Mitt Romney's Case for Getting Married Young

"I'm so glad I found Ann when I was still so young."
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Mitt Romney delivered the commencement address at Southern Virginia University this past weekend, his second public speech since he lost the 2012 presidential election. His speech was inspired by a story from Luke's gospel, when Jesus calls his first disciples, a group of lowly fishermen. "Launch out into the deep," he tells them, "and let down your nets." For Romney, "launch out into the deep" is a metaphor for life: He tells the graduates to be bold, selfless, unafraid of life's challenges.

One way to embrace this philosophy, according to Romney, is to marry young:

This is a promise: "Launch out into the deep, and your nets will be filled." How do you do that? Well, getting married is one way to launch into the deep. I'm so glad I found Ann when I was still so young. Combining your life with another person, particularly someone—men and women as different as we are, this combination is tremendously challenging and enormously rewarding.

Some people could get married but choose to take more time, they say, for themselves. Others plan to wait until they're well into their 30s or 40s before they think about getting married. They're going to miss so much of living, I'm afraid. From the beginning of recorded time the prophet Adam recorded this life secret: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife." Marriage is a gift from God. Now, some may dismiss the counsel coming from the Bible because it comes from a book which they've discarded. But the Bible is one of two things: either it's the word of God, as I believe, or it's the product of brilliant philosophers and sages who've observed lives and and nations and civilizations and history over thousands and thousands of years. Either way, the Bible is a pearl of wisdom, the distillation of lessons of life. So when it says "marry," listen.

In this passage, Romney articulates the so-called "cornerstone" theory of marriage: that marriage is an institution worth building life on, not something to enter into once you're already established in life. This vision of marriage is countercultural at the moment, of course: As the National Marriage Project's "Knot Yet" report shows, people are getting married later and later, and more and more people are seeing marriage as a "capstone" to life's achievements rather than a foundation for those achievements (and inevitable disappointments).

More remarkable, in my view, is how he holds in tension two ideas that often drown each other out in discussions of marriage: that marriage is both "tremendously challenging" and "enormously rewarding." As I've written about before, people today tend to have an unrealistically rosy view of marriage—that it'll be an endlessly fun, sex-filled slumber party—or an unnecessarily negative one—that the institution is so broken it's not worth entering into. Both of those perceptions of marriage are too extreme. Marriage is good, but hard. Marriage is hard, but good.

Later in the speech, Romney talks about how for most fellow Mormons, the time they spend as foreign missionaries is both the most difficult and the most rewarding period in their lives. He allows that this seems like a paradox, but then declares that the missionary years are "the best years in part because they are the hardest years." He continues, "When you are living to the fullest, beyond yourself, beyond comfort, life is most full and exhilarating." Though he's talking about mission work, these words are worth keeping in mind for anyone considering marriage, whether in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or beyond.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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