I’ve been called a child bride. I got married right out of college – in fact, I finished college early so I could get married sooner. I was busy being a wannabe academic, planning for graduate school and internships when I became the ultimate cliché: I fell in love with a Navy pilot. I was twenty-one, college educated, and head over heels in love – it all seemed pretty grown-up to me.
In August I sat in my academic advisor’s office ringing my hands. Dr. Steen flipped through a wall calendar looking for testing dates. I needed to sit for the LSAT and the GRE before spring she said. I had applications to fill out, essays to write, deadlines to meet she insisted.
She’d already moved to grab another sheet of paper when she looked me in the eye. “I’m not going,” I muttered. I’d sucked all of the air out of the room. “I’m getting married,” I blurted out, talking so fast my words seemed to slur. “In a few months. I can take four or five extra credits this term and graduate midyear. I’m moving to Florida and I need to plan a wedding.” She said nothing.
In addition to being the Dean and my advisor, Dr. Sara Jayne Steen was my father’s personal campus spy. She was an old family friend, a woman who’d known me as an awkward preteen and an ambitious college freshman. More importantly, she was a loyal friend to my parents and worked hard to make sure I used their tuition monies well.
The rest of our meeting was a blur. Sara Jayne recovered enough to help me formulate a plan for my escape. She arranged for me to work as a tutor at the international center and helped me figure out how to accelerate my courses. She smiled and hid her misgivings well, but Dr. Steen was in shock. I’m sure she called my dad as soon as I left her office.
It wasn’t just my advisor or our families that seemed surprised by our plans. The message was clear in all directions: I was too young to get married. They thought we were immature and inexperienced. They thought we were rushing, that we’d miss out on life, on graduate school, on opportunities and freedom. We were moving too fast.
When twenty-something Cody told his military buddies about his plans to get married in the middle of flight school he got two immediate responses. One guy called him crazy; “You’ll never be so eligible again – what are you thinking?” he hollered. But another, older officer was just as convicted when he said “every day I waited to marry my wife, is one less day I have with my best friend.”
It turns out they weren’t all wrong. We weren’t as grown up as I thought we were, but we did group up together. We were too young, so we talked our panicked selves through our first real jobs. We waded through military moves, dying grandparents, and graduate school with a fortunate naivety reserved only for the very young. We ventured overseas and traveled the globe before we got old enough to be afraid. We had babies when sleep wasn’t so difficult to miss and energy was high. We took on the world before we knew enough to look beyond the horizon. We sort of grew into each other.
Growing up together could result in an unhealthy, even scary case of marital enmeshment, but for us spending our early twenties together looked a lot more like unconditional friendship and adventure. We just got lucky.
Cody and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend. In May I will have been with my husband longer than I lived in my parent’s home. I am most grateful for the years we spent together before our boys were born. We didn’t know enough to be afraid or to second guess our head long jump into commitment. Now we choose commitment every day. I have come to understand that part of the joy of a long relationship (however long is…) resides in the beauty of shared experience. We are fortunate to have started early.