Traditions, Christian values may cause younger marriage age in Alabama

I am an avid reader and was Southern born and bred, which has somewhat caused me to be a hopeless romantic. People sing about it, write about it and make movies about it. Love. And with Valentine’s Day around the corner, half of my heart clings to my hopeless romanticism while the other half looks at my love life through a serious and practical lens.

It seems that only a few years ago the rate of marriage was declining and the age at which people were getting married was increasing. But the past year has been filled with engagements. A majority of my friends are now engaged or already married. And in light of Valentine’s Day this week, the pressure to have a valentine will only increase, whether that valentine is a boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé or spouse.

When my parents got married, they were only 19 years old. This was normal and expected for 1980. They were high school sweethearts, and today, they have one of the strongest marriages I have seen. Their marriage is one that I admire, and one that I hope to someday experience too.

But I could not have imagined getting married at the age of 19. At 19, I was a freshman in college, and I had just started dating someone. I was nowhere near being mature enough to get married.

The second semester of my freshman year, I heard a startling statistic in my psychology class. My teacher told us the most common length of dating before couples got engaged was six months.

That is ridiculous. When I heard that statistic, I realized I had been in a relationship for about that long. But we were not ready to get engaged. We were still learning about each other, and we were attempting to tackle long-distance dating. An engagement after only six months would not have worked for us, and now we have been happily dating for almost three years.

I know the recent engagement boom is in part due to my age. I also think that it is largely due to our Southern culture. In Alabama specifically, the percentage of people currently married is higher than the percentage of people married in the U.S. Also, the median age at which people get married is lower in Alabama than the national median age. Most of the nation is waiting till their 30s to get married, some even choosing to live together in a “trial run” for several years before deciding to marry.

The younger marriage trend in the South may be due to some Southern traditions that are not as prominent in the rest of the country. Alabama is part of the Bible Belt, and the Christian values of dating and marriage may cause Southerners to date a smaller number of people before marrying. The Southern family dynamic often entails larger families with women in more domestic roles, which may be another reason for marrying young and starting a family. Society and culture contribute to shaping our decisions about life.

This Valentine’s Day, whether single, in a relationship, or happily engaged or married, people should find comfort in and be confident of their status in life. These college years are the most carefree times of our lives, and we shouldn’t be pressuring ourselves to have the perfect valentine or the perfect engagement ring. Perhaps all we need is just a perfect box of chocolates.

Hannah Waid is a junior majoring in English. Her column runs biweekly.

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