(or “Marry young and travel wide”)
When Dan and I got engaged, I was still in college.
Most of our friends viewed our engagement as somewhat of an oddity. They humored us—helping us prepare and make favors and select songs for the reception—but I don’t think that they ever really understood us. Not entirely.
Nowadays, it’s kind of weird to get married young. It is, though, isn’t it?
Even now, when Dan and I meet someone new, there is always an awkward pause in the conversation as the other person tactfully tries to understand our situation.
“So you’re married?” They’ll ask.
“Yes,” I’ll say.
“When did you get married?”
“Oh… almost three years ago, actually.” I’ll look at Dan to confirm that this approximation is accurate. “Yeah, almost three years. Wow.”
“But… “ (and here’s where their confusion sets in) “How old are you now?”
“I’m 25,” I’ll say.
“So you got married when you were… 22?”
“Are you… religious?”
“Oh.” The other person will then nod politely. They’ll consider probing further, but then will decide against it. The mild confusion just sits there, hanging in the air like an unanswered question.
As acquaintances blossom into friendships, people come to accept the fact that we are married. The question fades into the background. Dan and I become Lisa-and-Dan, the married couple.
But why would somebody get married right out of college? Why would a non-religious (and non-pregnant) couple tie the knot at the age of 22? What possible reason could there be for not waiting a couple of extra years? Why would someone make such a rash and final decision at such a tender and impressionable age?
My question, though, is just the opposite. Honestly, whyever wouldn’t they?
I love Dan, and I loved him in college. We were a good fit for one another. Part of it was a natural fit, and part of it was a product of coming and growing together. When I joined the caving club at Penn State, he was the only one of my friends who was willing to try it. From caving, we branched out into biking and hiking and camping and traveling. We made plans together, and we unearthed common goals. Both of us were interested in living abroad, and we both wanted to learn another language. We both wanted to have children and, coming from divorced families ourselves, were staunchly opposed to getting divorced.
Rather than being exactly the same, Dan and I were complements. I had big plans and hundreds of changing, half-finished visions. Dan had the ability to agree to one thing at a time and see it all the way through. I was good at being cheap, while Dan was good at banking. I was a hermit and Dan was social. I was learning how to cook, and Dan was a cheerful and tireless dinner companion. These things sound small and meaningless, but they added up to something important. They created a balance.
Dan finished school in 2009, and asked me to marry him. He was, at that point, about to start his Master’s Degree at Penn State. I was 6 months shy of graduating myself, and already starting to search for my first post-college real job. At that point, we both knew that we weren’t going to stay in State College forever. If we chose to move away and stay together, we both wanted to be married. To us, that was what felt correct. And so, we got married.
That was about three years ago.
Since then, we joined the Peace Corps.
It’s a bit of a challenge to join the Peace Corps, actually. The application process is long and winding and the medical procedures are endless. You have to be poked and prodded and vaccinated repeatedly, and then charted and tick-ed and check-ed. You go through several rounds of interviews all while maintaining a constant, heightened state of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Worst of all, you wait. While your parents ask you (repeatedly) if you’re sure about this and your friends settle into real jobs, you are left waiting for an answer. Where will you be going? What will you be doing?
If that’s not bad enough, the application process takes much longer for prospective married volunteers. Dan and I waited for more than a year and a half. Much of the difficulty was the challenge of finding a country that was searching for both of our skill sets—math and (of all things) forestry. In the end, I was recruited to teach English. We arrived in Mozambique in September 2011.
We’ve been here now for more than twenty months, and I can tell you first-hand that the Peace Corps experience is hard. It’s lonesome and it’s challenging. It’s an exercise in patience. But I am thankful every day that I chose to do it, and that I came here with my husband.
So what are the benefits of being married in the Peace Corps?
1. Support. As a married volunteer, I have a really unfair advantage. I brought my best friend with me. That means that I always have someone to listen to my stories, laugh at my more amusing failures, and provide positive feedback and support. The hard times just aren’t as hard when there’s someone there to help.
2. An Opposite Point of View. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sat down and said, “That’s it. I quit.” It’s easy to get mad and make a rash decision. But having another rational human on hand helps to minimize damage and provide reasonable alternatives and suggestions.
3. Health and Safety. If I get sick or injured, I know that I can count on Dan to run and call for help. I also, honestly, just feel safer with Dan around. I never get sexually harassed and everybody in Zobue is well-aware of the fact that I am married and live with a man.
4. Memories. The memory of our Peace Corps experience is something that Dan and I share together. The people that we’ve met and the places that we’ve been are ours to share, not just mine. We also share a secret language (with about 220 million other people).
5. …Other reasons. You know. Nobody wants to be lonely.
It’s been said that if a marriage can survive for two years in the Peace Corps, than it can survive anything. And I bet that there’s some truth to that.
I’m glad that Dan and I chose to marry young. For us, it was the right decision. We’re 25 years old, but have already lived abroad and traveled extensively. We still have time to start a family, but without sacrificing adventure in our early married years.
So why get married right out of college? Why make such a rash and final decision at such a young and tender age?