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We started dating when I was 16 years old. She was 15. We dated through most of our years of high school and witnessed our fair share of eye rolls at what people perceived to be young, naive infatuation. And who knows, maybe it was. I was 20 when we announced our engagement and the rumors started flying: were we pregnant? How long could our marriage possibly last? They don't know what they're getting themselves into!
While some of our friends and family were genuinely excited for us, we were also met with a steady stream of criticism and thinly veiled judgment, as if our minds could not possibly be developed enough to make such a weighty commitment. Looking around at my 18 to 20-year-old friends I suppose I can see why. The biggest problem I had with the conversations leading up to our marriage was that people seemed to think we were doing something unnatural, that we were somehow endangering ourselves. For us, however, marriage seemed not only natural, but logical. We were already paying the majority of our tuition and living expenses ourselves, we shared our time and money, and were ready to make life decisions as a team. Over the four years leading up to our marriage we had formed a steady, dependable relationship where we were free to be our goofy, stressed-out, sometimes unhygienic selves without fear of losing each other over something trivial. We were more confident, more outgoing, more positive, and more fun to be around as a couple than we had ever been as single people. Now, nearly four years into our marriage, I can confidently say that we made the right decision. Getting married at 18 and 20 added some unique perks to our lives, such as:
1. We watched each other grow up.
Even though I married my high school sweetheart, it feels like I've been married to five or six different women. My wife's phases and preferences, like mine, have varied widely from year to year, making our time together anything but mundane. I've watched her form and reform about a dozen different identities from science nerd to girly girl to punk to otaku. She's a comedian, then she's a critic. She's a Pinterest homemaker, then she's an expert on GMO-free fast food. Sometimes she's all of them. Meanwhile I spent countless hours adventuring through the entertainment industry, picking up small jobs as a model, photographer, actor, writer, music critic, stagehand, book nerd, and construction worker. The point is that we were there to experience many of the countless contributors to each of our world views and personalities. When she does something weird, I can usually see why.
2. We changed together.
One of the many pieces of advice we were given in our early years is to expect change. While each of us were going through different stages of life, we were usually conscious of how those changes were affecting the other person. When I realized that driving all over the place chasing film work was keeping me from spending time with my wife, I switched over to something that would keep me closer to home. When she saw my love for video games, she gave them a try and looked for games we could play together. We started looking for new experiences that we could both enjoy and formed an identity of our own as a couple.
3. It was easier to go to college.
Weird, right? I usually hear people saying things like, "I have enough to deal with in class, I don't think I could be married right now." In my life, being married made college easier. My financial aid was based on our income (which was close to nothing) instead of our parents income (who were not paying our tuition). Having a home together, a safe place to come back to, allowed my mind to recenter itself every day. I felt like no matter how I did in class or how my job was going, we would still have an enjoyable and successful life together. I had someone by my side asking my about my classes and making me form more solid thoughts on them than I probably would have otherwise.
4. It removed the stress of dating/looking for someone.
I do not envy single twenty-somethings, at least the ones that are looking. The insecurity and uncertainty I see in so many of my peers seems like it would make life pretty difficult. As a happily married person, I haven't really felt pressured to impress anyone. My life and thoughts hardly depend on the opinions of the people I see in class or in social settings because the health of my marriage is what truly affects my happiness. I felt no need to attract the attentions of the opposite sex, and was able to focus on my projects far better than I would have as a single person (maybe that's just me).
5. Divorce was out of the question.
I don't mean that we are just such good people that we'd succeed no matter what. I'm talking about the practical feasibility of a divorce. Everything we had built in our adult lives, we had built together. There was nothing to return to but college dorms or our parents' houses. For us, being young and married also meant that we were totally broke. Divorce costs time, money, and a whole lot of heartache, none of which we had the luxury of sparing. Instead of running to the idea of a breakup when we had our spats, we wrestled with how to fix (or just live with) the problems so that we could get back to our peaceful little life.
6. We got more attractive.
At 20 years old I was still a scrawny, baby-faced, sometimes-acne-ridden man-boy. We were both still relatively new to our adult bodies. It had never occurred to me that the woman I was marrying would keep getting hotter. I guess I'd always just thought of us both getting older, balder, and wider, but our looks have really taken a turn for the better (in my opinion) as we moved through our early twenties.
7. We're healthier for it.
Having someone who cares about your health is honestly pretty irritating. It means I gave up my Mountain Dew habit. It means she doesn't pour on the salt whenever she sits down to eat. It means that I can't stay up until three every morning playing Playstation without hearing an indignant why are you even awake right now? from the bedroom. When I have the option of going to a loud party full of small talk or cooking some dank food and watching a sweet new Netflix original, I choose to stay home every time. We eat better, sleep more, and do less stupid/dangerous things (ok, that one is all me) than we ever did before. Because at the end of the day we know someone cares about us and they'll have to deal with our messes if we make them.