What's wrong with marrying your first love?
July 4, 2015 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Or what's not wrong with it? It's coming (or came) to the time where marriage is on the forefront of everyone's thoughts in my relationship. There's a lot of pressure to get married soon, and with a combination of dissenting internal and external voices, there's a lot of confusion going on in my head.

Some possibly helpful facts:
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about 4 years now. I'm 23 and he is 25. He is my only serious relationship...ever! I started dating at 18, which is when I met him. He's had more relationships than I. He's from the Deep South and I practically grew up there too. Both of our families are relatively Christian and conservative, but we're both pretty liberal and I'm more religious than he is. Most of our friends from college and beyond are married and starting families now.

We constantly get questions about "When are you getting married? When are you having kids? You're not living together right? OR when will you start living together?" My response is hey, I can't even rent a car yet, I'm not about to have some kids, ok?

But the pressure is on! Not as much from our immediate families, thank God, but there's a lot from our friends (almost all our ages) who are getting married or already are. From my religious friends, from my non-religious friends, and etc. since moving up north, we don't get as much questions but we occasionally get them. I've been hearing it since I turned 21!

My boyfriend seems to be alright with all this, as he has been talking about getting married before he "gets old" which is about 27 for him. Once in a while, he'll mention how he's far behind his friends since we're part of the few couples that have been dating this long and not engaged. I know he's pretty much on the let's get married soon boat.

But for me, I've always wanted to graduate from school and get a career before I get married. I'm halfway through graduate school and on the way to a real adult job. My family tells me to wait to get married, to explore the world more and discover who I am before I get into a relationship. One of the biggest things they've nagged to me is that they wouldn't be happy with me marrying my "first love." They are in the camp that I should date different people before settling down. (Surprising from my conservative family!) when we visit my boyfriend's family, there's always hints of "So...has he proposed yet?"

I love my boyfriend, he's awesome, I could totally see myself marrying him down the line. And with all this pressure, I start to get anxious that I should be saying YES soon (and I know my boyfriend would be A-OK with that.)

But when I think about what my family says, I wonder if it's not the right thing to do, to marry my first love? Sometimes I wonder, what if I was single in college and was single in my 20s? Am I missing out on something? I look at my good friends, all my age and younger, and they're married and happy. A few of them have divorced by now, but they're still happy. Most of them married their "first loves".

I feel awful questioning it, because my boyfriend is genuinely wonderful and I love being with him. My family's opinions have some weight for me, though, and I sometimes doubt myself.

So, I guess the question is, does what my family said have some truth to it? Am I too young and too inexperienced to marry? I'm sure it's not a black and white answer...

Thanks, and happy 4th!
posted by buttonedup to Human Relations (52 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of people are happily married to their first serious boyfriend / girlfriend -- your family either is addled or doesn't like your boyfriend and won't admit it.

There is nothing about getting married that will disadvantage you from finishing your degree or starting your career.
posted by MattD at 1:47 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think that there is real value in spending some time by yourself in the adult world. People change a lot in their 20s.
posted by k8t at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [56 favorites]

Waiting is fine.
Marrying your "first love" is fine.
Getting married--or not--because or pressure from friends and family is NOT fine.

How do you think your relationship will change if you get married? What effects will it have on your life? What effects would waiting have?

Why does your family not support your relationship with your boyfriend? Is it really about him, or is it about them?

You don't need to answer these questions here, but they might be worth thinking about.
posted by wintersweet at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [23 favorites]

Follow your gut. It sounds like it is telling you to wait and explore your career. I think this is a really good move, as it ensures you have some independence and developed your career before starting a family. This independence will help you to know your values and be sure of yourself in a relationship, which is good. It also means that you will prioritize your own career and help to make healthy choices for yourself.

There is nothing wrong with marrying your first love. Lots of people do. But that doesn't mean you need to do it right now. Maybe you can talk to your boyfriend about what he sees marriage bringing to your relationship. And you can talk about what you see as getting in the way. Look and the benefits and the challenges. And then figure out your way forward together.

Perhaps, because of your upbringing, you are concerned you might have to start following his lead, downplaying your career or making other choices. Or perhaps you are concerned those might be his thoughts. Take time to explore it. You could even consider therapy to help you identify things - together or individually.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

He's you very first relationship.
It's good that you have doubts and that you're listening to them. Finish school and then travel afterwards. When you get back, then ask yourself what you (not your peers, or relatives, or strangers) want--knowing that the best thing for both of you is to not get married unless both of you are 100% for it and ready for all its sacrifices and challenges.
posted by blueberry at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Marrying young and marrying your first love means you don't have the ability to gain more perspective on whether this will lead to a happy marriage. Remember, marriage ends only in divorce or death.

Who you are in your 20s is different from who you are in your teens, thirties or forties. Your identity stabilizes once you're settled in your career, your city/location, your spending habits, your social circle and how you see yourself...all these tend to occur when you're around 30. Which is why most people advise marrying in your late 20s, early 30s.

'Irreconcilable differences' is the most common reason for divorce. Are both your personalities more stable versus volatile? Do you have the kind of relationship wherein both of you can grow as two individuals, one that's built on solid communication and fighting in a healthy manner? Have you agreed on the fundamental questions such as children?

A good guide is to look at your model of marriage, which is often based on one's parents' marriage. What are you looking for in a marriage, and what are your deal breakers? Is your relationship what you describe when you think of marriage, in general?

I wonder why the two of you want to rush into marriage. You're 23. I got married at 23. Statistically, the odds are not in your favor based on age alone. Other factors are socioeconomic compatibility, educational compatibility as well as overlap in social circles.

I recommend pre marital counseling if you do go down that road.
posted by kinoeye at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

There's a lot to be said for marrying your first love. In some ways, your ideals of love and of life are shaped by that experience, and if you date new people, you'll find new things to enjoy, but you might also find yourself trying to match up to this or that ideal. (Example: suppose you and this BF have built a dream of ...travelling for a year before settling down to have kids. If you broke up and started dating other people, you might find that a lot of people aren't into traveling. Or, suppose this guy is very calm when you get upset and you've gotten used to him being a place of refuge. You might then date others who amplify emotions (e.g., get absolutely outraged on your behalf) instead of being calm, and you'd have to seek out another calming person. Those are two very different examples, because there are all sorts of ways you get used to a person and the dreams you share.)

On the other hand, the first person you date probably bears a lot of resemblance to your family of origin, including any issues you carry with you. Example: one of my first serious BFs was great, but just religious and judgmental enough that I could project onto him this heavy puritan sentiment in me. If I'd married him, I would not have had the chance to date the very accepting people I dated later, whose love helped me become less focused on trying to be perfect and more about being positive about who I am. I would've had to learn that through friendships or counseling or something.

Overall, there is very much no right or wrong here. You can also stay together and not get married. Go at your own pace.
posted by salvia at 1:57 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Been there, done that...... Would advise to wait.
posted by pearlybob at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't do what's "next".
You're not checking boxes on a checklist.
Do what's RIGHT for YOU.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:08 PM on July 4, 2015 [27 favorites]

Been there, done that, will be married 24 years in August. Worked out great for me!

Which tells you nothing about your relationship though.
posted by COD at 2:13 PM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Remember this: marriages are very easy to enter (extreme example: Vegas), but much more difficult to get out from (divorces are not a snap of the fingers).

It's not a matter of whether or not marrying your first love is right or wrong. It's a matter of knowing who you are and knowing what you want. In other words, the only thing that would be potentially "wrong" here is getting married for any other reason than this is what you want.

23 is still so, so young. I'll be 29 soon and the things I know now, as well as the things I want now, are significantly different than what I wanted at 23. I never believed that was going to be true when I was 23. You can't really believe it until it happens to you. But change can be quite tremendous in your 20's.

You can still be with your boyfriend, live your 20's, and get married later. If you and your boyfriend are meant to be together in the long run, this will happen regardless of whether or not you're married. And by that point you'll have been together long enough to know if you still want to try marriage. But if you marry now, and something happens in the next few years where it doesn't work out... well, let's just say that picking up your suitcases and walking out the door with a clean slate is much easier, and more simple, than divorce proceedings.

Society, which includes your family in this case, is the entity that tries to pressure all of us to get married, have kids, buy a house, and so on. If society always knew what it was talking about or what's best for people, gay marriage would have been legal across the entire US a long, long time ago, as opposed to last week. If they can't get marriage equality right from the beginning, I'm not sure they can get marriage timing right, either. Don't rely on society to tell you what to do or when to do it.

Also, on preview, what Major Matt Mason Dixon said.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:16 PM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I married my third love...at 23. In retrospect I am not sure what the rush was. But we've been married 21 yrs and counting. I would just not rush, and see where you are when you're through grad school.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:19 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I didn't marry young (which I regret in hindsight) but I did marry the first woman I ever dated. (Met at 19, first date at 20, married at 27. We were "in a relationship" for a long time, which I attribute to the opposite social pressure from the one you're talking about.)

What I appreciated about it—especially once I started ignoring all the advice to get myself established, happy, adult, whatever before I put the oxygen mask on my significant other—was that we changed together, as a unit. We've both become very different people from who we were in college—if we hadn't there probably would have been a problem—but our biggest influences have been each other. That's been great for me; I wouldn't want to get locked into a bunch of habits and preferences as a single guy and then have to find a relationship that fits around them.

Your life, of course, may vary; my parents had a very independence-focused marriage and it was terrible, so my inclination was to go in the opposite direction. I get the feeling that for a lot of people older than me the opposite happened, causing the opposite inclination.
posted by Polycarp at 2:21 PM on July 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

Whatever the answer, don't get married just because it seems like you should. (This also goes for your boyfriend, who I hope has more reasons to marry you than "I'm getting old". If you plan to have children, you want to do that with a man who wants to be a husband and a father with some amount of passion and purpose, or you'll get exactly what you settled for.)

I look at my good friends, all my age and younger, and they're married and happy.

I don't want to sit up here at 43 and poo-poo you because you're young, but it's not impressive or meaningful to be happy 2-4 years into marriage, when you're under 25 and life hasn't even gotten hard yet. I'll bet almost none of those people have lost a parent during the marriage, or suffered a health scare, or had a real sick kid, or lost their job with the rent due, or had an opportunity to cheat.

It would be best if you treated these intrusive pushy questions with the contempt they deserve. "Um, that's a private matter," is the appropriate answer to anyone who butts into your personal relationships (or your various orifices and/or uterus and what you're putting into any of them and when). If they had more respect for marriage, they'd know that already. Your parents get to be slightly more intrusive than that, but it sounds like they're being pretty low-pressure anyway.

My first love was gay, and my first fiance was awful, and yet my husband (married at 32) is pretty awesome, so I am pretty sure that your first [whatever] doesn't mean anything about how your future is going to pan out. When people say don't marry your first love, it's just because they know you don't have any perspective, because you kind of can't if that's all you know. And it might not matter, it might turn out fine no matter what you know.

Statistically it doesn't, but it might.

The most important part is that you listen to your own needs. Forcing yourself to marry when you have other goals first is one way to maul your spirit so badly it tanks your marriage. Living to answer to everyone else's expectations before your own will not earn you martyr points you can spend later.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:39 PM on July 4, 2015 [22 favorites]

What's wrong with marrying your first love?

Absolutely nothing. If you get to do that you are extraordinarily lucky.

Until fairly recently (about two generations ago?) this was what most people did. It wasn't normal to have lots of broken attachments.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:46 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm saying this a lot today on the Green, but my rule of thumb is, when you list out all the pros and cons and whys and whynots and such, the thing you say last is how you really feel, and you're looking for permission to do that:

Am I too young and too inexperienced to marry?

Don't get married.
posted by Etrigan at 2:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

It sounds like your gut is telling you to wait, and that's okay. Getting married to your first love is also okay, but only if that's what you want. Don't give into the idea of keeping up with your friends. You have tons of time to figure out when and how to get married and have kids, and how that would work best for you.

All due respect to your boyfriend's family, but the day you get engaged is the day they will likely start pressuring you to set a date and asking when you'll start having kids. You need to decide if/when these things will make you happy. Not them, not your friends and family, not even your boyfriend. It might sounds selfish, but these are big decisions, and you need to think of you first. You can't see to others' happiness if you aren't happy yourself.

Once you have a really clear idea what you want, that's the time to ask about what your boyfriend wants. Nobody else--you aren't marrying them. You need to talk these things out with him. You mentioned being religious. Is there a spiritual leader that can help counsel the both of you? Some joint counseling might provide a safe space to talk about big issues and decide if you're truly compatible. There are a lot of big questions you usually just start to know the answer to in your 20s. (Clutter, cleanliness, where to live, how much you socialize... Money is a huge one, too--how much to keep in savings, if/how to budget, how to save up for a big purchase. It's a long list!) On areas where you disagree, how do you deal with those differences?

If I ever want to get married (again) you bet I'll go to premarital counseling first. It could have saved me years of heartburn and thousands of dollars. Getting divorced can be a couple of orders of magnitude more expensive than counseling!
posted by estelahe at 2:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your family is WRONG! They are running their own agendas. Ignore them and do what is right for you. It's totally okay to marry your first love or not. It's totally okay to have a baby and then finish school. You are young, make some fun mistakes. Dating is horrible. You are not missing out on anything.

Do what feels right for you.
posted by myselfasme at 2:53 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

But for me, I've always wanted to graduate from school and get a career before I get married.

Then do that. The next time people start pressuring you, say "our relationship is our business, and he and I will discuss marriage if and when it becomes appropriate for us to do so. Would you like some more pie?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:18 PM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

My very good close friend recently married her first love, after 10 years of dating and "waiting til marriage" to have sex, per her beliefs. They were briefly engaged a few years ago, but it didn't seem right, so they went back to just dating. After they both finished college and grad school, after some years of long-distance, they finally decided they were ready to get married. They seem blissfully happy now, and I feel bad for ever doubting her when she told me to buzz off and mind my own business, they'd do things at their own pace, etc. Because she was right! You don't have to choose now. If you love your boyfriend now and you want to spend your life together, you can keep loving him and spending your lives together outside of marriage.

There is no hurry to get married. And it doesn't have to be an either/or: you can establish a career, travel if you want to, do all the stuff you want to do and still have your boyfriend by your side. If it doesn't work out during that time, you saved everyone a lot of heartache and money because a breakup is so infinitely easier than a divorce.
posted by witchen at 3:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I married my first love, who I started dating at 18, at the age of 26, after two years long distance while I finished graduate school and he finished his undergraduate degree. I'm 31, and we have a daughter now, and things are peachy.

It doesn't really matter what your family or his family says. What matters is what both of you want. Is he okay with waiting? Then you have your answer.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:05 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I married my "first love," and it was a disaster of nearly nuclear proportions. This naturally has nothing to do with YOUR relationship, except for two things:

-We definitely got married against my gut instincts, which it sounds like you're possibly at risk of doing.
-If we had waited even one year, we would never, ever have gotten married. T

Time makes no difference at all, not even a little, if you two are going to work out. It makes absolutely all the difference in the world if you are NOT. These years, 24-27ish, are big years for you and your human brain, so if there's a grain of doubt in your mind, don't get hitched til you make it out the other side.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:45 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I married my first love at 23. Now I am hoping to get my divorce finalized before our 24th anniversary hits in September.

Young love is powerful stuff, but as many people have said above, you don't really know who you are or want to be yet.

I think that realization comes to most people in their mid-30s, at the very earliest.
posted by The Blue Olly at 4:49 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I got married at 22 to my first real boyfriend, and we're happy 13 years later. We were in a very similar state; we got engaged the summer before I left for grad school, and when discussing timelines, I figured after I graduated in 5 years, and my husband thought that fall break in two months would be just fine. Yikes! Eventually we waited until the end of the school year, because ultimately I didn't have any stronger argument than not being able to imagine myself married young (We did wait to have a child until after grad school, because I had lots of reasons for waiting on that.) The lifetime commitment and the maturity level was never something that I considered a problem. It's not clear whether you do, or if you're just worrying because of your family.

One thing that I think matured us was being long distance for a big chunk of our relationship. We had plenty of time apart to become adults. Have you guys gotten through difficult stuff together with grace? Do you feel like you know who you are together and apart? If you only ever have one relationship ever, one point of reference, will you deeply mourn that, or just feel a mild pang? In your life experience thus far, has there been anyone you'd rather be with? Have you seen happy and unhappy relationships and learned lessons from them? These are some things that we can't answer for your relationship, but that thinking back I think have been key to our success, compared to the stats.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:54 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Am I missing out on something?

It's not possible to get through life without missing out on things and there's really no way to know what the path you didn't choose would have looked like. (It still almost always beats the alternative of death and missing out on everything).

I'm somewhat neurotic and I'm always looking backwards and pointlessly revisiting decisions that are already made. For me, one of the things that helps is thinking -- if this path doesn't turn out how I hope, will I regret or not regret taking the risk (choosing the path or not, both ways, whether by default or active choice, is always a risk). Trying to build a life by hedging against future regret might not be the ideal way to live but it seems to be my modus operandi at least for the moment.

For your situation, I think I would weigh which would seem worse, missing out on months or years of marriage with your beloved, or realizing down the road that you married precipitously and figuring out how to move on from there. The answer would depend on your nature, your relationship, your resources, etc. That's a potentially useful heuristic I would have offered you if there were anything in your ask that indicated that *you* actually *want* to get married/engaged *now*.

Without that piece, though, I'd just say that in my experience, it's much easier for me to live with the future undesirable consequences of a decision (and almost no decision is *entirely* free of undesirable consequences) if at least I can tell myself, "I did it my way." "I did it my boyfriend's parents' way and some of my peers' way," would not feel like living with integrity to my values or to my conception of myself. (Acknowledging that no one is an island and I'm influenced by others in a gazillion ways, both perceptible to me and not).

That might or might not be true for you. This point of provocative meeting between your family's values and your values, and your boyfriend and his family's values, actually sounds like a great opportunity for thoughtful reflection about how you see yourself as an adult who makes choices with long term consequences for yourself and others. And it sounds like you're doing that. So good for you!

( Also I kind of think that marriage is one thing, but that before you commit to having a kid with someone you should have (reality-based) confidence in their character and in your mutual ability to effectively co-parent with one another even if the romantic relationship, whether formalized by marriage or not, doesn't work out).
posted by Salamandrous at 5:21 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Expounding on my comment above.... My 23 anniversary would be the end of August.... My divorce was final this past late March. My relationship is not yours but in my day, (late 80's, early 90's) you married right out of college. All of my friends who went down this path are divorcing or in the process, all of them. Again, this is not you..... Many, many marriages make it. I'm just so glad that the "trend" these days is for marriage later in life. I want my daughter to wait, and date and have fun and break up 10 times before she finds "the one". She needs some experience that I didn't have. You have so much time..... Use it. YMMV and my opinion doesn't mean anything up against what your heart feels. I'm just older and have been through the wringer. Nothing wrong with waiting.
posted by pearlybob at 5:33 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Don't get engaged unless you're ready to be married, even if you're going to have a long engagement. You two should also discuss what being married will mean to you as a couple. Every couple needs to define their own marriage. Conventional wisdom and societal expectations be damned--marriage is essentially two people vs the world.
posted by luckynerd at 5:33 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think "first love" is a bit of a red herring. As shown in this thread, people have married their first love and it's amazing, and other times not-so-much. People may marry their 10th love. I think the thing that everyone here is trying to communicate is what YOU want. It seems you want to finish college and start your career and I think that's a GREAT plan! And it doesn't mean you have to break up, or get engaged, or anything. If you want to have this relationship, then go for it. But don't feel pressure to make a decision about anything during this time other than what YOU want to do.

My dad's best advice was "Find your own path, and you'll find someone who wants to share it." In my case, my husband's path matched up with mine. So that can still mean you're finding your path and your boyfriend shares it with you and it works out. Or it could mean you work on your own path and he decides another one is better for him. Or you decide your path doesn't include him. However it seems that you're not entirely sure how that's going to end up right now. I think you should do college and start your career and see how things go.

And for reference. I'm 25 and have been with my husband since I was 19. We got married about a month before I graduated college. That path worked for US, but it might not work for many people. He also was not my first love. But we made a decision based on what we wanted in life and the paths we wanted to take, and came to the conclusion that we wanted to do that together, as a married couple. It seems you're not sure about that yet with your boyfriend.

And as an aside, you don't have to do what other people want for you. That's part of growing up and becoming an adult. You can hear their advice and decide for yourself what you want to do. You have your own agency now in your own life and relationships.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:46 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Every relationship is different. I married my first love (and only love). We were married over 62 years until she passed away last Christmas. I was never sorry. I got the best.
posted by JayRwv at 5:49 PM on July 4, 2015 [29 favorites]

I married my first love (not first significant other) at 28, after dating him for nine years. So far, marriage has been great, but I needed that long to feel ready.
posted by yarntheory at 6:10 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm firmly in the camp of "if you love him, what's the rush?"

There is a reason people with more age and experience will tell you that waiting is not a bad idea, and it's not because they hate your boyfriend or don't believe in love. It's because people change so, so much in their early 20s-early 30s. Sure, relationships can weather changes, they must weather changes, but those are some mighty turbulent years with a lot of rapid maturing and reshuffling of priorities-- you'll want to see if yours can withstand significant changes.

I'm 36 and most of my friends who married in their young 20s have divorced within the last 5 years. Most common reason is "just grew apart."

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish certain life milestones before making the biggest commitment of your life. Finishing school, establishing your career, living on your own or with a partner, making certain purchases, and yes, even sleeping with/dating other people if those interest you-- those are all things those are natural and it's okay to want to establish yourself as a full person before becoming half of a permanent unit.

If marriage is important, even sacred, to you, then it is not something to be taken lightly. You want to do it once and do it right. (Also a good reply to anyone hassling you.)

The pressure you're hearing is mostly because people want to affirm their own life choices by encouraging them in others. The friends your age who are pressuring you now-- well, ask them in 6-10 years; you will get very different answers.

Luckily, this is nobody's decision but yours and your partner's. I get the strong sense you don't want to rush, and I think that's wise. Nobody can predict now what may come in the future, so it's not about there being a perfect age. It's about feeling sure.
posted by kapers at 6:10 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

The pressure you're hearing is mostly because people want to affirm their own life choices by encouraging them in others.

This is true of the people who are pressuring you; it is also true of the people in this thread.

It sounds like in your family, the life script is to marry in your late teens or early twenties and start having children. On MetaFilter, and likely among your graduate school classmates, the life script is to spend your twenties finding yourself and then marry in your thirties.

These two scripts are obviously contradictory, which means you will always be getting the side-eye from somebody. So you might as well do what you want.
posted by orangejenny at 7:06 PM on July 4, 2015 [14 favorites]

Both choices are entirely valid. It sounds like you have absolutely no reason to break up with your partner and date other people. But you do want to finish your education and start your career before getting married. So do that, and let him know that's your plan, and talk about it.

Those who say "you don't know yourself yet" are right, but they are discrediting the idea that you can still change, grow, and continue to understand yourself while in a relationship with another person. They weren't able to do that for whatever reason, but the reason is not that it can't be done. No one, married or single, knows themselves deeply and fully at 20, or 25. Or 30. Or 40 or 45. Or 50. Maybe 60. life is a process of change and growth. You can change and grow with a partner who is right for you and who is changing and growing too, and communicating with you about it. if you don't find that partner, as many people don't, you break up and have one or more relationships, sometimes serial relationships, and end up with partners who do allow that change or whose similar risk-averseness also called on them to delay marriage until more information about self and others was available. None of these choices are right or wrong. They just are different.

All I mean to say is that if you have found a life partner with whom you're completely simpatico, and have been for a long time, and that you feel gives you room to change and grow - well, you have something pretty unusual in this life. You may not want to chuck it just because one common storyline in our culture is "don't marry your first love." But you do need to be true to your own life plan -- so see if he can accommodate it before you start making decisions based on what other people, including total strangers, think you should do.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

You should feel good about saying yes when you say it.

For my marriage, that meant we'd set up our life the way we were happy with it. Our relationship had been through some legitimate threats, our individual identities through some growing pains, and we'd sorted out that we're a pretty darn good match. We knew how to argue productively, and that at the end of the day, we each make the other a better person.

We met at 18, married 9 years later, after much back-and-forthing around the topic of "the m word". No regrets.

So how bout you? What do you need in order to feel like your relationship is worth holding onto forever?
posted by nadise at 8:46 PM on July 4, 2015

You sound like you don't want to get married yet. Please don't get married. You have many, many, many years ahead of you to get married. You have many, many, many years to have kids. Right now it sounds like you want to travel, get an education and start a career. Do that. If people ask, tell them to mind their own business. Or...that you want to travel, get an education and start a career. Your friends/relative etc. are bugging you, because you bucking the trend suggests that there is something wrong with their choices and makes them uncomfortable.

And please tell your boyfriend this is what you want. Otherwise you might get one of those horrible surprise engagements where everyone appears and you can't say "no".
posted by Toddles at 8:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I fell in love for the first and last time 10 years ago this summer. I was 21, and felt the boundaries of my mind being stretched beyond all previous limits to accommodate this huge, all-encompassing love. I knew then what I had was special, and that I was goddamn lucky to have the privilege of feeling the way I did. We got engaged a couple years after, and after a few months of engagement, I broke it off because he didn't seem as attracted to me as he once was, and I felt insecure and unattractive at times. I didn't then understand how relationships ebb and flow. I didn't appreciate enough our lovely home, or our amazing group of friends, or our funky college town. I didn't realize that a kindness like his, or a love like the one we had, isn't easily replaced. I have spent the last 7 years regretting my decision to throw away something so precious and rare. Maybe one day I'll find a love like that again, but I tend to believe that I had my chance at big mind-blowing love, and that I will not be so lucky to find it again. I do feel privileged to have experienced something so beautiful - that level of connection with another person - and at the same time the weight of the loss of it is crushing. I would trade every experience and relationships I've had in the intervening years (and some of them truly great and happy-making!) for just the chance of making a life with this man. Don't be me. Realize that the experiences worth having can be had WITH your boyfriend. If you do have something as special as what I've described, believe in the beauty of it, and keep it and your heart safe.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:04 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

To be blunt - and this is straight from the minister that did the pre-marital counseling for myself and my first wife: "you better make sure you got all the fucking around out of you before you get married". Because it does happen that sometimes people will marry their First Love ... and then some years down the road, for whatever reason, they may begin to wonder about what it's like to be with another person.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

the best thing for both of you is to not get married unless both of you are 100% for it and ready for all its sacrifices and challenges.

I agree, but the reality is you can't know what the challenges and sacrifices are until you're married.

Getting all the fucking out of your system is also good advice, but again, the reality is that no amount of fucking will protect your marriage from an attentive newcomer at a time of stress/boredom or whatever. And for me, breaking up deliberately to see/fuck other people with the intention of getting back together would hurt me so much, I don't think I could do it. I would wish we never did that. It would be very different if you broke up for other reasons then found yourselves back together but doing it on purpose is like saying "let's cheat on each other for a while before we get married'. That's just me.

I met my husband when I was 15. We married when I was 18. We've been together 25 years now. We have three lovely children and a really nice life together. But I think it's a lot of luck. We've grown and changed in ways that are compatible. It is also deliberate maintenance. We do a lot of things independent of each other as well as together. We care about each other and look after each other. There are things I never thought about when we married, and things I couldn't possibly have imagined to think about, and I think that will be the case no matter what age you marry. I love that I have a long shared history with someone who knows and loves me. we were kids and now we're adults have done everything meaningful together.

If you love him, if you feel happy and contented with him, just do it. Marrying at 30, with your career established, having fucked 15 more people, isn't a guarantee for anything. The right person won't be a hinderance to traveling or your studies and career. You do that stuff together. It is normal to have doubts about big life altering decisions.

You already know the answer. You're right, it's not black and white. You just have to do what you feel is good for you at the time and if that changes, you deal with the circumstances you find yourself in. Go you for thinking it through but I am a romantic and optimistic. First love is excellent, go for it.
posted by stellathon at 10:43 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's plusses and minuses. I would never recommend breaking up with a decent guy specifically so you can "shop around," because hoo boy, there's not a lot of good ones out there and they get fewer and fewer the older you get. (Seriously, the only dudes who ever want me now are retirees and I am way too young for that.) Dating other people just to see other people is just not that fucking awesome, and you may be very sorry that you broke up with a good one just for that. And if you're in the South there's probably even less choice out there. Not to mention the whopping social pressure thing.

On the other hand: the usual reason people say stuff like this is because you and your dude have to be on the same path when it comes to marriage, and the younger you are the more likely that this isn't set in stone for you yet (if it ever is). Right now he's feeling the pressure to get married like everyone else he knows is, and before he's "too old" (at 27?! Most of us are gonna laugh at that...but the South.) You know for sure you want to finish grad school and get a job first, so you at least want a few more years. Hence why you might have a problem. If he really really wants to get married (on his own, ruling out all social pressure) within a year and you really don't, that's a reason for it to end. On the other hand, if you tell him you're not ready until you're more settled down and he agrees to waiting for it, that might be doable for your relationship. I'd recommend trying to have that conversation first before breaking up. Because it is possible that the two of you aren't on the same path for life yet, but it's also possible that you could be and y'all just need some time to figure that out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:21 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I second the suggestion that your family isn't convinced by him. You say yourself that you're surprised your conservative family are telling you that you should date more people first - and I think too that if they just felt you were too young they'd be advising you to give it more time (or just backing up your desire to finish your education first). Do you get any sense from them at all that it's him they're worried about rather than your age or inexperience?
posted by raspberry-ripple at 3:32 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all your answers! I'm always in awe of how giving and thoughtful this community is, especially to a stranger!
Anyways, I've got lots to think about *for myself*. Slowly realizing that being an adult is doing some thinking for myself, and making decisions that might not make the people around me happy, but something that'll I will hopefully be happy about.
For clarification about my parents not liking my boyfriend, they certainly do approve of him. I guess I should've given more context. My parents married in their mid-30s, they didn't convert to Christianity until around then. Before that, they both had their respective little black books so they told me, and a lot of dating stories too. My mom was also married before she met my dad too.

Anyways, I plan on talking to my boyfriend about waiting. We've talked about it before, the waiting, but I've never been very serious sounding about it. Hopefully all goes well!!
posted by buttonedup at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: making decisions that might not make the people around me happy

Yes, I really want to support you in thinking this way. It is actually very hard to make decisions independent of the ideas of the people who love you. Of course, they all do want the best for you, but they can't really know what is best for you. Most people, even the close ones, have a desire to make you in their own image, and project that onto your decisions.

I smiled when I read about your parents. They want you to do what they did; it worked for them. I had the opposite side of the coin, my parents married at 18 and 21, and had a lot of relationship advice and ideals for me that just didn't make sense for me. Making my own way was hard, but essential. There were times it caused a rift between us, but it healed. Doing the independent work is one of the ways we make ourselves and become true adults. It takes some courage, and some people never do it - they follow the script. But even if you choose to follow the script in the end, getting there on your own, thinking about your own needs, makes it much happier and more authentic to live out.

Oh, randomly, this thread made me think of the This American Life episode featuring a couple who dated for 13 years and then, before getting married, decided to sleep around for one month to 'test the waters.' Of course, just in their decision to try this as a good idea, you can see that things are probably unraveling - they agreed that their relationship had already "run its course" but couldn't recognize it.

In the end, if you decide to stay together for your own authentic reasons, it is a good decision. Same if you decide to part ways for your own authentic reasons. Don't let social narratives of either kind dictate what you do.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got married at 23. My fiancé was 24. I felt so grownup at the time. My parents always emphasized chastity, not living together if unmarried, and death till you part. So, even though I went against their wishes and shacked up before marriage, I really felt this pressure to "get official." I think so far, in the arc of history, we did good and lucked out together but it wasn't entirely because we knew ourselves. And my feelings about marriage have changed so much in 20 years. He and I have a 4-year-old and I think so much about what makes a good partner. A good partner in life when you encounter challenges is immeasurably valuble. You should, first and foremost, be able to be honest and open about your life desires with your partner and have open and often compromising discussions about your hopes and goals. Sometimes they don't align, what do you do? I think you guys are ready to "take the next step" which is about having those kind of conversations.
posted by amanda at 9:49 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is an extremely important skill, for a woman in particular, to learn to live with making people mad. Especially when they're just mad you won't do what they want.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:07 PM on July 5, 2015 [18 favorites]

I wholeheartedly recommend learning to hear your inner voice loud and perfectly clear before committing to a person for life. I married at your age, didn't quite know myself well enough, and while the marriage was great, the unknown self that reasserted itself after a decade eventually ended the marriage. Failure? Success? Impossible to know. It wasn't a path I'd recommend though.
posted by ead at 2:15 PM on July 5, 2015

I don't think that marrying your first love is necessarily a problem unless either of you feel resentful you are missing out on other people, but I do think you are perhaps too young to be married just yet (based on my experience)

I married my husband last weekend, I am 27 and he is 28. We met at 16/17 at school and moved in together just over a year later after dropping college and getting full time waiting jobs (despite our parents going on about missed opportunities) so we have had our fair share of stresses and relationship puzzles to work our way through, however neither of us felt 'mature' enough to marry until the last year or two despite feeling certain of our commitment to each other. I know that we have both grown and changed in ways we couldn't have anticipated in our earlier relationship, people have been making pointed comments about marriage since our early 20's and we have always said we are too young! I don't think that you should marry someone just because you have been together a while or because you are 'getting old' but because you share similar goals and timeframes for your lives and you both feel your aspirations are compatible. Of course no-one can predict everything but it does at least take out some major potential conflicts and divorce is harder than marriage (legally and emotionally too in a lot of ways)

I definitely think you are on the right track talking to him about it, if you do end up marrying then having effective ways to communicate will prove priceless. I think the reason we have stayed together so long is that we talk about everything with each other, we also bicker about things sometimes as a result but at least it's out in the open and we can try and reach a conclusion we are both happy with. I am so happy that I have married my best friend, but I know we both did the right thing by waiting till we were sure.
posted by Peetree at 2:32 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

My love and I have been cohabitating for nearly 30 years. Mutual first loves and still each others best friend. I think the most important thing has been to support one another in growing and changing. And open honest communication.

Do what you want. It's your life. Live it for yourself.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:13 PM on July 5, 2015

My first marriage was to my first love, who I met at 17. We married when I was 21 and still in university. I wanted to wait until I was done my engineering degree and had a job, he knew he wanted to marry me and felt it was time since all his friends were getting married. As I could see myself marrying him eventually, I gave in and figured waiting wasn't important. In hindsight, I wished we'd waited until I'd graduated and had a job. Maybe we'd still be together. Or maybe instead of going through a painful divorce four years later, it would have been a simple(r) breakup.

School is all-consuming and stressful on its own, and I don't know how affluent you are, but I was a poor student. I didn't realize it ahead of time, but we both had a lot of expectations about married life that weren't very compatible with being poor full-time students. We hadn't been through tough times until after we were married, either... and it's not rational, but you get way more sensitive about what your spouse does/says once you're married than when he was your boyfriend, and vice-versa. It was incredibly hard to give due attention to the relationship in difficult times when I was up to my eyeballs in school work. Or to stay focused on my work either. Some people do great with being married and being students, I met a few. But I really didn't know any people my age, in my program, who were married. There was basically no peer support.

I'm not saying you and your guy won't last if you did get married sooner than later. I'm saying "time served in the relationship" isn't a good measuring stick for when to get married. Have you two dealt with big problems together yet? Have you had substantial disagreements and learned to work it out? Have you both lived on your own and know what it's like to be financially responsible for yourself? Do you feel you're both ready? Do you feel like you and your partner are on the same page regarding life goals, timelines? It's not just looking at yourself, it's looking at your guy too. If you need more time, take it.
posted by lizbunny at 5:31 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just watched my best friend's marriage crumble. She also married her first love and her situation is somewhat similar to yours in that she was from the South and loads of her friends were all getting married at young ages (23,24 etc).
She wanted to get married because I think she felt it was the "next thing to do".

They rushed into it. Obviously they loved each other but their communication styles were worlds apart. There was an awful lot of putting up with shit that I wouldn't put up with simply because they were married.

Nostalgia can also get in the way... even when things were bleak between them, we had conversations where she admitted she really liked the fact that he was her first love, it made her feel somehow "better" than other people, like marrying your first love makes you more of a success story where love is concerned.

I'm not advising you to break up with your boyfriend, you two sound happy, but trust me I'm 33 years old now and I was with my first love from 19-23. That world is SO FAR REMOVED from where I am now that I really don't know what you have to lose by waiting. As mentioned above thread, people do a Heck of a lot of changing between the ages of 23-30. You guys may grow together but honestly, once you get out in the world and experience new things, you'll probably grow apart.
posted by JenThePro at 8:20 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't settle just because people seem to be pressuring you to do so. It's easy to stay with someone who makes you feel comfortable.
posted by cass at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

More anecdata: I married my first love when I was 22. We divorced when I was 30.

That doesn't mean, of course, that you would have the same experience, and Miko's point above about figuring out what you need, rather than being overly influenced by other people's experiences or viewpoints, is crucial. I didn't know how to do that when I was 22, and might have made a very different decision if I had. On the other hand, had l walked away then, I wouldn't have learned some very valuable lessons about what makes a long-term relationship sustainable (or not).

One such lesson is this: given that many people are pursuing education and building careers in their 20s, make sure that the two of you genuinely support one another's goals. It's one thing to say that you do when you're curled up together on the couch; it's quite another to have to eat dinner alone again because your wife has a study group meeting, or to move to a new city where you don't know anyone because your husband got his dream job. Think about what you are actually signing up for, and think about how you (as an individual and as a couple) will manage the difficulties that will arise - because they will.

One more thought: relationships involve an ever-changing balance between the needs of the individuals in them, and there's no way to tell how those needs will change over time. That's why any degree of commitment is always a gamble, and why self-knowledge and open communication matter.

Best of luck to you, whatever you decide!
posted by chicainthecity at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

But when I think about what my family says, I wonder if it's not the right thing to do, to marry my first love?

I don't know. Is that what YOU want?

Sometimes I wonder, what if I was single in college and was single in my 20s? Am I missing out on something?

The answer is "probably". Or maybe not. Again, it comes back to what is right for you; not for other people or what other people do.

I look at my good friends, all my age and younger, and they're married and happy. A few of them have divorced by now, but they're still happy. Most of them married their "first loves".

I'll say this; there is nothing more cliched than some missive about someone contemplating (more like looking for approval for) divorce and they start out with "I've never been with anyone else.....Prince/Princess Charming was my first love".

If you feel like you're not ready to marry and you want to get out there a bit, then do that.

If you want to get married, then do that.

But, you shouldn't try to look at your wants and desires and compare them to others. That's not going to get you anywhere.
posted by PsuDab93 at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2015

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