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Progressively Married at Twenty-Two

“So, you’re married at twenty-two? Why? That seems pretty young.”

This question, before several other logical ones, was the first asked on a phone interview for a nanny position in Austin, Texas back in the fall of 2011. I had just gotten married and I was looking for transitional work in between a disappointing stint at Anthropologie and what I assumed would be my big break. To be fair, this mother probably had little-to-no experience with conducting a professional interview, but nonetheless, the question she asked was jarring. I felt slightly electrocuted, initially. Immediately, I was in the position of having to defend a decision that seemed to have nothing to do with my qualifications as a nanny. In hindsight, when I think about where she was coming from, I mostly get it. This mom was reading my profile, saw that I got married right out of college, and suddenly she was picturing me with long fingernails and an ankle-length denim skirt. She’s imagining me teaching her daughter the dangers of book-reading and that belief in dinosaurs is an evil akin to murder.

Needless to say, I did not get the job. It was at this time that I realized that I was going to need a pre-packaged defense, and whatever it was needed to make me sound as normal as possible. Since moving to New York and starting a job in the television industry, I am asked the married-at-twenty-two question on an almost daily basis. Usually people ask it with a face that looks like they just ate a bug. A preemptive response has not really formed yet for me, so instead I tend to just respond with inaudible babbling and blatant sweatiness. It also doesn’t help that, at twenty-three-years-old, I look way younger than my age. I don’t know what exactly happened, but at the age of thirteen, my body was like I’m just going to camp out here until you’re thirty, and at that point I’ll just skip ahead to about eighty-three (I’m assuming this is what is going to happen, and I’m terrified).

When people ask me why I got married so young, they might also be wondering if it was difficult for me to plan a wedding while teething or if I had my blankey with me on our honeymoon. All of that aside, I’ve had a pretty long time to process this whole married-at-twenty-two question. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I even have to answer it at all. I am supremely proud of my marriage. My husband is brilliant, loyal, strong, patient, hilarious, handsome as a Disney prince, and he legitimately enjoys watching Project Runway with me. Through the six years that we dated, our relationship grew in maturity on a foundation of trust and patience. In terms of my decision to marry him, I am nothing but confident. Throughout our first year of marriage, it has become more and more clear that there exists a kind of quasi-prejudice against women who marry out of college. It’s not so strong that it keeps us from getting work (unless you want to be a nanny for that one lady’s kids, I guess) or that it infringes on any basic human rights, but it is enough to make me, and others like me, feel sort of dismissed.

I was reflecting on these feelings one day when reading an op-ed piece written by a woman in a similar situation. Her name is Lauren Ambler and she is also married at the ripe age of twenty-two. She titles her piece, I’m Married Young and I’m Ashamed of It ( married-young-and-i-m-ashamed-it), which struck me initially as a tongue-and-cheek way of saying some of the same things that I had been thinking. I thought this girl and I were going to relate, and I would give her a big high-five by way of the comments-section. Tragically, Lauren and I do not exactly relate. Having married her boyfriend under unique circumstances (he needed a visa to stay in the country), she is definitely not exactly like me, but in many ways she is. Like Lauren, I never fantasized as a child about my wedding or even about a husband. I also agree that seeing marriage as a goal is dangerous for women on both an individual and ultimately larger scale. I certainly understand feeling the need to convince my single friends that I am not going to fall asleep if we go get margaritas (I might, but I just have a really strong tequila response). I do sympathize with some of Lauren’s hesitations about the institution of marriage.

We easily recall a time when most women in America married at young ages (a large percentage, as early as nineteen-years-old), never to work towards goals outside of their own homes. If these women did work, it was to bide their time as they prayed against spinsterhood. Homemaking was revered as a woman’s great American duty. While I see absolutely nothing wrong with stay-at- home moms (I know several and they are some of the strongest women I know), I am happy to live in a world with options. Where I differ most with Lauren, apart from the fact that I totally disagree on her stance that marriage should be open, is when she calls herself a “child bride”. This is the thing that we millenials are constantly criticized for: that we prolong our childhood in a way that makes us helpless even at an age where we should be considered adults. I am not a child. My married friends of the same age are, by no means, children. We are adults who have made a choice, and we are sticking by it. Now, that being said, I do not think this is for everyone. If it exists, I will not be joining the Coalition to Increase Young Marriages (It doesn’t exist. I just googled it).

I think getting married young is largely a mistake for many for the same reasons that some would assume it is a mistake for me. We all know the potential damage that this could cause for a woman. She could drop all of her dreams. She could lose all of her friends. She could decide he’s a skeevy dirt-bag and suffer through a senseless divorce only to find that she has no support left. This kind of thing really does happen all of the time, and it is a shame. But certainly this is not a uniform fate for every woman who marries young. Certainly there are those of us who feel logically compelled to make this decision based on our lengthy commitment, our unfaltering love for our husbands, and our determination to pursue our passions alongside the ones we love, not despite them. You might call us the exception to the rule, but I don’t think I even like the rule to begin with.

American women are far more progressive than that. Being “single” and being a “spinster” are no longer synonymous terms. You can be a mom and an astronaut and a tattoo artist and a grad student four times over, and in all of that, you don’t have to marry anyone, and everyone is (or should be) totally cool with that. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who went before us and awakened the world to a new realm of legitimate options for women. All I ask is that you at least consider the legitimacy of my option as well. Could we be progressive enough to re-appropriate marriage-after-college to be a respectable choice instead of an enslaving fun-sucker? Are we that radical yet? It probably isn’t entirely fair to appeal to your sense of rebellion. Use that revolutionary instinct to tackle far more important women’s issues, like promoting economic justice and getting Lindsay Lohan back to her Parent Trap days.

Just let me, in all of my marriedness, come with you.

You can read more from Christy O’Shoney on her blog.

  • Mayan McDermott

    I’m married at 23 and most times, I feel like people are just waiting for us to fail–even though we dated for 4 years before getting engaged. It’s sad. Maybe it has to do with jealously, and the 5,000 blogs about hating your married friends… but I’ve been seriously hurt by some of the comments my friends have made about us.
    But, at the end of the day, I have never been happier (like, ever) and each day I spend with my husband gets better and better.

  • Tracey White

    I married at 24, and I don’t particularly remember anyone acting like that was odd. But it was 20 years ago. :)

  • Natalie Anne Brucken

    I was engaged at 23 and married at 24. I didn’t receive any “shock & awe” comments from my family or friends. It wasn’t until we moved to Portland, OR, I’m from Mass., that I started to feel the judgement. My new friends, specifically female, would make comments “jokingly” about how I was throwing my husband in their face and “rubbing it in” that I’m married. All I could think was, “Why have you made getting married your ultimate goal in life?” I didn’t get married to win some sort of competition, and certainly not to throw it in anyone’s face.
    What I have learned to do is chalk it up to jealousy/dissatisfaction with their own relationships and walk down the street proudly holding my husband’s hand flaunting my BEAUTIFUL marriage.
    Haters gon’ hate!

    • Emma Mueller

      I’m engaged right now, at 22, and I get so much hate/disapproval from friends, that I have chalked up to jealously. Glad (well, not glad glad) that I’m not the only one experiencing this. Haters really are gonna hate! Reading comments like this helps me to not care as much about what others have to say. So, thanks!

  • Shenaigh Dumais

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s business how old you are when you get married. I’m engaged and twenty four and many of my classmates (I’m doing my graduate degree) expressed their shock when they found out I was engaged. Young? At twenty four? Are you kidding? My mother had two kids (and me due within a year) by the time she was 25 and she didn’t fail at life, in fact she’s one of the strongest and successful women I know. So I think society should shut it . Who cares what other people are doing?

  • Amanda Person

    Enter internet high-five. I married at twenty. No, I was not a child-bride. No, I am not ashamed of my choice. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My husband and I have had seven years to grow together, learn more about each other and build the life that we see for ourselves. I wouldn’t trade that for years of dating, singlehood or whatever else is out there.

  • Mindy Credeur

    I married at 19! My husband and I are working (I say working, because let’s face it…marriage is work) towards our 11th year of marriage!!! We have had our ups and downs but nothing in life is perfect! We are happy and I wouldn’t change a thing! We are where we’re meant to be :)

  • Jenny Rauch

    I am 100% with you.
    My husband and I started dating when we were 18, got engaged right out of college and married a year later. I always feel the need to defend myself and use phrases like “We tried breaking up, it just didn’t take” and “Well, we had been together for 6 years before we got married, so…” but it had nothing to do with religion or fear or ending up alone or wanting to pop out babies immediately. I just wanted to be married to him. We are still individuals pursuing our own dreams and navigating our mid-20’s, we are just doing it with the the copious amounts of love and support that our marriage is rooted in.

  • Clare Louise Cullen

    Loved this! Im 25 and planning on buying a house with my partner of 5 years and I get the ‘but aren’t you very young?’ bit all the time! Best of luck with everything! X

  • Megan Beauchemin

    Good luck to you and your marriage, it seems like you both have your heads on straight. It really isn’t anyone’s business how old you were when you got married, I know people who got married super young and are still together, and I know people who got married older and have been divorced at least once. It has nothing to do with age, but rather what mindset you are in.

    The *one* thing I disagree with you on is this:

    “seeing marriage as a goal is dangerous for women on both an individual and ultimately larger scale.”

    Marriage WAS a goal for me, but not the only goal I have. I don’t see it as dangerous at all to have marriage as a goal, especially if you believe in the “tradition” of getting married and then having children (not to knock the single parent style, but that simply wasn’t part of my value system). Your whole life doesn’t have to revolve around finding a partner and getting married, but it sure was a nice goal.

  • Maggie Skarich Joos

    Great article. I didn’t get married until 30. Granted, I didn’t have a long line of potential suitors at my door at 22, but, in general, I’m really not a fan of marrying young. Experiencing life in my twenties without a husband was one of the best experiences of my life. I did date – some short-term, one guy for three years, but I also did SO much else that may not have been possible had I been “tied down.” I can safely say I was almost a completely different person at 30 than I was at 20 in every facet of my life, including what I looked for in a potential husband.

    I think that’s my fear of marrying young and while I will tell my kids to wait… Figure out yourself before you commit to someone else. I don’t doubt that you can find your soul mate in college, but if it’s meant to be he/she will still be there later in your life.

    It’s not that I don’t think a young couple can make it. I just wonder what they are missing out on. That said, I have a number of friends who married young that say they can’t wait for their late 40s when the kids are out of the house and they’ll have the money to go explore the world. Meanwhile, I’ll be seeing my guys through middle school at the time. To each his own!

  • Aelea Semenowich

    Totally love this! I got married at 22 as well and will be turning 26 this January. Getting married ‘young’ received a variety of comments– from positive with excitement to awkward with hints of ‘is everything ok, are you sure, what’s the REALY reason you are getting married?’. When I think of my life now I am doing more things with the support of my husband than I ever thought I could do on my own. I am taking more risks, experiencing more of life’s wonderful gifts and living a life of purpose and meaning I could have only dreamed about before my husband was in my life. To add to the craziness of general responses, I was working in Christian radio at the time which definitely brought about it’s own comments of ‘now you can have kids!’ comments! Good on ya, lady! I look forward to following your blog!

  • Amanda Maisonnave

    You know, a lot of the people who ask you why you got married so early probably genuinely wonder and don’t mean it as a judgement. If you don’t buy a house together or have kids, basically, if you don’t need to be legally tied together it is hard to understand why someone would take on such a big committement so young. Also if you don’t answer the question clearly it makes people think that you don’t have an answer or have a shameful one. Don’t give them the satisfaction and just tell them what you told us: you trust your choice and your relationship. Of course someone will rub the very ugly marriage statistics to your face, but you probably knew about those before you got married and still got married. Stick to this, as long as you are ok with your choice, There’s no one to convince.

  • Ashlee Diane

    I was married at 20 (was almost 21) and was in college at the time. I am now 29 and the whole ‘you married young,” thing has died down now that my peers are getting married. Many people still express surprise when I tell them how young I was, but at this point most of my peers are expressing envy and not incredulity. One thing I have learned is that people get married for different reasons. I got married for many reasons myself (including practical healthcare-type reasons). Yes, some get married because of their dreams that marriage will solve all of their problems and that they will live a fairy tale life (some grown-ass people think that too), but not everyone at that age thinks in terms of the fairytale (especially if they were there for their parents’ first year of marriage). Some of the fairytale people get a rude awakening when they realize they know next to nothing about the person they have married. Communication is key, as they say. The reality of marriage is that it takes work and it can be hard. However, with the right partner going through life with you and supporting you (and you supporting them) your age does not matter. Sense is not limited to those who are 26 and above, but realistic expectations have to be there no matter what age you are.

  • Carley LoFaso

    I was married at 21, almost 22. I have experienced some of the same things you are describing even after 5 years of marriage. People will say “YOU are MARRIED!!!?? You look like you are in HIGHSCHOOL!!!” Honestly the sentiment is just as annoying now as it was then. It has gotten a little easier now that I have some time on my side, though I shouldn’t need ‘proof.’ You can’t really do anything about other people’s judgements, assumptions or perceptions. I think the best thing to do is focus on what matters and let what people are saying go.

  • Barbro-Katrin Didriksen

    I feel like we in Norway are on a different wave length. It’s normal for 22-23 year olds to buy their own house, have kids, get married. Some of them even have stepkids. I’m 22 and still live with my dad (for the time being), no kids, only a boyfriend. While those around me are buying houses, getting married, having kids. I feel old for not having any of that, and still living with my dad. While they girls that I work with who is only 19 and 20 are buying houses with their fiancees. 22 is not young to get married in my opinion

  • Emily Elizabeth Joy Brown

    I turn 23 today and have been married for 3 months and Goodness I could not agree with you more! What was really hard for me was that a lot of people assumed my husband and I were getting married because I was pregnant and since it hasn’t been 9 months since the engagement yet, people are still waiting for me to pop a baby out. And I recently found out that some of my “best friends” talked an enormous amount of poop about the engagement and now marriage behind my back and that is why they pushed me out of their lives. It is ROUGH! My response to the “Why Are you married at 22? What’s the rush?” Question is; When you know you love someone and that they are the ones you know you can never live without and want to spend the rest of your life with, Why would you want to wait? I wanted to start my life with my now husband. I don’t think these naysayers understand that when they constantly ask a 22 yr old what their reason for getting married was and make us think about it as if we did something wrong, and say it like we are in trouble – we have to push away doubts that were never there before. Please people! I know my choice is the best decision I have ever made – Stop trying to mess with my head! Stop making me doubt myself. Twenties are hard enough without the lack of encouragement and support from your friends. Rant over :-)

  • Erin Kate Archer

    I have no problem with people marrying young but my question is why? What IS the rush? What changes can you not wait to make in your life that necesitate a binding legal contract? It’s not strange for un-married couples to live together or even to have children. And even with an engagement you’re “showing” your love/commitment to the world.

  • Jordan Marie Hildebrand

    Wait… People have an issue with this? Girl, according to the standards where I am from, you are living the DREAM. My parents were married at 19, and they are still together 42 years later. To me, being married means that you get to spend that much more of your life with the one you love. Why is that so wrong? I personally wish I could get married young so I could have that much more time to grow with a partner, but according to the zero suitors waiting at my door, it’ll be a while.

    You keep on keepin’ on. I wish you and your husband the best of times.

  • Amy Hoffman

    Great article. I am 35, and have been married for 11 and a half years (yup, 23 on the day of my wedding!). I still was getting the “Wow, you’re young to be married!” comments when I had my first child at 27…and wished I was still getting them when I had my second at 30. LOL I don’t know why people feel they are entitled to make a judgement about the age of marriage, any more than whether women will have children (or how many), but they do for some reason. Hold your head high, work on your marriage, and prove the naysayers wrong on your 50th wedding anniversary.

  • Amber Nealey Eldridge

    It’s awesome and encouraging when people (like you) have to deal with the same things I am dealing with. I’m 21 years-old and I have been married to my awesome, hot, rockstar of a husband for almost TEN months (holy crap, already?!). We dated for ten months before we got engaged and engaged for 13 months. I wasn’t pregnant and my husband didn’t need a visa. We knew we wanted to marry each other so why wait until the “right age” or whenever society thinks is old enough. I also work in the film industry and I get SAME REACTIONS when I tell them I’m married and then my age. Anyways, I’m on a rabbit trail here. Thank you for your encouraging words. I don’t need to answer the question of “married at twenty-one”. So thank you!

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