Travel Now, Marry Later?

I was having a discussion the other day with some of my friends about dating, marriage, and relationships. My friends, who were all in their late 20’s, didn’t see anything wrong or misguided with explicitly postponing marriage so they could travel and/or do other exciting things. One of the guys in particular said just that–he was happy to wait until he was in his 30’s to “settle down,” because he wanted to travel. If a girl comes by that knocks his socks off, fine, but until then, why settle? That was the sense I got from him, anyway.

My own perspective is that the people who do this often miss a pretty significant downside to postponing marriage. Sure, there are legitimate reasons for doing so–a person might have just gotten out of an intense relationship, and might need some time to recover, so to speak–but often the reasons are weak, having to do with wanting to extend adolescence (“adultolescence,” as some sociologists have coined this period), selfishness, avoiding responsibility, or having a wrongheaded vision of God’s purpose for marriage.

I shared one of the downsides with my friends in the conversation: the longer you wait, the more the habits of singleness become ingrained in you. You become “set in your single ways,” and this can make it quite hard to adjust in a marriage. When you’ve been living by your own clock for your whole life, it can be quite a shocker to suddenly have to start living by someone else’s clock…more so than if you marry at an earlier age where you are more moldable.

One of the ladies in the discussion expressed some doubt. “You can still have an others-centered life in community as a single. What about roommates or church friends?” she noted.

Her view of singleness seemed to be that it is a sort of “marriage incubator” that prepares a person for marriage.

Yes, you can have good community as a single person. Yes, you must think about others ahead of yourself when you have roommates. Yes, God can mature you while single. No beef there. But all too often, singleness is not the “incubator” that some think it is when it comes to marriage.

The reason is that even when you have roommates, even when you serve in a plethora of ministries in church, you still call the shots. Of course, ultimately, God calls the shots whether you are married or single; I’m not disputing that. All I’m saying is that when single, if you don’t like your roommates, you can get new ones. If you have conflict in your ministry, you can find a new niche. If you want to go to Vegas, you don’t need to get a roommates’ ok when single…not so much in a marriage. We are pretending if we think all those years of calling the shots ourselves won’t make it more difficult to adjust in a marriage.

As I said in a past post:

Ladies: age doesn’t necessarily guarantee maturity in a man. Yes, sometimes it does, but if you needlessly delay marriage, you might turn 30 or 35 only to find out many men your age have been hugely affected by their years of playing the field, going dirt biking with the bros on the weekends, and playing video games. That’s not a good formula for a husband. The ones who are good husbands now took that vocation seriously in their early 20s and got down to business. Sometimes, the guys who are still single are passive when it comes to marriage and they have been allowed to be that way.

Don’t misread me: I’m not saying that if you are single in your late 20s or 30s that it’s your fault or that you are immature.

All I’m suggesting is that you can’t just turn off the independent living switch when you get married. It takes work, and turning off the switch is much, much harder when it’s all you’ve known for an extended period of time.

I’m finding that almost 30 years as a single person is making it difficult to adjust to a dating and engagement relationship! I’m not even married yet, and I’m feeling the heat!

This isn’t just conjecture, by the way. There is some research that backs this up. The research suggests that 23-27 is the hot spot for marital satisfaction as far as age is concerned. Sure, you can beat the odds–as an almost 30 year old single, that’s my hope–but that’s the trend, at any rate. I know correlation doesn’t imply causation, so I’d be foolish to suggest that you’ll have a happier marriage just because you marry within that window, but the finding is interesting.

This does not mean that the older you get, the less likely it is that you’ll find a suitable mate. God is not bound by odds, and there are always “fish in the sea,” as they say. Nor does this mean that if you haven’t married by a certain age, that you are needlessly “putting it off.” Some people are single not for lack of trying.

There are, however, an increasing number of people who are explicitly postponing marriage until later in life (we’re not talking about a 20 year old who wants to wait until she’s graduated college), and these people might be in for more than they’re bargaining for.

11 responses to “Travel Now, Marry Later?

  1. For me, the wait to be married until I was 33 was so God could rid me of some selfishness before He was willing to unleash me on my wife! The habits I learned while single have been primarily beneficial to my marriage. Nobody goes into a marriage really ready for what is in store. But when God remains front and center, it sure makes it a lot easier.

  2. Jims post just made me feel better since Im 32 now. I feel the same way especially with the way I lived my 20’s, God is stripping away at my selfishness and some issues that he wanted to pull out of me. Instead of being so focused on my own issues I can stand free and maybe be able to give him some of my attention- thats my personal situation- and its what encoruages me to keep purifying my mind and heart that way maybe Ill win a prize of a man HAHA

    I went up to a group of US soldiers in the airport and asked if anyone was looking for a wife-one actaully raised his hand

    Patience patience

  3. Carrianne, Jim,

    Thanks for adding your perspective, folks. Carrianne, your “soldier” story is cute…yes I said “cute.” No, I won’t hand over my man card…:)

    I recognize everyone is different and it’s not wise to lump everyone into the same boat…some people who marry late are perfectly willing to earlier, for example, it just doesn’t work out for them. You can think of other exceptions. I hope I didn’t come off like I was generalizing. I actually have a post in the cue in a few days that balances things out, so stay tuned for that.

    Jim, I can’t comment on your situation specifically, since I don’t know the ins and outs of your situation. However, I hear the “God’s will” thinking a lot. That is, the prevailing notion in a lot of things, especially marriage, is that “if it happens then it must be God’s will.” In relationships, this works out like this: “If I’m not married, then it’s God’s will that I be single. When I’m ready, God will bring me a mate.” Though you didn’t put it exactly like that, I detect a hint of that in your comment.

    I don’t think it’s wise to think that just because A does or doesn’t happen, that the situation is God’s will. That will get one into a host of problems, and it fails to acknowledge that fact that sometimes, we are in a certain situation (single) because of our own choices or beliefs.

    Moreover, though a certain state (single or married) *might* have to do with God’s timing, there’s a danger to thinking God will keep you single until you are *ready.* As Suzanne Hadley puts it,

    “There is a danger in equating marriage with spiritual maturity. God teaches us to depend on Him as singles, but these lessons are not reserved for the mate-less. All of us are sinners, which means we are all constantly striving to crucify the flesh and be more like Christ.

    Being in a single state may or may not have anything to do with your readiness. It likely has more to do with God’s timing. If you are daily allowing the Lord to mold you into His image, you are probably ready to be in a Christ-centered relationship. Realizing this may allow you to be more alert to the godly men around you.”

    –This is not, of course, to say that it’s wrong for any specific person to marry later. As I said, sometimes it just works out that way…but there’s an increasing trend of 20 *and* 30 somethings intentionally putting off marriage for poor reasons, and I think we as a Church need to pause and think hard about the potential negative consequences of such a shift, and whether we are (perhaps unintentionally) adding to the problem by what we affirm.

    PS–Carrianne, those soldiers were just plain stupid for just standing there. They should have been falling over each other trying to sweep you up…I’m just sayin…:)
    Fellas, take note.

  4. PS–the following quote from Mark Regnerus (he has a much discussed article on early marriage in the WA Post and Christianity Today…I’m writing a post on that in a few weeks) I think helps the discussion here:

    “Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life. “Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth,” added Tennyson to his lines about springtime and love.”

    “I realize that marrying early means that you engage in a shorter search. In the age of online dating personality algorithms and matches, Americans have become well acquainted with the cultural (and commercial) notion that melding marriage with science will somehow assure a good fit. But what really matters for making marriage happen and then making it good are not matches, but mentalities: such things as persistent and honest communication, conflict-resolution skills, the ability to handle the cyclical nature of so much of marriage, and a bedrock commitment to the very unity of the thing. I’ve met 18-year-olds who can handle it and 45-year-olds who can’t. “

  5. I can see how you may think I was playing the “God Card” regarding singleness, but in my case, it truly was His will. He specifically called me to singleness and later to live in a monastery for four years (as an Assemblies of God minister, no less!). He was able to show me I was putting marriage (among other things) before Him, and I needed to die to all else but His will. Only after four years was I read to follow His voice — both as a minister and a husband. I know my situation is unique, but God really does call some people to be single for a season. However, I understand that not everybody sees it as I do. Some are running from God or themselves, while others won’t face the commitment. The reasons are as varied as the individuals.

  6. Those who push marriage are actually saying is, “Keep lowering your standards until someone meets them.” This does not lead to a healthy marriage. For anyone to suggest that a single person is to lower their standards is out of line. The individual making such suggestion doesn’t have to live with its consequences.

    It seems that eary marriage is fundamentalist idea of society where people go directly from their parents’ homes into marriage to have babies and clean house

    It would be selfish to marry and have children under such circumstance because you felt compelled to do so without any regard for your spouse, your children, or your even your own feelings. Marriage has wide reaching effects on more than one person. Common sense dictates that no one should marry or have children unless they really have the desire AND find someone who feels in like kind.

    My experience with Christian women leaves so much to be desired as follows,

    1) Some Christian women want to get married right away, but show no interest in me as a person. They look at me and see a steady pay check , that’s all. Their mind set to marriage is almost akin to legal prostitution. You provide a house; I’ll provide you with sex.

    2) Many other Christian women have serious emotional and adjustment issues – they are socially maladjusted. The Churches are filled with these types.

    3) And other Christian women think they are attractive if they use absolutely no make-up and have bible verses memorized in four different languages. Sorry, that is NOT attractive.

    4) Also there are some Christian women who are after worldly success and good looks. They want men with a Christian veneer.

    Then there a non-Christian women who seem to have much more to offer than all the Christian women I’ve met put together!

  7. Joe,

    ….if you don’t like Christian women…DON’T DATE THEM!

    …Your description applies to some Christian woman. Every (well, many) guy including me has a list of ish with Christian women (and vice versa…and ish with non-Christian women…and vice versa)…it is the topic of many a college retreat breakout session…but me thinks you are protesting too much. What church have you been lurking in? Perhaps a change of “pond” would do you well. I dunno, just a common sense bit of advice.

    Part of the problem is standards, for many. Many people in my generation have too high standards where it doesn’t matter and too low standards where it does matter.

    The following posts answer your concerns about standards nicely:

    What’s more, I’m going to address your concern in a near-future post…in fact, its already in the que for the next week.

  8. PS: Joe–
    a few more thoughts.

    When you say, “Common sense dictates that no one should marry or have children unless they really have the desire AND find someone who feels in like kind,” how do you factor sex into the equation? If someone doesn’t want to marry, they should abstain from sex as well. If the person seriously can’t commit to celibacy and not be sexually frustrated/bitter, their call is to marriage, plain and simple.

    Don’t twist my words by responding, “so should someone marry just for sex?” The answer is no, but sex was meant for the marriage bed, period.

    Secondly, when I said, “if you don’t like Christian women, don’t date them,” I was assuming you are a non-Christian. I apologize if I was wrong; I was just going off of the tone of your piece.

    If you are a Christian, you are fooling yourself if you think your life will be better married to a non-Christian woman. That is not to say non-believing women are evil or Satan’s instrument or anything. There are plenty of nice, beautiful non-Christian women with character out there, but a) you will be going against Christ’s word and b) the foundation of your life is completely different from hers, and this will cause either much conflict or much compromise (on your behalf) down the road.

    Third, there are, of course, some standards that Christians, at least, shouldn’t skimp on. Marrying a committed follower of Christ is one of them. However, the solution to dealing with the “consequences” of “lowering standards” on other things is to…grow up. Love is something that can be cultivated…it doesn’t just “happen.” You don’t just “fall” in love. It is a choice of the will; just ask the myriad number of couples who have had arranged marriages but have nurtured and chosen a glowing love for their partner (not advocating arranged marriage, btw…just making a point about choosing to love). Rather than bemoaning that you “compromised,” instead cultivate the habits of mind that allows you to see the beauty in the other.

    So perhaps not only a change of “pond” would help, but a change of perspective too. Might your standards and expectations be tripping you up? What, exactly, are your expectations and from where are you drawing them?

    I ask these questions honestly. If you find your expectations are (maybe subconsciously) coming from Hollywood and airbrushed supermarket magazines, no woman will ever measure up. They shouldn’t be asked to.

  9. Pingback: Sparks « The Pugnacious Irishman

  10. I WOULD LOVE TO find such a man that says he puts God first while single or married. My irishman is fooling around about marriage and is 46! Known him off and on for 11 yrs!

  11. Interesting Thoughts. In February i will be a single 30 year old. I guess my tale is a little different. I lived as a missionary for a year working for a Private school that Takes in “Unwanted Children” In 2008 I decided to teach english in South Korea, which is where I am still at today. I feel for North Korea and would like to be a missionary there when reconciliation happens. I guess my point is what is easier, To be Single and follow God’s calling or be Married and follow. Paul writes about this in Corinthians, Paul would rather have us single rather than Married, He calls Marriage an institution for our lack of self control. Marriage has become popular tool for Ministry. Don Miller wrote this about travel: GO, when you get back Home will still be the same but you will be changed. I think as Christians we need a more global view of Christianity, a more global view of life.
    These are the ramblings of one who has traveled.

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