The Case for Marrying Young

In Committed*—*her memoir about attempting to make peace with marriage—Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert writes that you are two to three times more likely to get divorced if you marry in your teens or early 20s. Approaching her first marriage “at the totally unfinished age of 25, much the same way that a Labrador jumps into a swimming pool,” she outlines how youth makes us “more irresponsible, less self-aware, more careless and less economically stable.” A very poor cocktail for making sensible, life-altering commitments.

But in the back room of a questionable pub at a punk gig—with just 16 years under my belt and without my brain fully developed—I made a judgement about someone that I would stick to for 16 years to come. Somehow, with the stats stacked against us and with the occasional patronizing shake of the head from a skeptical relative, we have endured. We are not the only ones, either, even though—officially—a Future Foundation study found that the last decade when childhood sweethearts survived in any noticeable numbers was the 1960s.

It takes more than two hands for me to count the couples I know that met as teenagers. Obviously, it would take many more hands to count the ones that broke up, but the point is that childhood sweethearts are not quite the rare, disastrous breed the official stats would have us believe. If anything, the secret to my relationship is not—as my housemate predicted—my compatibility, but the fact I have known my husband for such a long time. I can recall the color of his first car, the oversized second-hand blazer he wore to his 21st birthday meal, the band posters he had peeling off his walls. I was stood next to him at his favorite gigs, at our own gigs, at his graduation, on completing his first half marathon, on the day I got my first job, at his dad’s funeral. Aside from our son’s, the curve of his hand in mine is the only one familiar to me.

The Marriage Foundation recently found that couples that meet online are six times more likely to get divorced, which they attributed to “marrying as relative strangers.” Apparently, “gathering reliable information about the long-term character of the person you are dating or marrying is quite obviously more difficult for couples who meet online without input from mutual friends or family or other community.” The fact that I know my husband’s mum always apologizes when presenting us with the most delicious meals, and my husband knows that my dad likes to experiment with recipes he has found on YouTube, is actually important stuff when it comes to the resilience of a relationship. Not only do we know each other really well, we know each other’s families, too, creating a transparent basis from which to build a healthy union.

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