If You Want to Be Married Young, You Should Marry While Young

The notion that the declaration of marriage can make a human, with all their hard flaws, into something as abstract and moist as a "soul-mate" strikes me as off.

Over at SlateAmanda Marcotte and Julia Shaw are debating the virtues of marrying young. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Shaw said, but this brought me up short:

Sometimes people delay marriage because they are searching for the perfect soul mate. But that view has it backward. Your spouse becomes your soul mate after you've made those vows to each other in front of God and the people who matter to you. You don't marry someone because he's your soul mate; he becomes your soul mate because you married him.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have a somewhat contentious relationship with the idea of marriage. I've been with my wife for 15 years. We got married two years ago, mostly because I was afraid of exactly what happened to me two weeks ago taking place, and there being some confusion about who was charged with my affairs. If we were religious, we probably would have married right away.

At any rate, I entered the long-term, monogamous portion of my relationship when I was 23. My son was born when I was 24 and my partner (now wife) was 23. The seal was our son. We were pretty clear that our 20s--as they exist in the popular American mind--were over when he was born. Whatever. We weren't doing shit but drinking and smoking anyway. Besides I thought she was sort of cool. And she thought I was sort of cool. And we both thought cool people might make a cool kid together. 

And knowing that you don't meet cool people every day, and knowing, too, that coolness is a force in the universe which cool kids don't always understand, and that four cool hands are cooler than two, we thought it imperative that we play some Al Green, and, like, stay together, and, like, make sure that cool kid went on to become a cool dude.

Here is where I relate to Shaw--the act of making the boy was the act of making me a man. Before creating family, I was prepared to subject myself to any number of stupid things. Knowing that other people suffer when you suffer has a way of leading you from childish things. (If you are cool.) 

And that's been good. But it's been good with a lot bumps in the road--some of them existential. I don't know how it is for other people, but my sense is that any long-term relationship, any long, happy marriage, has had points when its primary advocates could see the end. And not a theoretical end, an actual end; a path untaken, but very much possible.

Where I differ with Shaw isn't in the advantages she sees in marrying young, but in the certainty and determinism. The notion that the declaration of marriage can make a human, with all their hard flaws, into something as abstract and moist as a "soul-mate" strikes me as off. Even if it's on for you, to declare it as such for the world strikes me as surely off. 

To decide to romantically cohabitate with another person for the rest of your life, to make a family with that person, is to go to war. To borrow the language of my mother--you had best love their dirty drawers, because you will be seeing them. And it strikes me that you should understand that cool people fail at being cool together all the time. Sometimes they fail for lack of morality, but very often not. 

That women--with all they have to lose in this world, having to struggle to secure the kind of things that the other half of the world takes for granted (the body, for instance)--would be particularly discerning about such a decision, that they would wait until accumulating some amount of power, financial and otherwise, seems logical. The dynamics of power--societal and personal--are inseparable from marriage. Those of us who've, thus far, managed to navigate those dynamics should probably be more thankful than boastful. May our days ever be thus.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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