A few weeks ago, my 15 year old daughter went to a one week camp for girls sponsored by our church. While there, one of her chaperons shared with the girls that she and her husband got engaged after three weeks! “They’re so cute, Mom, and they are really happy,” she told me when she got home.
I was horrified. While a three week courtship may be true in her case and perhaps it is (so far) working for them (they are a very young couple with several children already), I wish she had added a caveat. Something like, “But I don’t recommend this approach because after three weeks, you’re really taking a big chance.” But she didn’t. This left many of the girls (my daughter, who knows better) giddy with the story. Think about it– in just a few years, they could be engaged, too! High on a new relationship, with a diamond ring on their finger, shopping for pretty white dresses, planning a big party and honeymoon, and decorating their first apartment together. Whooohoooooo!
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in marriage, love, commitment, children and families– big time. But I also think that giving children these kinds of stories which help romanticize marriage, leaves them totally unprepared for what marriage really is. Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s super fun, romantic and fabulous. And sometimes it sucks beyond belief. Even if you’re married to a great guy, there will be times in your marriage when you don’t like each other and when you wish that you were one of those divorced people.
I wanted to call this (well meaning) woman and give her a piece of my mind but I couldn’t figure out how to do that without sounding like a total bitch. So I have decided to keep my mouth shut and simply counter her story with the Lizzy version of reality so that hopefully my daughter doesn’t think that dating and marriage is One Big Happy Experience.
I told my daughter this: “Her story is insane. If you are in love after three weeks, go snowboarding together. You don’t start planning a wedding! If after a year, you’re still in love, buy Eurail passes and go backpacking thru Europe for the summer. If you’re young and in love, be in love! Date. For years if you meet when you’re 19 years old. But to get married and embark on a home and family at that young age is very sad because you’re still a child yourself. You have the rest of your life to be married, don’t rush into it, especially after three weeks.”
My little lecture opened up a great Mommy-Daughter talk about boyfriends, relationships and marriage.
Obviously, the age in which one marries is an individual choice and depends when the right guy and opportunity presents itself. If my daughters end up marrying at a young age (which so many girls do in our Utah community), then I will support them and smile a lot for the photos. But I will be crying inside. To think of kids already saddled with mortgages, children and huge responsibilities at the age of 20 is heartbreaking. They should be exploring life, the world, developing their own views and opinions, and growing into the person they will become. Studies show that the brain doesn’t even fully develop until something like 25 years old. Ugh.
But more importantly, and since I’m a divorced mom, I can attest that marriage isn’t always happiness. Marriage is complex, tough and joyful. And so while I am powerless to make my daughters’ choices for them (and I won’t even try), I will at least do my best to teach them a realistic version of what marriage is (and isn’t). Because marriage is a whole lot more than romance, pretty dresses, a fabulous cake, honeymoon, and new dishes for the marital condo.
And so here are my Marriage Talking Points for my daughters:
Marriage won’t automatically make you happy
If you think marriage is one grand experience, think again. It is (hopefully) fun and you will feel like you have each other’s backs. Hopefully you’ll be a great partnership so you can weather life’s storms better. Companionship is important and, if you marry the right guy, this should be a given. Hanging with your best friend forever and creating life should be fabulous. But marriage can also be a horrible experience. Marriage is about compromise and putting up with each other. If you marry the wrong guy, it can have horrific consequences. You need to be a happy person on your own first or you are putting incredible amount of pressure on the institution and your spouse. And it’s not fair.
Marriage won’t complete you
You must be a whole person on your own. You are not broken without a husband. It’s ok (and far preferable) to never marry than be in a bad marriage. Don’t compromise or rush into marriage just to be married. Life ought to be fine without a husband. Then when you find that forever guy, life is something to share together.
Marriage won’t take care of you
It’s really dangerous to go into a marriage expecting your husband to take care of you financially, emotionally, physically or spiritually. Make sure that you are self-supporting and as independent as possible. Then when you get married, you can be a whole partner. And if your marriage doesn’t work out, you have the ability to leave it without ending up in poverty or in a permanent depressive state.
Marriages sometimes don’t work out
Know what abuse looks like. Know that if you are desperately unhappy, perhaps divorce is the best option for everyone. If this is you, be prepared to leave. I don’t wish divorce on anyone, it is awful for everyone, especially children. But sometimes a horrible divorce is far better than a horrible marriage. You are not a failure if your marriage ends.
I love marriage. But I’m also a realist and, to the best of my ability, I will teach my daughters a realistic view of marriage, not the romantic version. I hope it will leave them far more prepared to make that big decision and live with it.