“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 Care.com 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 (http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-me-i- 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.