I Got Married Young, And I Don't Regret It

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy, Joel Sackey/Reshot and

I said “I do” on a sweltering July afternoon. My husband and I dated four years before we got engaged and then spent a year planning our wedding. The day we wed, I was 21 years old and he was 24.

We met when I was 16 and had a boyfriend. He was newly available. We hit it off right away—and our first date happened that evening. We had hot chocolate at Denny’s, and he paid for my drink. I’d never had a boyfriend who offered to cover my food cost before, so I was impressed. My parents weren’t as impressed. I was a sophomore in high school, and my boyfriend was a freshman in college. Why wasn’t he dating someone his own age?

They warmed up to him quickly. He was everything my other boyfriends were not—kind, respectful, well-mannered, and willing. He’d come hang out with my younger siblings, he’d help my dad with outside tasks, and he listened to my mom when she told him he’d better have me home by curfew. He was steadfast and trustworthy.

We fell in love fast and hard. Yes, we were young and dumb—believing that true love conquers all and love is all you need. You know, all that fairy tale stuff. While he finished college and I graduated high school, we kept on—dating, working, and learning. Our romance wasn’t getting in the way of our life goals.

After he graduated and took a job in St. Louis, I was desperate to reunite. The weekend visits and nightly phone calls weren’t enough. I was a junior in college and ready to move to the next stage of our relationship. On vacation with his parents, my husband proposed on the beach at sunset—and of course, I said yes. I know. Cue the cheesy music.

Eleven months later—we were hitched and happy. It was fun to be adults. He worked full time, I was in my last year as an undergrad, and we had an apartment. We slept in on the weekends, went on vacations, and learned to cook. We also learned how to quickly clear a kitchen of smoke—because we weren’t the best food preparers.

There were many, many ups and downs. My husband lost his job, suddenly, and then secured another. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease after being sick for a year and a half—in the midst of graduating grad school and taking my first college teaching job. We attended multiple grandparent funerals. Buying our first house was a huge test of patience.

Looking back, our arguments were superficial and self-centered. We didn’t yet understand fully, even though we’d been together for several years, how the other person worked. Neither of us was even of the age when our brains were fully developed. But despite our naivete and immaturity—we had a lot going for us—mostly, we were committed to making our marriage work.

By today’s standards, we were too young to get married. In fact the other day our oldest child, a tween, asked us if it’s true that it’s illegal to marry before you are 30 years old. My husband and I started laughing and joked that yes, you must be 30 to marry. The truth is, if I had my say-so, my kids wouldn’t marry during their college years.

Now that I’m in my late-thirties and my husband is in his early forties, we’ve had friends ask us what are the keys to a lasting marriage. Many have been married and divorced—some multiple times—by now. I tell them that time will tell. For us, our time started when I was just a teen—but that time still counts. We faced major changes in our lives during the five years we dated. Plus, that time gave us the opportunity to mature together and navigate those difficulties.

Marriage is hardly a blissful walk in the park. There are many days we don’t like each other at all—and sometimes it’s still over the most insignificant details like soap left in the sink or the tone we take when responding to each other. But I give my man credit. He stuck by me through my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, four adoptions, my breast cancer diagnosis and surgery, many job losses, and my chronic anxiety. He’s a keeper.

I hope that we’re modeling for our children what a healthy, romantic relationships looks like. But even more importantly, what a good partnership should be. There are many days there is zero romance, but there is 100% authenticity and commitment. So though I wouldn’t advise my kids to get married young, I certainly don’t regret tying the knot when I was only twenty-one. There are far worse things in life than saying “I do” to the one you love.

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