Friday, May 20, 2011

20 and engaged

Crisis Magazine by Elizabeth Hanna
With my 21st birthday just a few weeks away, it is expected that I plan a blowout party with copious amounts of alcohol, as my friends compile a list of 21 dares for me to complete while downtown — you know, kiss 21 guys, dance on a table, take a birthday shot, etc. Instead, I’m planning my wedding.

[Pause for disapproval.]

Yes, I’m getting married in a year. And no, I’m not pregnant or at risk of that. I have no ulterior motives. I’m taking this step because I’ve found the man I want — and ought — to spend the rest of my life with, and I’m ready.

When I was in the fifth grade, my friends and I had the hard task of sitting in on sex-ed classes, where a patronizing teacher outlined the reproductive organs as we stifled giggles and huddled in groups according to gender to avoid embarrassment. It was said we were now entering “puberty” (such an awkward word), and with this rite of passage, we would become adults. Adults.

And so in secular culture, at 13 years old or younger, we are taught about “safe sex” and how and when to begin engaging in “intercourse.” We get our driver’s licenses and, just two years later, go off to live on our own at college. Most of my peers are paying their way, having sex, and making major career decisions. And yet, it’s considered reckless for us to get married young.

What is marriage for? Marriage is for companionship and children, and in the long term, to lead each other to Heaven. As God said of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” By marrying, we participate in the greatest reflection of God’s union with His creation. We become one person with another, we engage in complete and total self-giving, and thus become fulfilled and complete. We were not created to be isolated — we were made to love, made by Love, for love; and the more complete that love is, the more self-giving, the greater taste of Heaven we receive.

It’s sweet of you to think such things, says the skeptic, but you’re young. Wait until you’re 45. And I would reply that I can’t wait until we — my future husband and I — are 45. Happy marriages are entirely possible; I’ve seen it with my own parents. The divorce rate hasn’t skyrocketed because of romantic teenagers. Quite the opposite. The divorce rate rose as our faith in marriage declined. It used to be that a young girl and boy would marry as soon as they were physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready. The idea was that, in marrying so young, they built an entire life together, assisted each other in their adulthood, grew together, loved together. You married because you ought to, and you married the person you ought to marry. There wasn’t always the “in love” phase, but people were often better off for it. Couples stayed together because they knew marriage was a lifelong act of self-giving, no matter what feelings came and went. People got married because “it is not good for man to be alone.”

But now we think it’s better if man is alone. So we tell children to live for themselves as long as they can; to establish their careers before all else; to have self-satisfying flings, and date for the fun of it; and to hold off marriage as long as they can, because life ends on the wedding day. It’s no surprise that when they grow up and marry, they remain alone, with separate careers, separate bank accounts, separate bedrooms, separate friends, separate beliefs — separate hearts.

I’m getting married in a year because I’m an adult, and I have both fallen in love and chosen to love the most virtuous and joyful man I’ve ever met. No, I don’t have an established career. I’ve never ordered a legal glass of wine. But I’m getting married, and I can’t wait to grow up, and grow old with him.

Elizabeth Hanna Elizabeth Hanna
Elizabeth Hanna is a third year philosophy student at the University of Georgia.

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