This month, I will be celebrating my twenty-fourth birthday, and last month I was celebrating my one-year marriage anniversary. That’s because I got married soon after graduating college, and I got engaged during college.
This did not seem weird to me at all at the time. For reference, my husband and I dated from 2013 to 2017, from my junior year of high school to my junior year of college. On the day before I moved into college for my senior year in August 2017, he asked me to marry him, and last November, six months after graduation, we were married.
There were a lot of factors leading to why we got married when we did. Possibly the biggest was my attempt at balancing our freedom with my family’s Christian beliefs. Before you even say it: I know, I’m an adult and no one gets to dictate to me what I can and cannot do, especially if it’s because of their religion which I don’t even believe. But it is actually a lot easier to say “Well if your family doesn’t accept your lifestyle, then just forget about them” than it is to actually do that. I didn’t want to entirely cut my family out of my life unless I absolutely had to, and my living with my significant other and not being married would have accomplished that by itself.
Without the family pressure, we may or not have been engaged or married by now, but we certainly would be living together anyways, so actually being married doesn’t change my everyday life that much (except that sometimes when I introduce myself to people, I momentarily forget what my last name is). If we were going to live together anyway, I might as well not further estrange myself from my family by doing it unwed.
So that was the more concrete reason why we got married as a twenty-two- and a twenty-four-year-old. I also experienced great cultural pressure at Grove City College to get engaged before graduating (and there are bonus points if you get married before graduating). If you go (or went) there, or any religious college really, you are probably sick and tired of constantly hearing about the norm of “Ring by Spring,” whether you love it or hate it. At Grove City, it felt like relationships were a race. The winners were the ones who met their soulmate during Freshman Orientation Week and got married during their senior year in Harbison Chapel, and the losers were those who remained single for their entire college career (with negative bonus points if you’re not straight as a pin).
Anytime I’m grouped in with this Ring by Spring (or the “getting-your-MRS.-degree”) stereotype, I’m quick to point out that my husband and I are NOT the same as all those other “Grover” couples. First of all, “he doesn’t even go here!” Like I said, my husband and I started dating in high school, and he didn’t attend Grove City, but rather a *gasp* secular university nearby. I also felt it more appropriate for us to get engaged and married so young because by the time we got engaged, we had been dating for almost four and a half years, not one or two years like most of my classmates.
Of course, the greatest reason why I felt the need to separate myself and my husband from this group of horny Christians was that we’re atheists! I was still in the atheist closet at college (hence my former blog name, The Closet Atheist), but I wanted to shout for more than one reason, “I’m not like you! I’m an atheist!”
I must emphasize that I’m not bringing this up just because all I can talk about is my being an atheist. It’s a crucial difference in that almost every couple at the school who was in a serious relationship was Christian. I mean, almost every student at the school was Christian regardless, but their being Christian and their sky-high rates of engagement and marriage before the age of twenty-three is not a coincidence.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes, so I don’t want to spend time trying to explain to you the correlation between religious colleges and marriage rates, but this article from a student at the University of Pittsburgh gives a lot of information about why this phenomenon exists and just how high the correlation is. The writer, Grant Burgman, suggests that Ring by Spring originated from “a biblical concept that leaving your parents’ home was only acceptable once you had someone to settle down with.”
I think that this race to the altar has several influencing factors which all make sense in light of Christian culture and rules. What Burgman said makes sense, of course, and I think that this biblical idea manifests itself in Christian couples feeling that they must have a strong family unit and start “be[ing] fruitful and multiply[ing].” In many, but not all, Christian couples, biblical gender roles can also often play out, with the husband being the head of the wife. Although it doesn’t entirely align with the idea of a woman getting a college degree in the first place, a girl has to have a husband if she is to make a life as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
Possibly it’s an American thing in addition to being a Christian thing. After all, the stereotypical “American Dream” is to get married, get a job, have a big house, a nice car, perfect kids, and a dog (or a cat!). And most of Grove City’s students are middle-class white Christian Americans looking to succeed in this way. So while you’re out getting a degree and a job, why not pick up a spouse along the way?
My greatest suspicion as to why Christian college students get married so young is a little more… primal. It doesn’t take a social scientist to know that it’s pretty frowned upon, if not forbidden, in the Christian religion go have sex before marriage. This is especially true at Grove City—you’re not just forbidden against having sex, you can’t. There is a rule (that sounds like a myth, but I can only wish it was) that you can’t have anyone of the opposite sex in your dorm with the door closed.
You have to have the door open at least four inches (which is about a shoe’s width, hence the practice of sticking a shoe in the door to prop it open). Your opposite-sex visitor also has to sign in (the stringency of this exact process fluctuated a lot while I was a student) and can’t use any bathroom except those in the main lobby. Oh, and they can only visit during Intervisitation hours (or “intervis,” as the kids say since no one at Grove City ever wants to waste time with extra syllables). If I wanted to see my now-husband with even the faux-privacy of my open-doored
cell dorm, it had to be on Sundays between 1 and 10 pm, Wednesdays between 7 and 10 pm, Fridays between 7 pm and midnight, or Saturdays between 1 pm and midnight. Do you want to show your dad your dorm room on a Tuesday? Too bad. Because Jesus, I guess.
There is one way to have your privacy with your significant other as a Grove City College student, however. If you’re married, you’re to live together off-campus. For young Grovers or other Christians, a marriage certificate is a modern-day indulgence paper that allows you to have sex without being hellbound. This didn’t really matter to me, as that ship to hell had sailed and I was on it.
Upon my graduating from Grove City and entering “the real world” (whatever that is), and especially not working at or being involved in any Christian organizations, this idea that it’s normal to be engaged at twenty-one and married at twenty-two has dissolved. For example, among my coworkers between the ages of twenty and thirty, I’m both the youngest and the only one that’s married.
Obviously, I don’t regret getting married when I did—at all. Most people my age go out with friends a lot more than I do, or are working towards (or at) a degree or a dream job. Some even have kids! I’m very content living with, staying in with, going to bookstores with, being cat parents with, and sharing a name with my best friend for life!
0 thoughts on “Why I Got Married at 22”
This was an interesting personal story to read. I understand your desire to at least work with family and friends concerning interactions with believers and nonbelievers. I find that many folks assume a level of animosity toward religion and religious people that I don’t have.
Another thing that came to mind while reading was, “she will be influenced in all her views by her religious past and family.” Then, “as so many of us are (me).” Well done.
A few days ago I was having a couple of drink with a close friend. She has just hit her early 30’s. She was explaining how she is now really worried that she will forever be alone. Not only has see seen to tons of christian friends getting married, she is now seeing the none christians begin to get married.
It is funny how christians get married so young, and none christians take more time to get to fully know the person they want to spend their life with. We also put SO much emphasis on sex before marriage that when people finally get around to being married they feel guilty for having sex or find it very uncomfortable. I have close friends who are married but have never slept together, because they know it has been made a huge deal of.
To be honest, I find marriage a strange one. Looking back I now ask myself if I would strive to attain it as I did when I was a young christian (now neither of these things). Sure, I wanna be with my now wife, but does the label ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ make a difference to our lives? We can be faithful, devoted and for each other without being married, surely? It doesn’t add any legal protection or benefit now. I wonder if marriage will depart from society completely in the end, as religious faith seems to be doing… time will tell.
Jordan Peterson on marriage: “What do you do when you get married? You take someone who’s just as useless and horrible as you are, and then you shackle yourself to them. And then you say, we’re not running away no matter what happens…If you can run away, you can’t tell each other the truth…If you don’t have someone around that can’t run away, then you can’t tell them the truth. If you can leave, then you don’t have to tell each other the truth. It’s as simple as that, because you can just leave. And then you don’t have anyone to tell the truth to.
Marital permanence is not a shackle, in other words, but the only way to be true to oneself and to another in love and intimacy.”
I also got married right out of college. My fiance had graduated a couple of years ahead of me, and was in the army, because he had been on ROTC scholarship. My home situation was pretty emotionally unhealthy, not really any religious pressure, but a mom and younger sister who both had emotional problems from the recent loss of my dad, and were constantly at each other’s throats. Getting married right away got me out of that house, and got us started drawing the additional military benefits that come to married couples.
In hindsight, we probably should have gotten married on paper a year earlier, so that we could be drawing the military spousal benefits that much earlier, which would have left us financially better off. We could have had the normal ceremony later. But my mom was quite the traditionalist at the time. She held that “once you were married you were on your own, and your parents no longer supported you.” So to keep the funds flowing for college, I had to be plausibly single, and we couldn’t risk her finding out we were already married.
I found this post both interesting and educational in that at the age of 14 I came out as an atheist to my family and friends. No one condemned me although I was asked to talk to a priest which I did. He failed to change my mind. But that isn’t the point. The priest wanted to discus sex and I told him the truth about being sexually active without “going all the way… yet.”
Not being a catholic confession he felt he could relate this info to my mother. That is when I realized how strange and unrealistic religion, any religion, is about life and reality. To this day I am still amazed that even after rejecting religion my fellow atheists find it difficult to shed the belief that another entity, real or imaginary can dictate and control their normal actions, expressions and desires.
All the guilt and misery religion causes us is evil and that it is done under the guise of truth is contradictory to reason. That we have to decieve and lie to our parents and those we love proves to me how depraved all gods are.
I hope there are very few typos here, they are embarrassing.
A lot of my christian friends got married soom after university too. My boyfriend and I were raised catholic but aren’t practicing and I have many many many doubts about some fundemental beliefs. We moved in together after university and while both our parents were dissapointed, neither were overly surprised enough to make much of a fuss. We had been dating for 6 years by this point. I did have a few christian friends try to understand why we didnt just get married if we were going to move in together. Funnily enough we both had to explain it to ourselves really after being raised in religious homes. I had much more trouble with sex being a sin but he was morr concerned that marriage was tied to nothing if we moved in together. Explaining it to my friend, it became even more clear how marriage would not change anything for us. We already loved each other and were commited and that is what is important. In a twisted way i almost feel like marriage would taint the commitment as it would come from a place of pride. How much commitment just comes from people not wanting to admit that the same person they announced to the world that they loved, they no longer do and want to divorce. I don’t want either of us staying in the relationship just for that reasoning. Honestly, we will probably get married when we are ready to have kids out of social pressure. Plus after growing up dreaming of having a wedding, i would still like to have one at some point. Even if the pessimistic part of me thinks it is just an excuse to spend a bunch of money throwing a party for all of your friends and family