Twenty-four is an interesting age. Depending on the age of whom you ask, 24 year-olds are either just starting to get their lives together, or just starting to figure out all they lack. Truthfully, that could be said for any 20-something age, but I think twenty-four in particular holds a certain sophomoric gumption that slowly wanes as one approaches 30.
You’ve been a legal attendee of happy hours for several years and college—if you went—is now distant enough so that alma mater doesn’t seem quite so foreign on your tongue. You feel a steady rush to seize the world while, at the same time, still not fully grasping how fast the next few years will go. What does one do with that delicate balance of adulthood and naiveté?
Me? I got married.
Now, yes, my viewpoint might be relative to yours, but after living in Los Angeles for almost a decade, I’ve realized that in between the giant life questions, the gaping holes of anxiety and a general sense of “what am I doing?” that most 20-somethings experience, marriage is becoming increasingly less of a concern. At least it is at age twenty-four.
Being independent, being successful, being desirable, yes. Many 24 year-olds pursue these things, which is why an institution such as marriage—hinged on principles of avowing, forsaking and committing until death—might look a little dingy next to more dazzling, self-satisfying ventures.
And you know what? That’s ok. I get it. Marrying young, before you really “understand who you are,” can sometimes be a costly, painful and scary mistake. It isn’t something to jump into, and it isn’t something to cheapen by saying marriage is best for everyone. But you know what else?
It can also be one of the wisest decisions you ever make, and after recently turning 30, I can’t help but want to stick up for the way I spent the majority of my twenties: as a married, monogamous and dare I use the word, submissive, wife.
(Ok, now I’m just getting cheeky.)
But, for real. We all know enough about the many advantages to being young with zero responsibility, tethered to no one but our own agendas and passions and horizons. Almost any primetime sitcom runs off the fumes of why marriage can be a no-no; unless you’re Mormon, the child of a Southern dynasty or have fifteen siblings, our U.S., millennial-geared culture would assume that if you’re younger than 27, chances are you aren’t married. Why? Because you’re “normal.”
So, consider the following perspective from someone who also considers herself normal (hence, not in one of the three aforementioned categories) and yet has also willingly chose forever with another human being.
What have I learned? More importantly, what have I learned that I think anyone—single or married—can appreciate? Without getting into religion or politics, I’ll continue.
1. Humans are hard-wired to avoid difficulty.
It’s true. We like to avoid what’s hard. While this isn’t always a bad thing (aka, using our common sense to do something in a better way) marriage has a way of rightly orienting our perspective so that we aren’t always at the center of it.
Though I know in theory that I’m not perfect, it’s a bit humbling and embarrassing, how quickly my heart forgets that. Actively working out my faults with another person—who graciously shows them to me—enables more patience, compassion and sensitivity to take root in my life.
If you’re married, don’t be surprised when your spouse points something out about you that may be less than stellar.
If you’re single, don’t always give yourself the last word. Learn to let others in, and find trusted mirrors that help you see your blind spots. You do have them.
2. Decisions are harder when you’re married.
As a married woman making plans for herself in her twenties, I’ve had to learn to say no to things that I always thought I’d say yes to. When I first began dating my now husband, I had been accepted to medical school. It was a dream twelve years in the making, but the resulting cross-country move meant that my husband’s career could potentially take a perilous turn. For that (as well as for a few other reasons) I made one of the hardest decisions of my life in choosing not to go.
Marriage may complicate some of your dreams, but it also has a way of clarifying your priorities. Let it. Sometimes our priorities turn out to be dreams in disguise anyway.
3. We all need stability in an insecure world.
Fluidity is trending. Everything is changing. This is really, really great in some ways, but it can also feel dizzying to have nothing solid to orient yourself around. Being married in the midst of my twenties has meant discovering a guardrail that I didn’t know I needed—having someone outside of my own emotions (or anxieties, let’s be honest) to align me with what I know to be true, especially about myself.
You don’t need to be married to have such a guardrail, but the permanence of my marriage helps steer me back to the woman I long to be: faithful, obedient, loving, kind, generous. We should all have such stakes than anchor us beyond ourselves.
4. And we should all know something bigger than ourselves.
Hear me on this: I do NOT think that marriage is necessary to “complete” a person. Neither do I think that we are all just half-people walking around waiting to find a soul mate. However, similar to my point above, marriage has humbled me to the point where I see life just isn’t about me, and it’s beautiful to realize the power of using our best for the sake of a bigger picture.
Marrying young has quickened my reflexes to see not just what I may gain from an experience, situation or a gift, but also how my spouse benefits when I benefit. Likewise, a win for him is also a win for me. My life is intertwined with another’s, therefore, who I am takes on a grander significance.
Married or not, we all stand to gain an immeasurable amount of purpose when we realize that our passions, skills or dreams aren’t just given to us in a vacuum. There’s power in serving to ignite another’s soul.
If you feel stalled, stale, confused, or frustrated at your current status in life, maybe it’s time to clear out your borders.
What are you letting in?
What are you letting out?
What are you letting lead you?
No matter what your age, we’re never too old—or young—to ask another question.
By Nicole Ziza Bauer