The average age of first marriage in the United States these days is 28, which is totally insane to me since that is the age I am right now and I’ve already been married for eight years.
I was just 19 years old when I walked down the aisle and committed a lifetime to my partner, Dustin, and while that was undoubtedly one of the best decisions of my life, it’s also one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others. In fact, if our son comes home at 19 and says he’s ready to propose to his partner, I’ll probably fall out of my chair laughing.
Dustin and I had been dating for about a year and a half when he proposed. I knew that I wanted to spend my life with him. When I looked to my future, I couldn’t imagine building a household or having a child or (one day many years from now) burying my parents without him by my side, and it broke me to imagine him sharing those moments with some other woman. As the saying goes, I “just knew,” which is funny because at 19 years old there wasn’t much I actually knew. Like most 19-year-olds, I thought I knew it all, but I was so very wrong. Luckily I was right on this one.
Making the decision to commit to one another so young meant we gave up a lot. We gave up the “fun” single years of college. We gave up the financial security that comes with establishing a career before you establish a family. We gave up the trial and error that comes with dating around that perhaps spares you some frustration. We gave up the freedom to put our individual goals first like so many of our twenty something counterparts did before settling down. Despite these sacrifices, I would argue that for us, we have gained so much more than we gave up and in many ways this decision prepared us for parenthood in a unique way.
1. Everything we have, we built together.
When we got married, Dustin was working three jobs while I was in college full time and working more than full time. This crazy lifestyle was what we had to do to pay the bills each month and stand on our own two feet. There were months that ended with only change in our bank accounts, but the necessity to build a household together has helped us to feel like we are equally invested in our household. Neither one of us came into the marriage with much, so everything we have is literally what we have built together.
2. We essentially grew up together.
So much of figuring out who we are was done together. Dustin knows the innermost parts of me and has been able to journey with me through transition and growth and self-discovery. That process makes me feel infinitely closer to him. He also loved me at my silliest and in my youth and those are some great memories we share.
3. We knew what was at risk.
Our families were incredibly supportive of our decision to get married so young, more so than I will be should our kids follow our example, but we went into our marriage with our eyes wide open. We knew the statistics. We knew that divorce was on the rise, and we knew that couples who married young were at an increased risk for divorce. Having that knowledge going into the marriage was great- we weren’t disillusioned into thinking that there was “no way” we could be one of those numbers. We knew that it was possible, perhaps likely, and that we would have to fight for our marriage.
Because of these things, parenthood wasn’t a huge adjustment. Okay, that’s not totally true, but it’s true in the sense that we were not used to having nice things or lots of free time because we spent the first few years of our marriage busy working just so that we could pay the bills. We had also already artfully navigated so many “firsts” together that the “firsts” of parenthood were just more things to add to the list. When our little was plopped in our laps three and a half years into our marriage, we rolled with the punches and I think we’ve done just fine. And going into parenthood, like marriage, we knew what we could stand to lose if we didn’t keep our eye on the ball.
Most 19 year-olds aren’t ready for marriage; it just happened to work for us. I love my husband as wildly and so much deeper than I did on that day we said “I do” eight years ago, and for that reason I would choose this path over and over again if I had the chance to go back in time and start again.