My wife and I were 20 years old when we married. We couldn’t even drink alcohol at our reception. We had no money and were both still in college. The only income we had was from waiting tables at restaurants. Even worse, in school we were both studying for degrees in theology, which meant that we were foolishly setting ourselves up with very few career prospects. I was so inexperienced and helpless, I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry.
When we were engaged at 19 years old, everyone told us we were too young, that we weren’t ready for marriage. Neither of us had traveled the world yet and we had almost no experience of what might be called adult life. Neither of us owned a house or had settled into a career. We didn’t have much money and, beyond a car payment, we’d never had to budget for regular household bills or groceries.
We moved into a tiny loft apartment, the cheapest we could find within walking distance of our college. We only had one car between us and because of differing schedules I would often walk the mile back and forth from campus, loaded down with books. We furnished the apartment with thrift store purchases and hand-me-down furniture that our parents donated to us out of pity. I’m pretty sure I even took furniture out of dumpsters. Our bed was a mattress on the floor and we couldn’t afford cable television or expensive food. If we wanted a fancy dinner, we’d get out the George Foreman Grill and try to make a steak on it. We literally didn’t even know how to cook, the most basic skill necessary to remaining alive.
Everyone who told us that we weren’t ready for marriage was correct. We weren’t ready.
Increasingly, young couples are delaying marriage for this very reason. They don’t think they’re ready. First, they want to gain some experience of the world, have the freedom to travel, date other people. They want to achieve a stable career, maybe own a home or have saved a down payment to purchase a home. There’s also emotional readiness, the willingness to commit to a married life. Many people are not ready for that. They’re happy hanging with their friends, eating out at nice restaurants, having their freedom and personal space. They don’t want to be tied down and don’t feel up to the challenge of raising children. Because of this, marriages are happening later and later as people continue to delay until they, “find themselves.” The average age to marry has risen to 32 years old. At the age of 32, I’d already been married for 12 years and was the father of four children.
Yes, our marriage, the one we weren’t at all ready for, has survived and thrived. And you know what? I’m still not truly ready for it. I still have a lot of growing to do as a man, a husband, and a father.
This is what’s so important to understand: No one is ever ready for marriage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get married.
It really doesn’t matter how old you are or how far into adulthood you’ve progressed, you’ll never be completely perfect, and you’ll never find a partner who’s completely perfect. There’s a mistaken idea that I hear from a lot of young people, even in the parish I pastor (I’m now a married Catholic priest), that they need to put off marriage until their life is completely in order. They want to bring the best version of themselves into a marriage, nothing less. This is a mistaken idea. I would even say that it is quite harmful.
Life is an adventure, a heroic journey. We continue to grow and change until the very end. The man I am today is very different than the man who made his wedding vows 20 years ago. I have matured. So has my wife. We will continue to mature, and we wouldn’t have been able to do so without each other. Without her, I’d be lost. I would know far less about myself and be a far less complete person.
The very nature of love is that there’s no upper limit. There’s always more love to give, which is why marriages that have endured for decade after decade are so beautiful. The love has matured, grown, and wrapped the spouses so intensely that it appears in the smallest of ways. They know each other so well that they have truly become one flesh.
The joy of marriage is building a life together. If we think of it as bringing two completely finished individual persons into a contractual arrangement, then we’ve missed the point of marriage entirely and set an impossible goal. Making vows is always a risk, an act of trust that, no matter what life brings in the future, no matter how ready the couple may or may not be, no matter how they change and grow over the years, they will do it together.
No one is ever ready for marriage. It’s a reality so magnificent that we cannot possibly be ready for it. This is precisely what makes it so beautiful. The best a couple can do is trust each other, exercise prudence and discernment, and at the appropriate time make their best decision to take up the vocation that God has given them. Individually, you aren’t ready, but together, you are perfectly prepared.