I’m not exaggerating when I say that if I had tried to get engaged or married while in college, I would have been in some serious trouble with my mother. I can hear her rant (albeit a made-up rant, but nevertheless, the sound of her voice is a stunning likeness) about how we had all worked too hard to get me there for me to blow it on anything other than more hard work, no distractions as crazy as marriage. She knew something about marriage; she was in one for sixteen years that ended unhappily, and she had given up admission to a prestigious nursing program to get married. I was supposed to do other things, and finishing college was only the tip of the iceberg.
The impetus for this post is the recent deluge of marriages I’ve noticed among Jews under the age of 23. My confusion is mostly based on the fact that the folks who are making the mad dash for the chuppah aren’t Orthodox or even Modern Orthodox, where the expectation of marrying and starting a family young is seen as an immediate priority.
I’m struggling to understand why this is happening, and why the Jewish community is so hell-bent on establishing it as a norm. It creates a strange and terrible kind of peer pressure, resulting in panic amongst the not married or partnered, and even resulting in those in committed relationships marrying before they’re ready (if anyone is ever really ready).
Marrying so young places an entirely different lens over the concept of matrimony-it’s no longer about taking years to find the right person and begin a life with them. Rather, it’s about starting out together, and hoping, believing even, that you will be able to overcome the hurdles that are inevitable when two people grow and change together. It seems particularly retro if you’re me, and along with your friends in their early 30’s, are either skeptical at best of the institution of marriage, or just starting to think about the idea.
It’s hard to explain to the newly minted college graduates around you that no, this behavior isn’t normal for most people their age. A marriage license and/or an engagement ring isn’t a requirement to receive a college diploma, although it seems like it might as well be. You can still be a member of a Jewish community without a ketubah on the wall of your apartment and with the last name you were born with. It should go without saying that all this is true, but it’s hard to believe when it seems like everyone else is doing getting married and/or engaged. Who will the role models be for young, single, serious Jews who don’t fit into or buy into this paradigm, especially young women? Only time can really tell us if young folks can resist the peer pressure to hurry and create a family (even if it’s not what’s right for them–now or ever) or if they will seek out other communities who can ultimately be more patient.