October 9, 2013
I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage:
“I’m not ready.”
“I need to be financially secure first.”
“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).
“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)
Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.
I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.
The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.
Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.
The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.
That is what “not ready” usually means.
Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.
Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.
And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.
Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman.
As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.
Another argument pertains to each sex separately.
To women, I would argue that:
a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.
b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family.
c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.
To men, I would argue that:
Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.”
I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show.
In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.
There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).