An Open Letter to My Engaged Teenage Cousin:

Recently, you announced to the world, via Facebook, that you are engaged. I thought you were joking, not only because you just celebrated your first boyfriend, first job, and 18th birthday, but because you’re regularly announcing engagements to your best girlfriends. But no, you clarified… this time you’re serious. There’s even a ring. I had a ring as a teenager, too. I didn’t say that, though. I didn’t respond at all, because I had a ring as a teenager, too. You are a brand new baby adult and there is absolutely no reaching you on this subject. I’m sure that your aunts have tried… your dad… your grandmother. My name was possibly even brought up as a cautionary tale.

If I thought you would hear me, I’d remind you of what you’ve surely heard in health class: that 60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce.* I won’t though, because you’ll insist (as did I) that your relationship is different. What I’d like to tell you, is that it isn’t. Your relationship is not different from any other young marriage, in that you are not the people you will be in 10 years… not even close. We live in a society where individuals are encouraged to grow the absolute most between the ages of 18 and 25. So, while you’ll grow as a person throughout your life, you’ll likely never change so much as in the next seven years or so. Everything about who you will be, who he will be, is unknown. You are working with unmolded clay, and the odds are infinitesimal that, after seven years, you’ll exist as two pieces who properly fit together. It is entirely possible that this teenage boy, through much influence from the world beyond his teen bride, will be molded into a screaming liberal, a soldier, a vegan, a drug addict, an online gamer, an Atheist, a smoker, a pro-lifer, a techie, a role player, a devout Christian, an alcoholic, a workaholic, a thief, a cheater, or an abuser.

Maybe you won’t be crying over another mysterious phone call, wondering where the Blu Ray player went, or icing a fat lip. These are obviously pretty extreme scenarios. Perhaps you’ll just find, at 22, that you love British comedy and sushi, have a strong passion for animal rights, and aren’t totally sure if you want to bring children into this world. Your young husband will grab a beer, sit down on the couch next to you, ask what the hell you’re watching and bring up the baby conversation again. You’ll look at the man you once considered adorable and see a simpleton… the reason you can’t join the Peace Corps or take that job out of state… the only adventure you’ve ever had. 

I know, I know. I’m jaded and broken, after two years of sleeping with my wallet in my pillowcase and wondering why the dog was bleeding. I’m hardly one to give marital advice. Maybe you’ll be just as in love at 28 as you were at 18. Then what will I have to say? Then… I’ll be happy for you. I’ll be thrilled that you don’t know the soul crushing effect of divorcing a monster in your early 20s, or the fear and nerves of going on your first Grown Up Date at 23, the awkwardness of stumbling over the “I’m divorced” conversation in a new relationship. However… I’ll still be thinking of all that you missed; like the vacation you never got to take with your girls, that trip abroad that wasn’t even up for consideration, the boy at that party you had so much in common with, maybe even the bachelor’s degree that got pushed aside when the babies came.

You can always get married and have children (pre-menopausal), but you can never undo the decision you’re making right now. You’re only 18, which means that you’ve never made any decisions that will effect the rest of your life and, happiness or despair, getting married will effect the rest of your life. You will make more choices, based on that decision, and they will effect the rest of your life. Perhaps the wedding won’t be soon, but then why even get engaged? Engagement is a time to prepare for marriage, not a pseudo commitment to provide security in a time of upheaval. Your life is supposed to be scary and unknown right now. I guarantee that it’s a lot more fun right after high school, than it is at 23, when everyone else is finding stability in the world.

Those are the things I would say, but I know they’ll fall on deaf ears. I know they already have as other family members have made the same points. If I could get just one thing across, though, it would be that they’re saying these things for a reason. They love you. They’ve watched people make this choice again and again. Maybe they even speak from personal experience. They want you to be happy, just as they wanted me to be happy. Your engagement announcement shouldn’t require the assurance that you’re serious, because you’ve barely outgrown faux relationship status updates to your best gal pals. It shouldn’t be met with cautionary tales and pleas to wait. Marriage, under the right circumstances, is a wonderful thing and your family wouldn’t warn you off a wonderful thing. It hurts them to see you make this mistake, just as it hurt them to watch me do the same. I just hope you don’t shut them out, because you will need them, if the worst occurs and your world falls apart, leaving you to start over as all of your friends announce that theirs are finally coming together. I wish you could understand this, but I know you can’t, because I had a ring as a teenager, too.

* http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/351

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7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Engaged Teenage Cousin:

  1. Yup. Yup. Yup. I have an ex-finace. He’s still and great guy and I respect him and am happy for him. Thankfully, we saw soon enough our paths didn’t lie in the same direction. Here’s hoping she can be persuaded to wait.

    • I’m glad you avoided disaster. I legitimately didn’t try with my cousin. I hope she’ll come to the realization in her own.

      • Distance was the key to mine. See if she’ll wait until after college.

    • I addressed that. Hopefully that’s that case. She’ll still miss out on a lot, when she could have had those things and done the marriage thing later.

      • You know her better than me. But I know someone who married young, it worked out (they’re in their 70s now). They don’t feel they missed out, but I guess it’s on a case by case basis.

      • When I was married at 20, and actually still hoped things would work out, I still felt like I missed something. There is a possibility that she’ll never feel that, but with people marrying later in life thn before, she’s going to have to watch her friends do all sorts of things she can’t. I hope she don’t feel it. I just don’t think that’s likely. I do genuinely wish her well.

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