult times is worth more any day than a happily-ever-after fairy tale. So beautiful- thank you.

  6. Abbey, thanks for this story. I married at 23 to a man (boy?) I had dated for five years. We have certainly had our own ups and downs, but we've had them together and we've made the commitment to stay together.

    1. Rabia, I think knowing that backing out is not an option is part of how we keep backing out from being an option. :-) Here's to staying together for the ups and the downs...married life wouldn't be nearly as interesting without them, would it?

  7. I got married to my hubby when both he and I were 18. We're still going strong 7 years and 3 kids later, thank God :-)

    There will always be ups and downs in a marriage wether you're 18, 26 or 47. But how they're solved depends on, in my opinion, how God-concious the spouses are.


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