Eventually dating leads to marriage. As two persons date each other more and more, they come to have feelings that they take to be real love. So they have an understanding that in time they’ll get married. Engagement and eventually marriage then are theirs to work through together.
Actually the process of becoming more and more involved with each other is not as smooth as it may seem. Many questions and problems can arise to delay or to hasten the eventual marriage. These questions are so universally perplexing that they must be answered one way or another by every dating young person.
TOO YOUNG TO MARRY?
Young people today are getting married in larger numbers and at earlier ages than they used to in this country. Half of all girls in America are married by their twentieth birthday. They marry boys who are little more than two years older than they are. At the turn of the century their own grandfathers did not marry until they were well into their twenty-seventh year. Nowadays many young fellows marry while they’re still in school, before they have completed their military service, and quite frequently before they’re ready to settle down in a full-time job.
With so many young people of both sexes entering marriage so soon, the question of the wisdom of early marriage needs airing. National figures tell us that the teen-age marriage is the least stable of all. Persons who marry before they are into their twenties more often break up than do those in any other age group.
One reason for the failure of so many young marriages is that it is usually the most impulsive, least responsible fringe of youth that rushes into early marriage—exactly those who have little chance of success in it. Another reason for the failure of young marriages is that quite a lot of them are “shot-gun weddings” which took place because a girl became pregnant. Such a marriage is notoriously poor, for obvious reasons. The over-all reason for the failure of the too early marriage is that marriage is not child’s play. Two persons have to be mature enough to be ready to settle down.
They must be grown-up enough to be able to assume the responsibilities and to enjoy the privileges of being married.
Just the Right Age
Studies indicate that the best age for marriage is somewhere in the early or middle twenties. When the man is twenty-three or a little more, he has completed all or most of his education, he probably is out of service, he usually is ready to get married, and he’s able to support a family. By the time a young woman is twenty-two or twenty-three, for instance, she’s out of school and may have had some work experience. Members of both sexes in their twenties are presumably more mature than they were in their teens. As young adults old enough to have had their share of dating around, they’re now usually ready to settle down.
Chronological age is not the only or even the best measure of maturity—that certainly is true. Some teen-agers are quite mature for their age, just as many adults are immature for their years. But generally speaking, a girl of sixteen or seventeen is not grown-up enough to be really ready for marriage, any more than a lad not yet out of his teens is ready for the responsibilities of being head of the house.
How Parents See It
Most parents disapprove of early marriages. They usually prefer their sons and daughters to be very sure they are ready for marriage before rushing into it. With few exceptions, parents have an interest in seeing their children find themselves as persons before getting married. A father wants his son to finish his training and get established before taking on a wife and the responsibilities of marriage. A mother who has realized the benefits of education, whether she herself had one or not, wants her daughter to finish school before becoming a wife and mother. Parents have a considerable investment in their children. They have spent thousands of dollars in bringing up each child. They have invested much of themselves in rearing their children. So it’s to be expected that they don’t want their children to jeopardize their futures by marrying too soon.
Mothers and fathers know, from experience, that infatuations pass, and that impetuous love affairs should have the test of time before the young lovers rush into marriage. They are therefore apt to oppose an impulsive marriage undertaken before the couple really know each other or realize what they’re getting into.
Some very young people rush into early marriage as a way of rebelling against their parents. A girl who doesn’t see eye to eye with her mother may plunge into a premature marriage as her way of showing Mom that she won’t be bossed any more. A fellow who is trying to declare his independence from his father may get married as a way of getting out from under his father’s control. Needless to say, such drastic declarations of independence are poor bases for marriage.
Often it is the parents who pay the bills in their child’s marriage. When a young couple rush into marriage before they can support themselves, they usually count upon their parents to keep them financially afloat. Parents who grew up in a day when such things were not done may not be patient with their “needy” married children. A young husband may resent having to take help from his parents-in-law. His ego may sting under the realization that he’s not maintaining his own household. Difficulties come, too, when one set of parents does more for the young pair than the other side of the family. In-law problems flourish on just such feelings of jealousy, rivalry, and dependency, as many a young couple has regretfully learned.
Parental approval is an asset, and disapproval by parents is a liability in the young marriage. There appear to be two reasons for these findings. One, if the parents object because they feel marriage at that particular time is unwise, there may be some basis for their objection which is borne out later when trouble starts in the young marriage. Two, when parents approve a match they expect it to succeed, and they do all they can to help it work out well. On the other hand, if parents disapprove, they look for trouble and may go out of their way to find flaws in the marriage with sniping and goading. Such things cannot be laughed off or treated as unimportant. How parents feel is important—too important to be ignored.
GETTING MARRIED WHILE STILL IN SCHOOL
Until World War II few schools and colleges permitted their students to marry. If a young person did marry before completing his education, he was expected to drop out of school. In recent years there has been an increasing tendency for young people to marry and continue their education. How well these marriages work out is a frequent question.
Studies of married students on college and university campuses since World War II indicate that the married man is a good student. He averages higher grades, on the whole, than does the unmarried student. He feels settled as a married man, and so he wastes less time playing around. His goals after marriage are clear and highly motivated. Now he wants to hurry up and finish his training so he can get to work. And, as a married student, he has the constant help and assistance of his wife.
Putting Hubby Through
Many a young wife of a college student laughingly says that she is getting her Ph.T. (Putting Hubby Through). By that she means that she is working to help her husband finish his education. She may help him study for examinations, type his papers, do library work for him, or even get a job to support them both until that time when he is through school and can take over the breadwinning.
If the girl has completed her own educational plans, this is fine. But, more often, student wives drop their own schooling to help their husbands complete theirs. They often plan to go back to school after their husbands have graduated, and some of them do. But too often a girl gets caught up in homemaking, child bearing and rearing, so that she never gets back to school. She may be sorry later on when she finds herself less able to keep up with her contemporaries’ cultural background—or even her husband’s.
Some men don’t like to be dependent upon their wives for support and make the situation difficult. Then there are men who are perfectly willing for their wives to work but who assume little responsibility around the house, so that the girl has two jobs on her hands. She may become irritable with fatigue from working under pressure all the time. If she resents having to give up her own education for such a thankless double-duty role, she may not be a pleasant wife and companion.
In School Together
There are young married couples who continue their schooling simultaneously. They get an apartment in the student housing on the campus, or they live with or near one set of their parents, and both remain students. In some situations this works out very well. In others, there are problems.
The most urgent of these problems is money. Where will it come from? Two can live as cheaply as one—but only for half as long. Somehow young married students must find money to live on while they complete their education. Veteran benefits have been a source of financial aid in recent years. Parents, in some cases, are willing and able to continue the help they were giving their son and daughter before they were married. Sometimes the couple can float a loan or live on an inheritance. Often one or both of them carry part-time work.
Problems of juggling marriage, education, and work come largely from the pressure of competing responsibilities. It takes time and attention to establish a marriage. Study requires concentration. Almost any job takes something out of a person. Some young people can take the triple responsibility; others find it just too much.
Babies Complicate Things
Many a married couple plan on finishing their education, only to find that a baby is on the way. When a baby comes, a young mother has to drop out of school. The young father may have to get a job in order to take on the additional responsibility. He may have to curtail his educational plans. When a couple marries, babies are a part of the picture. Recent studies of married university students indicate that most of them did not plan on having their babies so soon, and if they had it all to do over again they would have postponed their weddings.
Sometimes, of course, the reason why a young couple married while still in school was because a baby was already on the way. Such weddings put pressure on both the young woman and the young man to hurry up and “make things right” before the baby was born or, if possible, before the pregnancy was discovered. Most people agree that this is not the best start for marriage.
High School Student Marriages
Many people oppose marriage of high school students, even though they may approve of college marriages. They feel that college students have more of a chance. For one thing, housing for married couples is provided on many a college and university campus. Secondly, college students are older and more mature than high school students, more ready for marriage.
Many high schools openly oppose student marriages, and when students marry they are not encouraged to return to school. If they do continue on as married students they may find themselves excluded from certain student functions. Some high schools have more permissive policies about student marriages and allow such students to continue on in school after they’re married. But even the most liberal high schools find it hard to approve of the marriages of their students.
Objections to student marriages in high schools are several. First is the recognition that by marrying while still in school, students are curtailing their own futures. Experience indicates that few of the married girls finish school. They drop out to have their babies or to get jobs before they graduate. Fellows who marry while still in school often drop out before they have reached their desired educational goals. The pressures of supporting a wife and family are too great to keep the average boy in school very long.
Adults in the community fear the effect of married students upon other pupils in high school. They don’t want to risk the kind of talk and behavior that they feel sure will start when married students mingle freely with single ones. Whether these fears are well-founded or not is beside the point. The fact is that many adults are anxious that inexperienced young people not be inducted too soon into the more sophisticated behavior of married students.
Some teachers feel that generally it is the more impulsive, irresponsible young people who marry young. Therefore they, too, are usually opposed to early marriages. So the tendency is for high schools generally to frown upon student marriages and often to rule against them.
WHEN HE’S OFF TO THE SERVICE
Most young fellows face the probability of military service and the question arises: Is it best to marry before a boy goes into service, while he is in, or after he is through service?
The answer seems to depend primarily upon how ready for marriage the couple is. If they are ready before he is to go into service, they may have enough feeling of unity to weather the months and miles of separation they face when he’s in service. Even then they face the questions of where the young wife will live while her husband is in service, whether she will try to follow him as long as she can, or whether she will take a job to see her through, financially and emotionally, while he’s away.
Marrying while a fellow is in service means a short honeymoon and little time to be together before he has to return to duty. But it may give a couple a sense of having things settied, and the security of being married might be worth the strain of separation.
Waiting until a fellow has finished his military service makes sense to some couples; they prefer to postpone marriage until they can live together. They face the strain of separation during their engagement, as well as the possibility that one or both of them may change during the interval of separation and cause their relationship to break up. But if they are well matched and mature enough to take such stresses, they may conquer them and be glad they waited before going on into marriage.
There is no one answer to whether it’s best to marry before, during, or after a man has finished his military service. With each way there are compensations and complications. What any one couple decides depends upon what their relationship means to them and what they want to do about it.
SUCCESS IN MARRIAGE
The great American belief is that if two people love each other enough they will get married and live happily ever after. But it doesn’t always work that smoothly. Many marriages end in divorce, separation, or annulment rather than with the bliss the couple anticipated. Our country has too high a divorce rate to give young people any basis for believing that they will get by “doin’ what comes naturally.” Building a marriage that lasts and brings happiness through the years is an achievement that does not come by accident. Intensive studies have been made to find out just who makes a success ful marriage. Some of the findings of research and clinical studies are summarized briefly below.
It Takes Good People
Enduring, happy marriages are made by persons who have learned how to live a good life. They are conventional, trustworthy people who inspire confidence. They are usually active in religious life.
When you realize that in marriage you share all that you have and all that you are with your marriage partner, you realize how important it is that he be the kind of person you can trust. The adventurer, the irresponsible infantile person, the brittle sophisticate, may be exciting for an hour or an evening, but for the long pull of marriage someone more sturdy is needed. So it’s not surprising to find in study after study that it is good people who make good marriages.
It Takes Well-adjusted People
Any marriage requires considerable adjustment on the part of both the husband and the wife. The person who has learned how to adjust to others in a variety of situations before marriage therefore makes a better marriage partner, and finds greater happiness in marriage than does the person who cannot get along with others.
One study finds that those who have belonged to organizations and have had friends of both sexes before marriage make better marriages than do those who have had little social experience. Another investigation reports that those with a minimum of neurotic tendencies are more successful in their marriages.
It Takes Happy People
The indications are that those who get married and live happily ever after are usually those people who were happy before they married. Happiness runs in families, as do divorces. In a happy home a youngster learns the habits that make for happiness. These he brings with him into his own marriage. This doesn’t mean that the child of an unhappy home is doomed to unhappiness. But it does imply that the unhappiness of his childhood home may be a handicap that he will have to overcome—like any other.
It Takes Determination
Persons of both sexes who are determined to make their marriage work are more frequently successful than are those who are not willing to assume the responsibility for building it.
Larry is a good illustration. He signed up for a course in marriage at his college. These are the reasons he gave:
You see, my Susy and I have two strikes against us in our marriage. Her parents were divorced when she was in high school. My parents still live together, but in a state of cold war in which neither one can stand the other. My father brings out all the worst in my mother; and she nags at him until he is his most unpleasant self when he’s with her. Susy and I don’t want to do that to each other. We want to find out what it takes to live together in peace and happiness.
Larry may or may not have found the answer to his question in his college course. But the attitude he is taking toward his girl, toward his marriage, toward his parents’ home, shows the kind of honest, responsible determination to improve that makes for success.
GETTING READY FOR MARRIAGE
We have already seen that marriage is not child’s play and that it takes real maturity to make a good marriage. Such maturity is not in age alone, but is in terms of how emotionally grown-up you are. If you still childishly expect to have everything your own way, you are not grown-up enough for marriage. If you get angry too easily, jealous too insanely, or resentful when your rights are threatened, you have some growing up to do before you’re ready for marriage. If you still run back to your parents in infantile dependence whenever you’re hurt or have to make a decision, you may need to learn how to govern yourself before you make a good marriage partner. Until you have learned to love and to accept love in mature ways, you will not find much warmth in marriage. When you enjoy responsibility, and can carry your own weight and a little bit more, you are also ready to enjoy marriage. Until then, marriage—for you—would be risky.
So it goes. Emotional maturity is a personal achievement that comes from continued development as an individual. When two relatively mature persons marry they continue to develop and to help each other grow. Their marriage then becomes a joy and a blessing to them both.
Just feeling in the mood to get married is not enough of a reason to do it. Even being in love is not enough. Many people love each other and yet would be poorly matched in marriage. Love comes not once but many times in the life of a fellow or a girl. All through the teen years members of both sexes fall into and out of love. Only when they both love and are also willing to assume responsibility for a lifetime of living together should they prepare ahead for marriage.
Getting to Know Each Other
Before two people marry they should get to know each other well. The time will come when they can anticipate each other’s feelings and wishes. As they become really well acquainted, they find that they can finish each other’s sentences and feel what the other is feeling even without words. They learn to communicate with each other freely and fully, without fear or restraint, in ways that give a good basis for working out their life together.
In some sense, every marriage is a mixed marriage. No two people come from exactly the same background. Every couple must learn to live with these differences, whatever they may be. If a fellow comes from one religious faith and his wife from another, they have a gulf to bridge until each can get through to the other with understanding.
If he comes from one economic level and she from another, if they are of different nationalities or have different ethnic backgrounds, there will be strangenesses between them. Just the fact that he is a man and she is a woman means that they may have certain psychological differences which the couple will have to meet. Working such things out takes time and effort, and mutual concern and affection.
Preparing for Marriage
Getting ready for marriage means more than just deciding when and where you will be married. It means deciding where you will live and on what. It involves discussing how you feel about children and wives working and mothers-in-law and sexual relations and going to church and what life leans to you both. Any two people who approach their wed-ing without having given some serious thought to how they will work out their own specific personal plans for their marriage may be in for disillusionment.
Marriage involves so much over such a long period of time that it is the most demanding and exacting relationship that exists. It calls for preparation in much the same way that any other job does. You wouldn’t think of applying for a job as a doctor, a teacher, or a mechanic unless you had prepared for that job and were ready to tackle it. Even more, you will want to prepare for your marriage.
That is why so many young people today take courses in courtship and marriage in schools, colleges, churches, and community programs. That is why premarital conferences— with a trusted physician, with the couple’s pastor, priest, or rabbi, or with an accredited marriage counselor—have become an accepted thing. That is why books like this are written to guide those who want to think through their relationships with each other. That is why persons like yourself, giving serious consideration to all the relationships in your life, are encouraged to keep on asking questions and demanding better and better answers.
Dating leads to marriage eventually. But rushing into a precipitous marriage is foolish. It is far wiser to wait until you are mature and really ready for marriage, and to prepare for it responsibly over a period of time. One good way of readying yourself for marriage is by continuing to grow socially and emotionally in the experiences offered you by dating itself. As you make the most of your present social life, as you learn to appreciate and understand your dates and yourself, you are paving the way toward the good marriage that may be yours someday.