Why You Shouldn’t Marry Early (Or Ever)

by Kathleen Quiring on March 24, 2010

If you’ve been around here lately, you know that I’ve been defending early marriage. I’ve been doing this mostly because I think early marriage has a generally bad reputation, and I think it deserves some respect and reconsideration. I think young people are fully capable of getting married at an early age if they are committed and well-equipped for it.

But as a result of my ongoing defense of early marriage, my discussion has become quite one-sided. I know that. One reader even thought that I was implying that he sucked for not being married yet at age twenty-eight. That was not my intention at all, but I guess I can understand why he got some negative vibes, given all my praise and attention for early marriage.

The thing is, I don’t think you have to get married early to have a healthy, fulfilling or meaningful life. Not by a long shot. You don’t even have to get married at all, in my opinion.

Here’s why:

1. Getting married probably won’t make you any happier.

sunset palm tree solitudeAs Kristin from Halfway to Normal has recently discussed, psychologists estimate that only about 10 percent of happiness comes from circumstances. No kidding. The rest has to do with your natural disposition and the attitude you bring to each and every day. So if you’re miserable being single, chances are you’ll be equally miserable married. It’s because of your nature and your attitude, not your marital status. Circumstances aren’t really going to influence your emotional well-being all that much.

I’ve already told you a billion times that I truly love being married. But I wouldn’t say I’m any happier now that than I was before I was married. Not on a moment-by-moment basis, anyways.  There are splendid things about marriage which occasionally make me choke with joy but overall I’m still pretty mopey most of the time.

The reality is, I’m still a depressive person by nature, and I don’t do a great job of being optimistic. I’m emotionally lazy, I guess. The happiness that I do experience has much more to do with whether or not I choose to take care of my body on a given day (by exercising and eating right), or whether I choose to have a positive outlook on things (which takes enormous effort). I am largely responsible for my own level of happiness — my marriage isn’t.

I do not believe that the purpose of marriage is to bring us happiness anyways, so I don’t think it will help you achieve it. Marriage has other purposes that have very little to do with happiness.

2. Getting married won’t help you figure out who you are.

If you were hoping that marriage would help you to get a better grasp of your identity, I’m afraid to tell you that it probably won’t. Most of my married friends still have no freaking clue what they’re going to do with their lives. They don’t know what career they want to pursue, or whether they have a “calling” in life, or whether they want or will be able to have kids. They’re just as confused and worried and troubled about their futures as my single friends are. They still struggle with their personal identities.

And so do Ben and I.

Sure, I know that I’m Ben’s wife and that brings me comfort. And sure, I know who I’m going to be crawling into bed with every night as I figure out my life, but that’s about all the additional certainty I have. And even that is prone to change because my partner is dreadfully mortal. Who knows what will happen in the next five to ten years. Who knows how much longer I will have my Ben with me.  I can’t rely on him for my identity because we still have two separate bodies and souls.

3. Marriage is not the only way to grow up.

I wholeheartedly agree with Corey from Simple Marriage when he says that the primary purpose of marriage is to help us grow up – to shape us into more mature adults. I have argued the same thing in previous posts.

But I’m sure Corey would agree that marriage is not the only kind of relationship that helps us grow up. Marriage is one way but it’s not the only way. People who remain single will not inevitably miss out on the opportunity to become more fully human.

I do believe that intimate relationships are essential to growing up, though. So if you’re not married, or not planning to get married, I still think it’s very important for you to live with other people. Living with others will stretch and shape you into a more complete, mature human being. Living alone is not conducive to growing up, in my opinion. But living in community is.

So move in with some roommates. Enter a monastery. Participate in overseas relief missions. Travel with a close-knit group of friends.  Heck, even if you’re married you might want to try some of these things. They will make your soul even bigger than it could ever grow with just a mate.

I believe that human connection is essential to growing up, because if you live by yourself you forget that you are not the most important person in the world. But this human connection doesn’t have to take the form of marriage.

single life4. If you remain single, you will have more opportunity to do totally wicked-awesome things for the world.

There’s a reason ole St. Paul says that it’s good for a man or woman not to get married. As he puts it,

An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. (1 Cor 7:32-34)

In other words, being married takes an enormous amount of attention that could otherwise be focused on doing good for the world. If you choose to marry, you are less likely to do a truly bang-up job of helping the poor and saving the environment and stuff like that because spouses are needy and distracting. If you’re single, you are more free to pursue your passions and do enormous good for the world. You don’t have to deal with a sick or whiney spouse or “achieving excellence in marriage” or raising kids. You can do other amazing things.

Marriage is a good thing, but it is not the only good thing.

What are some other reasons you can think of for why marriage is not the answer to life’s problems? What are some other advantages to a single life?

Photos courtesy of Millzero and Voj, respectively.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Rethinking Adulthood — Project M
September 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm
People Should Marry Earlier « Enjoyment and Contemplation
October 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm
Update to ‘People Should Marry Earlier’ « Enjoyment and Contemplation
October 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shannon O | Confessions of a Loving Wife March 24, 2010 at 10:47 am

Kathleen,

As a fellow blogger who also blogs about marriage, I too worry about coming across as though I’m preaching marriage, I worry about alienating those readers who AREN’T married.

I wrote on my about page that:

“Marriage has been the single most life enriching thing I have ever taken part in. Being married to my husband has allowed me to grow and learn in ways I never could have imagined as a single woman.”

But then I am careful to note that:

“This is not to say that I believe that you must BE married to grow and learn, or that I feel that a piece of paper is requirement for a meaningful relationship, you have to do what works for you.”

I loved when you stated in you post that you are largely responsible for your own level of happiness — your marriage isn’t.

Very true – married or not, we are still people responsible for that of our own lives, the way we feel and the way we live it.

Excellent post.

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2 Dayna March 24, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Thanks Kathleen – as a single girl, it’s nice to hear you voicing all the awesome benefits of being single that I’ve contemplated myself! I think you’ve done a great job of presenting all the awesome reasons to be married OR single. Really, it comes down to the same thing – making the most out of the circumstance you’re in.

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3 Kristin T. (@kt_writes) March 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm

This is a great post, Kathleen. I spent most of my teen and early adult years thinking there was a “right” or at least ideal way to go about pretty much everything. I’ve gradually learned what you’re pointing out here: There is no right way for every person and every circumstance. It’s good to seek advice and insight from others, but in general I think we each need to start listening to our heart and soul more than to other people.

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4 suzigurl March 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm

As a single 38 year old woman, I *know* I need more connection in my life. And I have considered roommates, etc.

But please be descriptive, not prescriptive.

It is not as easy as it sounds to “join a monastery, get some roommates, live with some people.” If there is *anything* single people violently dislike, it is being told what to do by “smug marrieds” (quoting Bridget Jones.) You don’t seem like a “smug married,” so I wanted to give you a heads up on how it sounds from the other side of the blog. Right now it is actually more cost effective for me to live alone, and moving would be a bit of a nightmare. As an introvert who works odd hours, living alone suits me. And I don’t think that it means I am growing more slowly than other people. (Just my 2 cents.)

(I came here via a tweet by @ktwrites)

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5 Kathleen Quiring March 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for your insight,Suzigurl. I appreciate you visiting and sharing some thoughts.

I do try to avoid prescriptivism in general, as I’m tired of getting “tips” and “lessons” from most of the blogs I read myself. However, I’m curious: do you think there is ever a time when it’s appropriate to be prescriptive? Your own “be descriptive not prescriptive” is itself prescriptive. Perhaps it just isn’t appropriate when addressing a group of people to which you don’t belong (in my case, singles)?

I regret having made it sound like only single people should live in community. I actually think my advice about moving in with others should be taken by marrieds and singles alike. You’ll have to forgive me – I’ve been reading a lot of New Monasticism, which teaches that we ought to live in community (especially with the marginalized), and I’ve been grappling with how that could play out in my own life. I was also thinking about Don Miller’s exploration of community in Blue Like Jazz. Meanwhile I’ve been thinking “This would be a lot easier if I was single,” so that’s why it came up here in my exploration of not marrying.

I’m personally very uncomfortable with this talk of community, too, since I’m an introvert myself, but I’m trying to work through it. Hopefully I didn’t come off as overly “smug.”

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6 Adventure-Some Matthew March 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I’m sending this post to a friend of mine, who I’ve tried to tell (unsuccessfully) that finding a girlfriend won’t make him happy. He’s determined that some woman will fix his woes.

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7 Kathleen Quiring March 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Matthew — I’m flattered!

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8 Sarah March 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I can definitely vouch for the “a relationship won’t make you happy” bit. I’m happy in my relationship. But I was equally happy as a single. It probably helped that I lived with my roommate and therefore always had someone to hang out with or do things with. It’s the main reason I like being in a relationship — companionship.

However, when you have a lot of hobbies and interests, it makes being single really fun because it makes life satisfying. I like going to farmer’s markets by myself early in the morning, and spending however much time I want browsing and talking to local producers. I like reading in a coffee shop alone, or writing, alone. I don’t even mind cooking for myself. I think that helps a lot in carving out a full life.

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9 Zeinab March 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm

There’s a sense of freedom you feel when single, that is, for lack of a better word, liberating. You can devote more time to the things you love and that make you happy, whether it’s writing, exercising, planting, your career or visiting coffee shops as Sarah pointed out. This is not to say you’re unable to pursue them while married, but you would have more responsibilities toward your partner, so your time is more limited, especially when kids are involved.
Nonetheless, it is still important to have some sort of relationship as you mentioned Kathleen, not necessarily of the amorous nature, as to avoid freedom turning into loneliness.
Thanks for the post, Kathleen!

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10 Stephanie Ferguson March 25, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Excellent post, Kathleen. I found myself really contemplating my own sense of self in regard to my marriage as I read it, and you are right, I am not happier because I’m married, but I AM happier because of the way that I have allowed my marriage to shape me. I did resonate a bit with what “suzigurl” said. I’m not going to say that your communication about living in community sounded preachy but well, I guess in some ways it did–and that’s okay –I think it’s a relevant perspective. Thanks!

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11 Chris Waluk March 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Amen sister. At about the age of 28, I was still single and I watched several of my close friends get married. I don’t know that I would go as far as saying that they shouldn’t have gotten married, but I will say that I would not have been happy in their shoes.

It’s a big world out there and I think that people are far to eager to find comfort within marriage. People in their 20′s should be out discovering themselves and changing the world. I’m 31 years old now and happily engaged. My only frustration in being engaged is having to commit so much of my time, energy and resources into our wedding. Yeah, it’s a celebration, but there’s a lot in our lives worth celebrating.

Once I’m married, I also hope to avoid a lot of the common tendencies of Christian couples. These tendencies are to indulge on each other and to focus all your love and energy onto the other person rather than the world around you. Not to sound cold hearted, but I don’t plan on going on any romantic cruises or tweeting about how awesome my wife is once we are married. I do know some awesome young couples who are committed to serving the people around them and challenging each other spiritually, but most of my experiences with young couples is watching them go to newly weds bible studies where they read books like Men Are Like Waffles Women Are Like Spaghetti. Maybe I’m naive to think that marriage shouldn’t have to be so much work, but is it unreasonable for married couples to continue to work on what they were passionate about when they were single rather than just working on their marriage?

A friend told me a story about when he was talking to his friend, who was married, about some of his ambitions. His friend turned to his wife and said, “Don’t you remember when we always used to talk about changing the world? What happened?” She responded, “We got married and bought this house.” That was enough fuel for my fire to keep me single at least another 2 years.

So why am I getting married now? Not because the institute of marriage is somehow good for me, but because I found a girl who I’m absolutely in love with who helps me grow as an individual. Together we are much stronger and more active than we are alone and that’s the kind of person I want to commit my life to.

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12 Kathleen Quiring March 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Wow – thanks so much for your thoughts, Chris! I especially appreciate your passion for serving others after marriage, rather than focusing all your attention on your spouse. I can totally support that mindset! The story you relay (“We married and bought this house”) is enough to make anyone passionate about world change swear off marriage – yikes. Glad you’re going for it for the right reasons!

I do believe that couples can change the world while married, but it’s more complicated. It’s so easy to just settle into comfortable mediocrity, tied down to a mortgage. I can tell, though, you will probably not be that kind of couple.

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13 Robet Stanley March 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

Why should you marry? For one reason: It is the divine purpose for most peoples’ lives.

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14 Amy March 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Hmm…well, you know, there’s other things besides single/footloose and married.

I’m a 42-year-old single mother. Definitely not footloose or setting the world on fire. Do I want to marry again? Mm, no, not really. I’d certainly like a boyfriend with his own serious work and his own house, someone who’s not interested in becoming a stepdad (my kid has a dad). But I really like my life as it is, otherwise, and I find that men just want a lot of taking-care-of once they see that there’s a mom in the house. And I really, really don’t want the job of taking care of another adult.

(The men will protest here that they’re enormously independent, yada, yada, I’m falling asleep. Actually it’s mostly young men who make that protestation. By the time they’re old enough for me to date, they know full well they want someone to do lots of stuff for them.)

I do miss having a warm body next to me in the bed sometimes. Then, on occasion, I get that, and remember how hard it is to fall asleep next to a snoring, shifting-around guy who makes a gravity well in the mattress. You know what’s great? A heating pad. It’s warm, it doesn’t snore, doesn’t fart, doesn’t make the mattress tilt. And a vibrator, don’t forget the vibrator. (Some gadgets? Are awesome. DIY’s nice too, but.)

So, you know. The best reason not to marry? Because you don’t want to. You really don’t need any more justification than that.

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