Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Early Marriage - and Early Divorce

This week I learned about the first "Steubenville divorce" of people I knew before they were married.

Now, early marriage can be controversial, insofar as many people think it unwise precisely because it often leads to divorce.  Unfortunately, those figures count "early marriage" as anything from 14 to mid-twenties.  There's a lot of growth in those ten years; those figures are pretty skewed.  (Here is a long but insightful defense of early marriage).

Then, of course, among those who desire an early marriage, there are many for whom that's simply not how the cards play out.  Whether your focus is waiting for the one God has prepared for you or choosing someone based on practical qualities that will make them a good spouse and parent, the fact remains that we can't always get what we want.

Of these who are not able to marry as early as they'd like, there come, of course, the unmarried woes (in women, at least, these often begin in the late twenties; I've no experience of men facing such, though I'd imagine they do): a loneliness mixed with despair at an ever-shrinking pool of applicants (if you will) and fear because of decreasing fertility.

None of these fears justify "settling" in the contemporary mind: tying the knot with someone you don't /really/ love, just to have the security of being married (unless you're open to things like adultery, divorce, etc).  Of course, it is possible to have a good marriage in such a situation, but it requires a lot of self-discipline, and pushing forward just as strongly as if one were "in love with" one's spouse in the first place.  (This is entirely doable, cf. many centuries of arranged marriages, but very foreign to the modern mind.)

I didn't know the couple in question well at all.  I knew her, mostly by association, and I had wondered that she had matured and been tamed so entirely as to be entering into marriage with such fervor and purity as they displayed (as most all engaged couples at Steubenville so piously display).  Trouble is, some people are inspired to virtue by the fact that everyone around them is striving for holiness out there, but others lose discipline because they no longer have to fight for their faith, and still others seem to be completely oblivious to the campus-wide peer pressure to be holy.

So I can't say I'm any more surprised by their divorce than I was by their marriage, especially since I keep hearing that the divorce rate from Steubenville is the same as the divorce rate for the rest of the country (though usually those divorces are blamed on the couple's loss of faith that resulted from the loss of community upon graduation).  And, from what little I know about them, he should have little difficulty obtaining an annulment, and should probably be able to win custody of their child.

But just imagining this poor man, whom I could hardly pick out of a crowd, divorced with a daughter after just two crazy years of marriage...  he can't possibly be older than 27.  I have a hard enough time being single and post-college, and everyone I know has had a hard time making that transition from college to adulthood.  How much more difficult will it be for him!

Please pray all those involved in this sticky situation.  Yet another reason to be careful before settling for someone who may not be motivated to work as hard as you to keep the marriage going.

And another reason to remember that marriages don't make themselves.  Keep in mind, my fellow singles, that life does not actually get easier upon making those vows.  What struggles we have just change.

Sancte Ioseph, ora pro eis
Sancta Maria, ora pro eis
Sancta Familia, orate pro eis


  1. Just a trivial correction of fact from xkcd:

  2. So sad! Perhaps the real tragedy is that communities like Steubenville are very rare and that the average Catholic will never experience anything like it.

    There's no question that community is super important so it's such a shame that so few parishes seem to have any fervor. I certainly don't know how to fix this, but I wish I could do more than pray to help change it!

  3. That's terrible! God have mercy. :-/

    I can't help my skepticism at the oft repeated claim that it is the same rate. I mean, it HAS to be seems. The divorce rate in community, I have heard, is about 2%. Of course, Steubenville isn't community, still!

    No. I can't imagine it. Of course, in the secular world, it gets even worse! My boss is somewhere around 30, divorced with two children. A lot of people are younger, never been married, and have children. These are the realities of today. The fact that I can't fathom it says a ton about my upbringing.

    And, Claire, I'm not a typical guy, but the sorts of things you mentioned a woman experiencing as she gets older, I am personally aware of those sorts of thoughts.

  4. Oh, and I'm a BIG proponent of early marriage (well...marriage in early 20-23 or 24).

  5. The tragedy (except for the baby) seems not to be the divorce but the marriage, especially if the father gets custody of the infant, which I believe is very rare and usually only happens if the mother has serious problems.

    I think too many otherwise faithful Catholics jump the gun where vocation (especially marriage) is concerned. It is better to wait for the absolute certainty that comes from God about a potential spouse than just to cross your fingers and marry the person who really wants you (despite your uneasy feelings) hoping it will all work out.

    I've heard great things about Steubenville, but if it doesn't give young Catholics weapons and shields to be able to live the good fight outside of Steubenville, then what is the point of going there? And I wonder if there exists peer pressure to marry young. Peer pressure to "be holy" is not always well-informed, even if it is well-intentioned.

    I've got 21-year-old readers who are clearly not ready be courted but are being pressured by friends to stop "rejecting all those good guys!" It's not that they are rejecting marriage for a life of sinful pleasures: they are simply NOT READY for marriage, sex, babies and bills yet.

    In the agrarian period, most people had all the skills they needed for adult life by 16. In our very complex Western societies, it is increasingly difficult to learn all the skills and develop the necessary character by one's early twenties.


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