body and health, psychology, social issues

Should People Marry Young? On Teen Marriage, Maturity, and Pedophilia

The other day, I was looking a comprehensive list of ethics of the Orthodox church, which are surprisingly hard to find. (The Catholics have it together; why not the Orthodox? But I digress…) I stumbled upon an article by Frederica Mathewes-Green titled Let’s Have More Teen Pregnancy. Her basic point was that people should marry young, that is, in their teenage years. This wasn’t the first time the idea had come to my attention, but she offered a good list of arguments that deserve some expanded commentary and, I think, relate to a other common issues today, particularly pedophilia and even relationships of large age difference. Beware… another long article incoming!

Let me summarize her points and then get to the discussion.

  1. People are both sexually and mentally mature by their late teens.
  2. Conservatives and liberals both want no child pregnancies, even though child-bearing is the point of sex. Conservatives say abstinence. Liberals say contraceptives.
  3. If young adults are responsible enough for abstinence or contraceptives, surely they are responsible enough for matrimony, provided they get assistance from family and society.
  4. Problems with teen pregnancy are primarily behavioral, not biological.
  5. Younger parents are better at handling the highly energetic nature of young children.
  6. The wait for marriage has gotten longer for marriage due to factors like delay in personal financial stability.
  7. The perception of adolescence has morphed our society into believing childhood is solely for play instead of a period of maturing.

Let’s start with point 7 because it’s the most fundamental to everything else. The perception that childhood is for play is the driving problem to immaturity of children. If we think kids are immature, it’s because they don’t act mature, but how can we expect maturity if we haven’t raised them to think like adults??

We could trace the shift in mentality back to the spoiling of kids in the 1950s. The WW2 generation raised their kids with the blessings they didn’t have due to the Great Depression, but this led to expectations about childhood, which then were passed on to successive generations. People began to consider childhood not as a period of transition to adulthood but of play, and as parents, they wanted to preserve that period. These aren’t just the words of Mathewes-Green; I can testify I’ve seen this in my own life with Boomers raising kids.

And who doesn’t enjoy play? So people kept doing it longer into their lives. When I was in college, the guys there were still adamantly playing video games… and now they are in their 30s, still playing video games, still living life to have fun. Responsibility is the key to adulthood, and that’s not something people have had alot of training in.

But people do want to be responsible. A growing number of young men are interested in men like Jordan Peterson who are talking about the built-in desire and need for responsibility. Responsibility brings power, independence, moments of true accomplishment, and self-esteem. It is a good thing to be responsible.

And that brings us to point 3. Can we trust teens to be responsible enough for marriage? Mathewes-Green says yes and rhetorically asks the question: (If not) Can we reasonably trust them to practice “heroic” abstinence and/or “diligent” contraception? It doesn’t seem fair to assume responsible sexual control and not responsibility in maintaining a relationship. Admittedly, life is more complicated, but complication in living really doesn’t change the basic mechanics of maintaining a long-term relationship.

If we think teens aren’t ready for commitment, why are we teaching them sexual intercourse in school? Teens are excited for love, but they are told that they must wait until they are are “old enough” to get married… which is when?

God in His timing decided that people will naturally start to experience erotic love when they are also biologically sexually mature. And for thousands of years, humans worked with this and society was fine. Humans haven’t changed in thousands of years, and God hasn’t made humans “evolve” to fit society’s changing perceptions, so the evidence suggests God expects us to continue to operate the same way and we’re just messing up.

The interesting thing is that teenage love (assuming no pollution from society) is actually some of the purest erotic love you can get. Why? Because the teens who fall in love see each other as whole persons (body and spirit), not merely as sexual objects, and desire sexual intercourse as a way of becoming more intimate with the person, not just connecting with a body. Yes, these days, there are bad actors who are already looking for the wrong reasons, but that problem is usually due to societal training, not normal mentality.

I offer myself as an example. When I was a teenager, I had two crushes (not simultaneously, hahaha). In both cases, I actually knew the girl personally, I had met her, I liked her personality, and I wanted to share a relationship with her. In fact, I didn’t even know about sexual intercourse until I went to college and learned via the internet (Wikipedia, I recall). I wanted a relationship and unity with the girl, which transcends sex.

If you wait too long for love, however, bad things start to happen. Over the years, friends come and go and prospects are taken. At some point, you are introduced to the ever-so-more exposed body in images, sometimes but not always pornography, and this arouses your sexual interest but unfortunately you can’t meet nor ever encounter the person you see. So the relationship becomes one-sided, static, surface-only. The invisible personal elements are absent, so you start looking solely at the body to feed your interest, and you become addicted to the visible. In short, your perception of people disintegrates: you see people as parts (body parts, character features, likes and dislikes, etc); and erotic love becomes equated with just sexual arousal. (The good news is that erotic love can be restored its proper conception, but that’s an article for another time.)

Still Drawn To Youth

Fast forward years later, you still have a taste for youth, and instinctively, your body says it’s fine. But culturally now, you’re considered “adult”. Cue “pedophilia”. The word is actually fairly new in vocabulary. The concept wasn’t around when the (most likely) 30-plus-year-old Joseph married the 15-year-old Mary in ancient Israel, and thus it’s obviously not a concept with any Jewish nor Christian basis. Instead, it comes from a generation that grew up with “free love”/open sex and are now afraid that this mentality is the driving factor behind attraction towards “kids”. In part, they are correct, and in part, they are not.

The part they are incorrect about is that there are also natural elements to it. Pause!! Here we must distinguish between two types of “pedophiles”. One type wants sex with anyone they are attracted to, including young children. Their drive is an ungodly concoction of the attraction towards little children (which is natural and healthy so that we humans care for our kids and protect them) and the outright desire for sexual intercourse. These people are sick. The other type wants a beautiful young bride and their tastes in women simply haven’t aged as much as they have. It’s a well known fact that most women just so happen to be at the peak of their beauty in their teenage years (and thus, random note, you could expect them to be that age in heaven), so how can they help but admire them? This type of “pedophile” isn’t technically a pedophile according to ancient standards because the “girl” is now a young woman. (Though notably, we haven’t said anything of the man’s intentions, which may be good or bad.) Joseph, you’re off the hook.

Joseph and Mary Relationships Still Ok?

That said, is it ok for older men to marry younger women? The really, really short answer is a hesitant “Yes”, but it’s a bit stickier than that even if we assume lots of other details are out of the way (like her parents’ and society’s approval). First, my old rule of thumb is: You are as old as the maturity of the person you marry. If you marry someone young, that can speak volumes about your own maturity (though sign of maturity is also based on how you handle that relationship). Fewer and fewer teens and young adults are psychologically prepared for adult life, so the younger you marry, the more difficult your spouse is likely to be. Second, statistics show that marriages tend to be more rocky (hint, divorce) the farther apart the spouses are in age. My theory is that this is because of the difference in perspectives of the spouses. The older man will resort to his long history of experience, which he expects trumps all other arguments, and the young woman will resort to personal theories and common knowledge of her generation. In such a case, the older man must be understanding if he is to win the respect of the young woman. (And this applies to older-women-young-men relationships too.) That takes serious maturity and effort. Tolerance isn’t a substitute as it’s only a disguise for discontentment and a cover up for a fracturing relationship.

The benefit of marrying a young adult is – hopefully – that you can have a major impact on shaping your spouse – before they are set in their ways – and thus make them more compatible with you in the long run. I note from other couples (ex: 19yo wife) that this does not always work in practice. Maybe it would work with an early teenager, but by 18, people are already well trained and thinking for themselves.

By contrast, marrying someone older allows you to already know what you’re getting and requires no training effort on your part, so it might be easier.

Some men have noted that the rule of thumb for marital age of a wife is 1/2 his age + 7 years. I have no evidence for how successful this is, but I do note it seems to be more and more common these days in relationships involving older men (40yo+) and younger women (30yo+). (I can think of three I know personally just off the top of my head.)

Long Wait Benefits?

The benefits of waiting to get married were “experience” and “financial stability”. With experience, you should know how to handle life, and that can be advantageous in marriage. However, Mathewes-Green points out the downside of experience: that people have grown accustomed to relationships breaking apart and keeping their hearts reserved, so (paraphrasing) they are no longer psychologically fit for the life-long commitment of marriage. I also add that over time we may lose our natural ability to connect and relate to people. She notes divorce rate has climbed significantly just as age of marriage has, and though we could argue other factors are involved, we must also acknowledge they are all connected with age.

Emotions during youth are higher and thus able to draw people closer together quicker and stronger such that, though the emotions weaken over time, there is a lasting impression from that initial love. You don’t get that with marriage at older ages.

In addition to that, an elderly couple I spoke with said when you don’t marry young, you end up missing out on all the experiences you share together like your first car, your first house, your first vacation. You live a whole life apart from the person you marry, so you don’t get to celebrate mutual memories.

Financial stability was once a good reason to wait on marriage. But what is financial stability? We thought college would provide it, but now getting a first job even after college is increasingly harder to attain and job security is farther out (and don’t even get me started with student loan debt), pushing people beyond the last biologically healthy age of reproduction (30yo for men, 25yo for women). The only good news in this area is that trade schools are on the rise, which should streamline getting employment, but even those attending are often middle-aged or older adults trying to break into another career.

Happy Young Family or DINKs?

It is interesting to me that some of the sweetest love stories I’ve heard were about childhood sweethearts who got married, had kids, and are still living together decades down the road. They’re happy. By contrast, society today is pumping out Double-Income-No-Kids couples who are not satisfied in their relationship, not committed in the long run but having sex out of craving, and not on track for any long term benefits of family. When they are old and grey and have no kids to care for them, it will be too late for a change in life. This isn’t a good recipe for a future society even if teen marriage isn’t part of the solution.

The Big Impediments

The first big impediment to teen marriage is the failure to transition children into a mentality of adult responsibility. I wonder how many parents would be ok with allowing their son or daughter to marry at a “young” age if they could see a deep level of responsibility coming from their child. (There are many parents who would still say “no” due to cultural perceptions, their own protectiveness, and their experience telling them the child has more to learn.) But that requires proper effort on their part as parents to train the child. The former isn’t something I’m seeing. In fact, it’s getting worse.

Part of the problem is how easy life has become because of convenience. We no longer need to work hard on a farm, and dad goes to away to work and isn’t home to train junior. So we spend more time in leisure instead of training to be adults. Times have changed, and so have responsibilities. But that’s still not a full excuse.

There are many things parents can teach their children and simply haven’t. And here’s big one reason why: school.

School has become the central, defining facet of life. People, especially parents, prioritize school above everything else, believing that somehow it fulfills the psychological development needs of a child so they as parents don’t need to. (It’s easy to see why: you need it for a job, which you need for independence, which society says you need in order to declare yourself an “adult”.) But this isn’t true. School has only ever served to broaden your knowledge base (on many pointless subjects), not to equip you to handle life. As such, students acquire new ideas but not wisdom.

What Can We Do?

In vain conservatives and Christians have been promoting abstinence until marriage, and they are losing the battle as the stats clearly show. To make matters worse, perverse people are now bringing sexual knowledge to younger and younger children. Of course, little kids naturally find sex gross, but we can expect they will have some knowledge of it prematurely if we make the mistake of leaving their education up to society and the public school system. So what can we do?

Simple: Work with the way God already designed things. Educate children on the responsibilities of adulthood so that they can judge for themselves the difficulty and weigh their own readiness for things like marriage. Don’t leave them to learn by “experience”. As Vernon Law said, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” They’re smart enough to figure out if they are ready if you lay out the details. Help them create a roadmap so that marriage isn’t some pie in the sky but an attainable goal.

Our goal should be about helping people succeed in erotic love and marriage, not trying to keep sex taboo. While it’s nice to preserve innocence – a luxury I experienced my teenage years – we have to grow up, and it’s important to learn in the right context and with the right guidance than in the wild.

All said, if we are to promote teen marriage, there needs to be SERIOUS substantial support for young couples from family, church, and society. Starting marriage isn’t easy at any age, but it is certainly much easier if you have people to support you. In previous generations, that support was present, but these days, it’s rare, thereby leaving all the stress and strain of married life up to the couple. Can we get back to supporting young couples? Yes, and I believe the Church has a big role to play in this now, especially when family can’t or won’t.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think teen marriage is acceptable provided we do a better job at training children in adult responsibilities. Will this solve all society’s marriage and sex issues? No. But I do think it would have a significantly profound impact. Without proper training though, it’ll just be a mess, and this is the predictable outcome given culture’s current state. But we can’t expect anything less than a rough start getting back on track.

I lament the lack of mentorship in society, which would otherwise be very helpful in training young couples (and young businessmen) for success. Mentorship is feasible, but it’s not in our mentality to think of much less resort to such a great strategy.

I think marriage between older men and young women can work and isn’t wrong but can have various issues depending on age gap. Also, intention of marriage is very important on whether it’s even right. (We don’t want sexual predators sneaking in.)

I think the ideal would be 22yo+ men with trade/business under their belt marrying 16yo+ young women. 6 years seems a bit of a big gap, but psychologically, men tend to mature later than women and we have to allot time for school. There would definitely by rocky starts to such relationships given the emotional highs and lows for both sexes during this time. But once you’ve been through that period with your marriage intact, you should be able to handle roughly anything together as a couple.

I think the long-term wait for marriage is now too long to be beneficial.

I think college is a waste of money for other reasons, but we can add to those reasons the fact that it can delay entering into a marital relationship (assuming you don’t find a spouse in college).

Finally, I think this article is really long, and I apologize. Thanks for reading! As you can see, I make mountains out of ant mounds.

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