Choose Your Cornerstone

The Case for Early Marriage

Ted Cunningham was starting his senior year as a government major at Liberty University when he received the kind of call he'd been working for for three years. "Ted, we would like you to come to work for the United States Senate," said the voice on the other end of the line.

This was gold. A paid internship (in itself a rarity) that guaranteed him a job right out of college. "I appreciate the opportunity," he said without hesitation, "but at this time I will need to decline. I am headed in a different direction."

What . . . ?

But Ted knew exactly what he was doing. Now, he didn't know which direction his career would take, but he did know his priorities. And there was something that ranked higher for him than his dream job. Her name was Amy Freitag, and he wanted to marry her in a bad kind of way. You see, the internship would have required him to leave campus for the semester. Liberty had a competitive dating scene. Jerry Falwell, Liberty's founder, wanted it that way and would regularly encourage the male students to ask out any unengaged girl they were interested in, even if she was already dating someone. Marriage was a very important part of Ted's life plan, and he did not intend to leave room for anyone to cut in on him.

Marriage as a Cornerstone

According to researchers Kay Hymowitz, James S. Carroll, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Kelleen Kaye, authors of Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, a 2013 report examining marriage trends, the large majority of young adults do rate marriage as an important part of their life plan. But instead of prioritizing it in their twenties, they're pushing it out to some future point in time when they're ready, whatever "ready" means. The authors of Knot Yet call this the "capstone" model of marriage—marriage as something to be done after you have put the rest of your life in order—as opposed to the traditional "cornerstone" model, the approach Ted took, which views marriage as a foundation for launching into adulthood.

But delaying marriage unnecessarily may be costing young adults more than they realize. According to the research, earlier marriage confers considerable benefits, including more frequent sex, healthier lifestyles, lower rates of infertility, and fewer complications arising from previous relationships. Wilcox summarized it recently in the Washington Post: "[I]f you'd like to maximize your marital happiness, your odds of having a couple of kids, and of forging common memories and family traditions, you might not want to delay marriage if the right person presents him- or herself in your mid-to-late 20s." He also noted the relationship-strengthening factor of growing through the adjustments of young adulthood together, of learning sacrifice, selflessness, and compromise as a couple.

Do Not Discount the Defining Decade

Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist and author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—and How to Make the Most of Them Now, concurs. Although she doesn't advocate for early marriage per se, she pleads with twenty-somethings not to view these years as a carefree time of protracted youth. In a 2013 TED talk that has now been viewed a whopping seven million times, she tells of clients who come into her office lamenting something like the following: "Dating in my twenties was like musical chairs. Everybody was running around and having fun. But then sometime around thirty, it was like the music turned off, and everybody started sitting down. I didn't want to be the only one left standing up. So sometimes I think I married my husband because he was the closest chair to me at thirty."

Jay's message to them is, Do not do that! "The stakes are very high. . . . Too many thirty-somethings and forty-somethings look at themselves, and at me, sitting across the room, and say about their 20s, 'What was I doing? What was I thinking?'"

She recommends that twenty-somethings take three action steps now to avoid finding themselves in the same predicament then. First, invest in yourself—not in an indulgent way, but in a way that adds identity capital to who you are and what you bring to life's table. Second, look outside your routine circle of friends with an eye toward gaining new opportunities, both relational and otherwise.

Both are excellent suggestions, but her third is, in my view, the most salient. It's a culmination of the first two: Start planning for your family now—your future family. This is about taking responsibility for your life, and it requires being intentional about who and what you want.

Eyeing Marriage

Or, to return to Ted Cunningham, it's about knowing your priorities and pressing on to maturity. Ted married Amy after his graduation in 1996. He was 22, and she was 21, with one year left to finish her degree. He even, with great satisfaction, took upon himself the responsibility for her final year's tuition. It's the kind of thing a man does.

His career got off just fine, too. He founded Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri, where he serves as pastor and is in full pushback mode against the "wait and get established" line of reasoning about marriage.

Marriage is good for you, he writes in Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage, written specifically to encourage young people in love not to be dissuaded by those who tell them they should wait. "I believe that young age is an unnecessary delay of marriage. If you and your fiance walked into our church today, with budding love in your hearts, we would rejoice with you, even if you were only twenty years old. We would walk you through biblical qualifications for marriage, and if you were ready, we'd give you the pastoral nod. Then we would set a date and throw a raging party."

Young and in Love is equal parts brotherly counsel about preparing for marriage—how to determine readiness, how to choose your mate wisely—and celebratory excursion through the Song of Solomon, the ancient book of love, marriage, and sex. It's all about helping marriage-minded young people go after what they say they want—a satisfying marriage.

Popping the Question

I hang out with teenagers and their parents these days. Many a conversation begins with something like: What does Ryan plan to major in? Where will Renée go to college? I've taken to injecting the marriage question on occasion. It usually takes people by surprise, but then they warm up to the thought.

And then there was Rachel. She was listing her college preferences and the pluses and minuses of each. "May I give you something else to think about?" I asked.

She gave me a nod, and I asked her if she wanted to be married. In a nanosecond, her face lit up, and the words surged even faster than her normal warp speed: "Yes! I would be totally happy just being a mom and teaching art classes at home with my kids!" Here was a wellspring of desire waiting to find expression. From there, I simply recommended that she take that into account as she weighed her options. And she thanked me.

Wilcox said he married his best friend twenty years ago at age 24. It was "the best move I've ever made." Ted Cunningham put his career on hold for marriage, and he's never regretted it. "So young men need to start approaching young women, falling in love, and getting married," he says. Because "it's biblical."

So there you have it, friends—marching orders from the pastor ready to throw a party for your wedding. 

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #33, Summer 2015 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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