Friday, May 30, 2008

The Cost of Delaying Marriage

By Rich Bordner

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Sometimes that gets me in trouble. But every once and a while, I think I have a point.

Marriage is a good thing. 1 Corinthians 7 notwithstanding (Many people take the "it’s good for a man not to marry" verse out of context. Plus, many miss that Paul was addressing a "present crisis," and he had celibacy--a lifelong state--in mind, not temporary singleness.), God calls the overwhelming majority of people to marriage and family. Only a select few people are called to celibacy, and like I just said, this is a permanent gift, not a temporary state.

Marriage is a challenge, so I’ve heard. I don’t doubt it. I’ve heard and seen enough to know that. But this is exactly what makes it good! It matures you and your spouse in a unique way that singleness cannot. That’s not to say that singles aren’t mature or that you should blatantly rush into things, but don’t put it off out of fear because it’s hard; that’s the thing you want to embrace the most.

Therefore, those who are called to marriage should prepare for it and pursue it. Be active! Don’t just wait for it to happen. Yes, God is sovereign and all things work out in His timing, but this doesn’t mean we just wait for it to happen. We believe God is sovereign over our jobs and careers, but hardly any of us just sit at home waiting for a job to fall in our laps. We get going! God’s sovereignty and His plan has never meant that we don’t have an active part to play. Marriage and relationships are no different.

Young adults today, in general, tend to delay marriage much more than young adults in ages past. The median age of first marriages has risen a little more than 5 years in the last 30 years.

For some of us, marrying later is not a choice. We try to pursue marriage, but it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. A guy asks a girl out, but gets turned down, because the girl either has astronomically high expectations that not even Jesus would satisfy or she’s waiting until her 30s to get married, wanting to "have fun" first. A girl earnestly desires to be a wife and raise a family, and she prays earnestly to that effect. If a guys asks, she’ll accept his invitation (as long as he doesn’t smell like fish, drive a windowless black van, live with his mom, and have that creepy cross-eyed look). But the guys--who want a girlfriend with the spirituality of Beth Moore, the voice of Rebecca St. James, and the looks of J.Lo--aren’t paying attention.

Can I get an amen!?

But, for countless twenty-somethings, marrying later is a conscious choice. More than any other generation, for various reasons, we delay marriage until our late twenties or thirties.

At first glance, those who adopt this lifestyle seem to get the best of both worlds. Build career now, travel, live in the city, go to Vegas every now and then, see the world, maybe serve the Lord in unique ways, get some extra education, then settle down, marry, and have kids. You can have it all!

But I gotta ask: is this wise? Is there a hidden cost to needlessly delaying marriage that we are blind to?

Well...yes.

The first one is perhaps the most obvious, and it is geared mostly towards women: ye olde ’biological clock.’ Sociologist Jean Twenge jokes about what she calls "women math:" "If we get married next year, I’ll be 32; we’ll want a year or two to be married without kids and it might take a year to get pregnant, so I’ll be 34 or 35 before I’m pregnant and probably 36 when the child is born. Then if we wait until the first kid is two years old before we try for another one, I’ll be trying to get pregnant at 38. Crap."

The other reasons are not so obvious, and they pertain to both genders.

You’d think that the longer you delay marriage, the happier you’ll be once you are married. We think this because we assume we mature as we get older in singleness. We think that singleness is a sort of "marriage incubator." But really, it’s not. Extended singleness can give wisdom to a select few, but research shows that as far as marriage happiness is concerned, the sweet spot for getting married is between 24 and 27. After that, happiness declines steadily with each year. Of course you can beat the odds...I’m just giving you the trend.

Mainly, we pretend that years of single living where we call the shots ultimately won’t have an effect on us. When we want, we’ll be able to settle down and love sacrificially just fine. When you are single, even if you have roommates, and even if you serve the Lord in many ministries, its nothing compared to marriage (so I’ve heard). When a friendship gets uncomfortable or inconvenient, or you just don’t like the person anymore, you can avoid them or stop hanging out with them. You can leave your roommates behind. You can change ministries. But you can’t run from your spouse! You simply cannot live as an "independent, free" individual in a marriage.

Lemme put it straight: The longer you live "independent and free," the harder it will be for you to adjust to a marriage. I’m finding this true even in dating. It’s a HUGE adjustment to me to think about another person to the degree I need to in this relationship. This will exponentially increase when I’m married. The thought patterns and life habits I’m struggling with are just the ones that I’ve ingrained in myself as a single man.

Ladies: age doesn’t necessarily guarantee maturity in a man. Yes, sometimes it does, but if you needlessly delay marriage, you might turn 30 or 35 only to find out many men your age have been hugely affected by their years of playing the field, going dirt biking with the bros on the weekends, and playing video games. That’s not a good formula for a husband. The ones who are good husbands now took that vocation seriously in their early 20s and got down to business. Sometimes, the guys who are still single are passive when it comes to marriage and they have been allowed to be that way.

Don’t misread me: I’m not saying that if you are single in your late 20s or 30s that it’s your fault or that you are immature (see the paragraph about marrying later not being a choice for some for evidence of this!)....someone is bound to twist my words--always happens--but, hey, I’m almost 30, and I’m single, so be realistic in interpreting my words. All I’m suggesting is that you can’t just turn off the independent living switch when you get married. It takes work, and turning off the switch is much, much harder when it’s all you’ve known for an extended period of time.

Bottom line: We are moldable when young, but as we age, we become "set in our ways." Many of these ways are antithetical to a happy marriage, and they become harder to shake off the longer we live in them.

So save yourself the grief...get going!

P.S--so, how do you "get going" without overdoing it? This is a great question that’s, unfortunately, mostly outside the scope of this blog. But, I can venture a few words: First, hang out in social circles where you will rub shoulders with co-eds who are serious about marriage. This species is shrinking in abundance in the church these days, but they are still around, so finding folks like this won’t be too hard. Second, get an older couple that can help mentor you in your maturity as a whole, including preparing for marriage. Third, guys, take chances. You don’t have to chase down every girl you see (such a habit will earn you a bad rep.), but really, put down the game console and grow up. Girls, keep high standards on the things that matter (i.e., do not entertain advances from men who aren’t dedicated followers of Christ), but be willing to give guys a chance who perhaps doesn’t fit your every whim. If it’s not "love at first sight" and you don’t get butterflies in your stomach, so what? Even though he’s not your typical height and even though he doesn’t have the voice of Josh Groban doesn’t mean he’s not your "soul mate" (a "soul mate" is a dubious concept anyway). Be open to God working in unexpected , non-Hollywood-movie ways. And, perhaps most importantly, put away the "Jesus is the only man I need/I’m just fine being single" talk. Guys will hear this and take you seriously. Meaning: you will continue to endlessly complain that guys don’t ask you out.

This should be enough to get you going.

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