Someone asked what is like to get married as a teenager. Here is story I told about what it was like for Jennie and me way back when.
Jennie and I were married exactly two weeks after we graduated high school.
At our wedding reception we had glasses filled with juice, because 18 year olds are too young to drink.
We were 18 years old. We were each others' first real boyfriend and girlfriend, first loves, first… well, we were young and experienced a lot of firsts together. We had been dating for a bit over a year and a few months. We probably would have done the same thing as everyone else our age, and kept dating after we went to different colleges, tried the long distance thing and then either would have broken up or gotten married a few years later anyway. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but we don't roll like that in the Davis house.
To answer this very big question, I want to give some background on who we were at the time and why we came together in the way we did. When I was still a junior I came to the conclusion that college didn't really fit with my life at that moment. I just didn't see myself partying through the next four years when I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or even what interested me. I was smart enough, just that route for some reason just seemed boring and not very special. My mom was the pragmatic type, "Well which branch of the military do you want to join?" I didn't really mind that idea. Many of the men in my family had been military. It could get me a bit of adventure and see the world. At least get me out of this cow town that we grew up in. So that got me started down the road toward the military. I enlisted early in the summer between junior and senior year.
Later that summer, Jennie and I ended on a trip in South Texas where we had to drive back home to Oklahoma. It was just us. No parents, no adults. We spent the whole day together. Most of it in the rain. There was a monster rain storm that seemed to follow us the entire length of Texas. We laughed about it and talked for the whole trip. There are a lot of things we still talk about from that trip. By the end of that day we got home and just kept on hanging out together. Later that night I was laying on her bed after we had been talking for a long time. There was a moment of silence where I began to think back about the day. It was perfect. I had spent the whole thing just hanging out with this beautiful wonderful girl who made me happy. I wanted it to be like that forever. An idea began to form in my head.
"(What is going to happen to us after high school? Will we be able to stay together? We probably won't be able to. This is the real world. She will go to college and who knows where I will end up? I don't want to lose her. The only real way this could work is if we got married. Why should I wait until I am older to find the girl I want spend the rest of my life with anyway?… Jennie is everything I want… This is crazy. I am only 17. I can't know what I want in a woman. Why would I even be thinking is?)"
Then it happened.
"(She is great, but there needs to be something else. I need a woman who gets me. I think that a good wife should be able to understand when something is wrong with her husband even if he doesn't say anything at all. I have probably been thinking about this for a while. If she asks me in the next minute if something is wrong I am going to ask her to marry me.)"
As I finished that sentence in my head I heard a whisper from the other side of the bed.
"Jon, is everything alright?"
"…(What‽ Seriously‽ I didn't even have to time to realize it was a stupid idea! Umm… No. It is ok. She is the perfect woman for me. And I did say that I would, so I am going to. I'm doing this.)"
I talked to her and told her what I felt. I told her how I had decided and told her that I wanted to spend my life with her. I asked her to marry me. That was it. That was all the thinking about it and planning that I done. I hadn't ever really considered it before that, but at that moment I made a choice that was by far the most important of either of our lives, and I did it almost completely on impulse. Rash like a child, almost completely driven on emotion with only the slightest ounce of reason to back it up.
She said she would have to think about it…
I said that was fine and I understood. It was late so I slept on her couch that night. That was one of the worst nights I have ever had. I knew that was one the dumbest things I had ever done. "(Oh God, she is going to get freaked out and break up with me. Worse, she will tell the whole school and make a laughing stock of me. I should just walk in there and take it back… Stupid. Then again, she might say yes…)"
I eventually went to sleep and the next morning I went to see her. We talked again and I asked her what she thought about last night. She said that she spent the whole night thinking of reasons why she shouldn't do it. And then she said she couldn't come up with any. She said yes.
That was how we decided when we were 17 to get married.
We didn't tell anyone because, frankly the community wouldn't support that two 17 year olds would be thinking of getting married. This wasn't the 50's, after all. We spent the next year "preparing" ourselves for it. We thought about it and talked about our dreams together, how many kids did we want, what type of house would we want, what jobs would we have. I think that that year was actually much more important for us than the romantic story above. We really contemplated our situation and started to really grasp the things we had to do. We began to think like married people as we kept up our secret engagement.
That's when "I" and "me" started to became "us" and "we".
In keeping up with our tradition of secrecy I went to the local jewelry store to give her a ring. Something about me said that a woman deserves the respect of a man enough for him to sacrifice his wages to show he loves her and wants others to know it too. So I saved up my money and got her a ring. I wasn't stupid about it though. I went right after Christmas to take advantage of one of the best sales of the year. (Thrift is important to young couples.) It was January and we still didn't want anyone to know, but the girl who helped me just so happened to be in our class. We lived in a small town and gossip was still more of a hobby than the internet. Crap. She was, however, a very trustworthy person and a good friend. She didn't tell anyone about the ring. She helped me pick out a great one. It was $500 and everything I had, and Jennie still polishes it lovingly.
On spring break we made it official. By this time our families knew that we would probably get married, but they didn't know that we had already been planning for the better part of the year. I showed them the ring at moments when Jennie wasn't around to see. She still didn't know I had got her a ring. My mom and I went on a family trip to San Antonio and we invited Jennie to go too. I I took her out to a very nice dinner and formally presented it to her on the one year anniversary of our first date. That was a surprise to her, but now we had a story we could tell to people about how we decided to get married.
The important things that I remember about it was the complete sense of shocked support we received from the community. Basically, everyone loves a love story, but when they think about it people thought we were silly kids, that we had a lot to learn, but mostly they thought Jennie was pregnant. Well, its been the better part of a decade since then and no little Jons running around, so I hope that theory has been officially let go. We were young and had a lot to learn about the real world, but we would do it together.
We were married on June 1st, two weeks after we graduated high school. The ceremony was nice and quaint (that is translated as cheap enough for kids to afford.) We were married by the lake on a perfect afternoon. Except for the rain. It didn't interrupt the ceremony and we were already at the reception when it started to rain. We aren't superstitious people, but it still makes you nervous. On the way to our honeymoon at a romantic little bed and breakfast there was a rainbow. You know sometime's it's important to forget the rain and remember the rainbows.
We spent only one week together before I had to go.
Then I was off to boot camp with the Marines. That is all we had together. 1 week. I was in training in one form or another for the next 9 months. We got to see each other from time to time, but mostly just reading letters and hearing her voice was all that I had. Jennie joked with friends about her pretend husband. We were finally able to move in together in March when I received my orders and were stationed in California. We could finally be married, for real. Jennie was only 18 and had already coordinated a cross-country move while taking online classes and tests from hotel rooms (before online classes were cool.) She had done all the hard work and had actually already had an apartment on the other side of the country ready for us when we arrived. We got to unpack all of our stuff, which was almost nothing, but that did include massive tubs of the various odds and ends that a young married couple need. Our families spent the whole year between our engagement and us moving in collecting things we would need, from pots and pans, old tables, chairs, bedding and blankets. I really don't how young people can do it without the support of family.
That time was really a blessing, when we were driving out to begin our life together. Then it was over when I discovered shortly thereafter that my unit was getting deployed in August and before that I would be spending the rest of March and April as well as the month of June training in Yuma… So we really wouldn't get that married feeling for another year.
This was reality. We never blamed the Marines, it was part of the deal. Part of what we needed to do to be together at such a young age.
In the military you see a lot, and I mean a lot, of people getting married young. There are many reasons to speculate on why that is, but it happens so let's leave it at that. What I saw was that most of those marriages (the vast majority really) failed. We had many friends that were married while we were in and only two other couples are doing well today.
Younger people are much more volitile and do not know themselves well enough yet to enter into a complete lifestyle alignment with someone else. Basically, most of us who get married that young lack maturity. We are impulsive and emotional. Add to this, we haven't really thought about what we want from marriage and we don't really know what we want from a partner. Most of the time we meet someone who makes us happy and that works. We are also not really equipped with many of the mechanisms that allow older people to deal with major life events that happen from time to time, especially when you complicate it with another person.
Those who get married later in life, however, are much different mentally when they decide to get married. Most are following "the order of things"; they finish high school, move out and go to college, have their fun, learn some stuff, finish college, start a career, get married. It is all part of a plan. They are highly individualized by this point, know themselves very well and know what they want in life and from a mate. In general, I think that two people who come together under that kind of mindset, finding the person who perfectly, or at least as best as possible, matches your needs have a better chance to be successful from the front. You are also better prepared to deal with things that come up, like death of family members or other major stress events if you get together later in life after you mature.
I wanted to mention the type of people who make it work at a young age. My wife and I both came together after hard childhoods. We were mature for our age. We could handle, at the age of 18, long deployments and periods of separation, cross-country moves, massive stress and at 22, the death of one of our parents. The reason I think we were able to do it is counter to a strength that I mentioned that older people who marry have, we weren't done growing yet and didn't quite know ourselves yet either. Back when this story began we were kids, still young and not really aware of what it was like be adults, but deep in the most adult situation of our lives. We had to learn to rely on each other to deal with things most people eventually learn to deal with by themselves. For example, I am hopeless at paying the bills. Don't get me wrong, for most of our marriage I was the bread winner, but it all went into the same shared account and when I was off on deployment or training missions for months the bills still have to get paid on the 1st. Jennie did that, and did it well. Now years later I out of the military and can pay the bills myself, but am completely sure that I will screw it up, because Jennie has always done that. And yes, we have always had joint accounts. If you can't trust someone with your money how could you trust them with your name? We still have many of these aspects that one would laugh at how helpless we are without the other.
This is something I think is crucial for young people who get married. They have to have the ability to complete their growth not as two individuals, but together. Trust is obviously important, but more so when you can't even really know yourself. They have to be very dependent on one another. That is what those of us who could make it work when we are young do. Over the past decade, Jennie and I have had to complete our evolution into adulthood never thinking in terms of "I" but thinking in terms "we". We were alone and without any other fallback besides eachother and had to learn to be adults under those conditions, together. We have still also had to continue growing. Back then I didn't know that I loved writing, I didn't know that I loved history and cultures and that I one day I wanted to run my own businesses. Jennie didn't know that she wanted to be a teacher or how the the death of her father would influence her growth. However, all these changes that have happened to the both of us have helped influence our mutual evolution into adulthood. I really don't think that two people who grew up so much separately could be as close as we are today, because we were so vital to one another during those formative years of early adulthood.
So I think that that is what is important for really young people to get married and succeed. They need to already be pretty mature, be able to value the unity rather than the individual, learn to grow dependent upon the other for success rather than independently and understand that both of you are going to change very much, especially over the next ten years. You still have to love the person they grow into as well.