Ask Me: How can I know if he’s the one? And are we too young to get married?

Am I too young to get married? How can I know if he's the one?

Dear Bronwyn,

My boyfriend and I are both 20, and have been dating for 4 years. We have been talking about getting married for a few months and I’m getting scared. I’m scared that he’s not the one for me because I don’t have that gut feeling and part of me is saying run away and that were both pretty young. I really want to be with him and wake up next to him. I’m worried I’m just in love with the idea of getting married and he’s convenient so I should just marry him. But we have a fuzzy electrical feeling when we kiss or touch and I don’t want to let that go. He says he knows I’m the one for him, but I just wish I had that feeling too. He’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband. I’ve prayed and asked God for a sign to let me know if hes the one for me. The first time He sent a shooting star. The second time I felt like He was telling me through particular songs that kept coming up on the radio. After that second time you would think “Okay, God, I get the message,” but I still can’t shake the gut feeling of wanting to run. Is that the devil at work? Does the Bible say anything about this? Please help.

From,

Dating but Doubting

Dear DbD,

I hear three questions in your letter: Are we too young to get married? How can I know if he’s the one? And, will God give me a sign that I’m making the right decision? I’ll try to touch on each of these:

Firstly, on the question of “how old is old enough to marry?”: A hundred years ago (and probably for centuries before that), a couple who were twenty and had been together for four years may well already have been married! It is a strange feature of our modern world that it has become normal to delay marriage for ten, even fifteen, years later than our ancestors did.

But there is still much to be said for marrying young. In her excellent article The Case for Getting Married Young, Karen Swallow Prior talks about the difference between seeing marriage as the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life. I was one who married a little later, but am now in a position where I have a group of friends who are my age but many of them have been married ten years longer than we have (and have kids going to college already!!), because they married in their late teens and early twenties. When these friends of mine talk about their marriages, they talk about how they and their husbands had to grow up together: they figured out how to “adult” (as it now seems to be a verb) as a team… and they are the better for it.

But this is not the norm with most people in their early twenties. I hear more people talk about first wanting to reach certain career and financial milestones before thinking about marriage, and while this is the conventional wisdom of our age, I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about seeking first career and financial stability, and then marriage being added unto you. Certainly, those who delay marriage and land up making poor sexual choices as a result have not chosen well. (In fact, did you know that in the Westminster Catechism, in the discussion of ways in which the seventh commandment is infringed, they list “undue delay of marriage” as one? Qu 139 over here.)

The health and maturity of your relationship matters so much more than your age. I would encourage you to try to rely less on your feelings and more on the wisdom of your community in taking stock of whether you and your boyfriend’s relationship is healthy and mature enough to move towards marriage. Ask your parents, leaders around you at church, trusted friends, and people who have been married a while: ask them about their experiences, ask them what advice they’d have, and then ask them if they would help you to identify any red flags they might see: do you have patterns of co-dependency that you might not be aware of? how do you handle anger, disappointment, and conflicts of interest etc? Also, if you are seriously thinking about marriage, I would strongly encourage you to do pre-marital counseling. Take your time and take it seriously: pre-marital counseling doesn’t “solve” any issues up front, but it really does a lot to help you walk into marriage with your eyes wide open and your expectations adjusted towards reality. If you can—and this is gold—stay in relationship with those counselor’s and ask if you can check in with them every couple of months after you are married. That kind of mentoring makes the world of difference.

As to the question: “how can I know if he’s the one?” I’ve written about the idea of finding the “one” and how much we can trust the tingly feelings of dating chemistry here, so I won’t go into too much about that more. I do want to add this, though: that you are dating in a millennial climate where we all like to keep our options open, but the downside of that is that sometimes keeping all our options open means also watching them all go by without having taken any. The desire to optimize all our experiences—to find the best deal, or the perfect vacation destination,  or the dream school, or the perfect mate—leads us to the deluded belief that if we just do enough internet research, we will make the perfect decision and then life will be easy. But it is a delusion. And sometimes, wisdom says that we would be happiest if we picked the GOOD option and worked with that, rather than indefinitely delaying deciding because we’re waiting for the best.

I mention this just to express some sympathy for the cultural climate we live in: the fear we have of “making the wrong decision” and “settling for second best” is horribly amplified by the world around us; and it is undergirded by the false premise that the “best” decision (or “the one”) really is out there, and that if we would just find that one then we will all live happily ever after. But life is not like that, and no matter how wonderful you and your partner may be (or how long you wait), marriage is still one between sinners and you will have seasons of deep challenge and mutual refining… and in the process, grow together.

Now that’s not to say we should go to a dance and “take a partner by the hand and doh-se-doh into happily ever after” with the first available single guy. Obviously, we need more wisdom than that: finding someone who loves God, who loves you, with whom you can grow and serve together, and (I think this is a deal breaker), with whom you can laugh at both triumphs and disappointments, goes a long way towards making marriage smoother. You say in your letter “he’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband.” I think that’s a really encouraging start 🙂

Finally: will God give me a sign so I can be sure? Probably not. Will he give you wisdom if you ask? Yes. Will he give you guidance as you prayerfully try to figure this out? Yes. Will he make the decision for you? Usually no. Not unless you’re Gideon. But take heart, dear friend: just because God hasn’t put an appendix at the back of the Bible with the list of who you will marry (wouldn’t that be a trip?) doesn’t mean he isn’t leading, guiding, and providing, or that he won’t work in good and amazing ways through this process of questioning you’re going through. If I think back on the discernment process through my own dating and deciding-to-marry relationships: I felt so unsure at the time, and really wished God would just TELL ME WHAT TO DO ALREADY, but as I look back I can see his faithfulness in answering every one of my prayers, for being with me through the breakups, and in landing up where I have. I have ever confidence He has no less than abundant plans for flourishing for you, too.

All the best,

Bronwyn

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10 thoughts on “Ask Me: How can I know if he’s the one? And are we too young to get married?

  1. I tend to think that to ask the question whether one is too young to marry is to answer the question as well. Not always, but it is one indicator.

    Then again, what do I know. We didn’t marry until we were 27.

    • We were also older. But my house mate in college was 22 and his wife 19 when they married. I remember one night he was on the phone with his dad, and his dad had said to him that he felt his son was mature enough to marry…. which was, I think, pivotal in giving him confidence to pursue marriage when he did. I remember being appalled at the thought that a father could tell his then-21-year old he was “ready” to marry: how could ANYONE be ready to marry, I thought? But that really said more about my own immaturity than theirs, and they have been incredibly happily wed for nearly 19 years now… so I had them in the back of my mind, too, when writing this piece. Because I was definitely one of the friends asking “aren’t you too young?”, and I suppose my friend was young enough to ask the same question – but he asked it of his Dad, and not his naive friend!

  2. My practical side says, Don’t get married until you can first stand on your own! Get an education, be prepared to support yourself and any children you may have, and then you will have a much more successful partnership. You should each be individuals before you become partners. That’s my 2 cents worth of advice.

    • I appreciate that. I think too many people get married and transfer dependence to their spouses… Rather than learning that mutual interdependence is healthier but that requires us to be able to take our own weight!

    • I totally see what you mean, but I have to say I disagree. I got married at 20 and he was 21. Both of us are students, with YEARS of grad school ahead of us. We’re not going to be in the work force for at least five years from now–six years from when we got married. I’m not going to be finished until I’m 29–8 more years from now.
      When we first got married, my parents still helped me with my tuition for my final year. We had made a deal before I went to school that they would give me X amount every year, and when I ended up getting married after 3rd year they decided to keep going with that arrangement. And we would have had to go into debt if it wasn’t for that help.
      But at the same time, I do agree that you shouldn’t just rely on your spouse to provide for you. My husband and I take turns making the money and now we are 100% on our own feet only 10 months after the wedding, but I think that it’s also good to learn how to work through student money issues together. It makes for good money habits early on, that’s for sure!
      But if we had waited to get married until we could provide for kids financially, we wouldn’t have been able to get married for another 5 years. Which just wouldn’t have been feasible. I think sometimes God brings people together earlier in life, and sometimes he waits. 🙂

  3. I got married at 22 (engaged at 21) to a man nine years older, so we were both young and not-so-young when we took our vows sixteen years ago. I second what Bronwyn says about asking the community around you; those who know you well, particularly those who have been married for multiple decades in a God-centered, healthy marriage (and thus know a lot more about what challenges a long-lasting marriage faces than, say, lovey-dovey newlyweds)… those are people you need to ask. One older woman at our church was so happy that we were getting married; she told me that she “just knew that we’d last 50 years!!” Well, we haven’t made it to 50 yet, but that was a vote of confidence. 🙂

    And I will second the wisdom of premarital counseling. It won’t tell you what areas will be challenges (some can’t be known, such as infertility or sexual dysfunction or loss of a child) but will help you and your fiance learn to communicate well through those challenges. My husband and I did premarital counseling with our pastor before the wedding, but we also did a church-based small group marriage study on emotional intimacy. We had a variety of married couples in the group, including one couple whose marriage was obviously in trouble, and their insights were very helpful and eye-opening.

  4. I got married at 25 – and that seems young now! I’m glad I finished my degree before getting married. It has helped me remain flexible with job situations and given me confidence to be an equal team member in our marriage. Do you want to be more independent before you get married? There are benefits to growing up together – but there are distinct advantages to being single during these formative years. In my case, it gave me confidence and the ability to find my own voice – what am *I* interested in? Who am *I* supposed to be? What is God calling *me* to do? (Coming from an emotionally dependent background, these were really important development milestones and I wouldn’t be as good of a wife or mother if I hadn’t first learned important truths about myself.) Rather than finding my value in my role as wife and mother, I am continuing to find my inherent worth as made-by-God and redeemed-by-God.

    It sounds like you tend toward intuitive knowledge and those ‘gut feelings’ are really important to you. I especially commend you for your honesty about ‘enjoying the idea of being married’ – this is not a state that you want to feel pressured into. Your head and your heart need to align in order for you to move forward! I would talk very honestly with your partner (boyfriend/fiance) about your concerns. He needs to be able to listen to your thoughts and ideas – not just to talk you out of them, but to understand your reasoning. He needs to be able to hear, see, and respect your point of view.

    Mutual honesty and respect are the foundation of building a healthy marriage. Talk to your partner – talk to people who have known you a long time. Most importantly, listen to yourself. Your gut feelings have value – don’t discount them in this decision.

  5. You are not too young, but it seems there are some problems in your relationship that you need to address first. I would recommend downloading How to Be Free From Bitterness by Jim Wilson. It is free. I would also recommend The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson. You can buy that online. That will give you some direction.

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