Recent discussions, some reading and a few emails I received got me pondering about what is an appropriate age for marriage. Obviously, this is not a black and white issue, as I heard both from 30-year-old women who are terrified of commitment, and 16-year-old girls who feel fully prepared and willing to enter the covenant of marriage.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the question should be, in fact, worded differently. Not "how young is too young?", but rather, "are we doing enough in order to prepare for marriage and family life from a young age?"
To me, the answer is pretty much obvious. Most young women are woefully unprepared for marriage. And I'm not even talking about the prevalent ineptitude in the realm of housekeeping - even though it is kind of sad when a 20-year-old woman doesn't know how to operate a washing machine, can't boil an egg to save her life and even prides herself for her complete disdain for housework. Just so you don't think I'm pointing my finger at someone else, I'm talking about myself a couple of years ago.
You can learn the basics of cleaning and cooking pretty quickly if there's need to. What is more difficult to reverse is an entire lifetime of secular education that draws the young girl's heart away from home, from her family, from taking care of others, and from every feminine pursuit that might be beneficial for her as a future wife. This is the world's attitude, and it obviously takes effort, alertness and diligence on the parents' side if they are determined to show their daughters a different path.
Furthermore, young women are often terrified of all the aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. Not long ago, I attended a small highschool reunion. One of my old highschool friends looked at my round tummy and asked, her eyes practically widening with fear, "does it hurt?"; another friend, who called me today, asked if I'm on bed rest. Others have asked how come I'm not under supervision 24/7. Obviously, with all its possible discomforts, normal pregnancy is not an illness and is not supposed to make you incapacitated. So far, my pregnancy has been, perhaps, 5% pain and discomfort, and 95% joy and delight. But how will you ever know, if you are an only child (or, at best, one of two children), and grew up in a system of age-segregated institutionalized education, without seeing pregnant women or ever cuddling a baby?
A lot is talked about how dangerous is it to enter marriage before you are ready. Yet purposefully delaying marriage can be a source of frustration, loneliness, future difficulty in finding your match and adjusting to life together, possible difficulty in having children as the woman becomes older, and a huge stumbling block to remaining chaste.
I remember one girl in my highschool who came from a very traditional family. She got married at the beginning of her senior year, and had a baby by the end of it. She was seen by everyone as a "lost case", as someone who has caused irreparable damage to her future. The terrible irony of it was that we were surrounded by young girls who hopped from one meaningless dating relationship to the next, who became promiscuos, caught STDs, had abortions, and became emotionally crippled for the rest of their lives. But somehow, that wasn't viewed in the light of its true horror - while early marriage and motherhood were considered an obvious tragedy.
Of course, as long as "independence", "self-sufficiency", "self-development" and other "selfs" are glorified to the point of drowning out everything else, and as long as young women and men are encouraged to not even think in the direction of preparing for marriage and parenthood as teenagers, we will remain unprepared and the vague term of "too young to get married" will become a common description of just about anyone under 30.