Marry Young

Marry Young

When my classmates find out that I’m married, they usually ask me two questions: “How old are you?” and “Why did you marry so young?”

Although I’m now twenty-four, I got married as a twenty-two year old undergrad. I then bid farewell to my dorm in Roble and moved into a cozy apartment beyond EVGR with my wife. I have found that most of my classmates are convinced that marriage is in their future, yet they are quite surprised that I married so young. While it’s difficult to exercise control over any timeline, I’m a strong advocate for getting married young, especially at Stanford where young marriages are most uncommon. 

In the field of marriage studies, some researchers distinguish between earlier (cornerstone) marriages and later (capstone) marriages. Let’s call these “startup” and “merger” marriages, respectively, to cater to Stanford’s culture. Generally, startup marriages are between partners in their mid-to-early twenties, while merger marriages are between those in their late twenties or thirties. Like a startup, earlier marriages allow for more flexibility in the co-creation of the partnership. Both parties are young, may have little in terms of financial assets, and bring with them emotional baggage, habits, or lifestyle expectations that could create and compound friction in their relationship. They grow together, building their lives around one another rather than trying to cram the other into what is already built.

Today, merger marriages are more common for Stanford students, as they are much more prevalent in general. In the United States, the median age of first marriage is thirty for men and twenty-eight for women. Rather than growing together, newlyweds must integrate two established lives, careers, finances, and expectations. But as decisions accumulate and habits form, it becomes increasingly difficult to find someone who can fit into your life. These decisions are like the ingredients of a salad, and when finding a spouse, they are all forced into the same bowl. They cannot escape the integration, no matter how bitter the kale is.

One side effect of these merger marriages is that the marriage is seen as an achievement—something to be acquired on the ladder of success—and we know how much Stanford students enjoy chasing success. But this framework is dangerous. First of all, it encourages a highly individualistic, trophy-hunting mentality that conflicts with the selflessness required in a committed partnership. After a wedding, the level at which you must measure your decisions shifts from the individual to the couple, from “I” to “we.” Life can no longer be all about you; you now have another person who is affected by every choice you make. Your spouse now demands your attention and votes on your decisions. 

Second, viewing marriage as an achievement implies that one must obtain a certain level of success before tying the knot, and that the wedding is a communication of that success. As a result, marriage rates for the least-educated and working class have declined the most of any group in recent years. They sidestep marriage altogether as they work to accumulate enough wealth and success for their dream wedding, fixated on that “trophy” mentality. If it’s an achievement, it needs to be a fantastical celebration—Crazy Rich Asians-esque. This is perhaps why the average U.S. wedding costs between thirty and forty thousand dollars. If you’re spending almost as much as a year of Stanford tuition for a single party, ask yourself why—especially when the price of a wedding and the success of the marriage are inversely correlated

Even if you find the perfect spouse and throw a wedding for the ages, you are then immediately confronted with the decision of childbirth. Although the average age for first time marriages has risen steadily since the 1960s, women who hope to bear children face a fixed biological clock. It is telling that pregnancies for women aged 35 and over are labeled “geriatric.” Those who marry later in life will not have as much time to enjoy the freedom and intimacy of being married and childless. A later-in-life marriage means less time with your partner before you embark on the challenge of raising kids together.

But suppose that you don’t want children. Although I’d encourage you to reconsider, consider the following benefit of marriage: two incomes. A DINK (dual-income no-kids) lifestyle simply rocks and may be the only way a couple could afford a home in Palo Alto. If you want to pursue something risky like starting a business, your spouse is there to help hedge your risk. With or without children, young marriages provide financial stability and security.

After I got married, I was astounded by the psychological relief I felt because of the newfound stability in our relationship. Overnight, my wife went from being just my girlfriend to a member of my family. Dating is inherently unstable; one party can end the relationship at a moment’s notice and both can move on with relative ease (although in my case, only after a lot of post-breakup ice cream). Marriages can also end, but the difference is the covenant we make with one another. Along with the countless social, financial, and emotional benefits that marriage provides, it brings a tangible sense of commitment to a loving partnership. 

At Stanford, we are trapped in a culture which asserts that success in one’s career creates stability. Stability, however, is not found in mere monetary achievement or fame. Rather, it is found in the lasting relationships we make with one another, especially young marriages. Perhaps it is the stability from marriage that creates success—not the other way around.

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