Updated 09 December 2013

Too young to get married?

The whirlwind romance, the ring, the wedding plans. Your head is spinning with excitement. But wait a minute – could you be too young to do this?

The whirlwind romance, the ring, the wedding plans. Your head is spinning with excitement. But wait a minute – could you be too young to do this? Could you be marrying in haste, only to repent at leisure later on?

Marriage is a life-long commitment. It could mean companionship, financial security, social acceptance, love, settling down – however, it could also mean a host of other things, such as dealing with unemployment, abuse, an unexpected pregnancy, in-laws, affairs. You name it, the possibilities are endless.

"Some people are more mature at 25, than others are at 42, so whether you're ready for marriage, or not, cannot merely be determined by age," says Cape Town psychologist Ilse Pauw. "And no one gets married, unless they really hope it's going to work."

And, of course, in some cultures it is traditional that kids stay at home until they get married - and even sometimes afterwards. Then very different rules apply.

Before you run for the hills to join a nunnery or a monastery, if you consider getting married, do yourself a favour and read more about the signs that you may still be too young to tie the knot.

You don't have a tax number. Having your own tax number, probably means that you've been looking after yourself for a while by earning a regular income. If you're going into a marriage as a complete dependent, it could be dangerous to say the least. You need to be able to pay your own way, in case things fall apart at the seams. Many women (and a few men!) have suddenly found themselves on their own at 35 or 40, with no money and little or no work experience, and a family to support.

You still live with your parents. You don't know how to boil an egg, do the washing, pay bills, wash floors or take complete responsibility for yourself. In fact, if left to your own devices, you might just do a complete meltdown. A smelly one. You need to stay on your own for at least a year to find out how all these things work. That is, unless you make a real effort in your parents' home - and that means more than laying the table every Friday night. This goes for men and women. And yes, life is expensive out there, which is why your parents' home suits you. Or maybe living with your parents is part of the culture from which you come. But if you can, give real life a bash on your own before marrying.

You still want to go overseas. Once you have a bond to pay, a kid or two, and three dogs, it is not so easy to up and leave, pack all your troubles in your old kitbag and backpack through Europe. No kidding. Do your travelling before you tie the knot and get bogged down with lots of responsibilities. Backpacking through Tuscany and Turkey, or picking grapes in the south of France, just isn't going to happen if you have a toddler in tow. Or a spouse with a serious and uninterruptible career. Book that ticket now – the wedding can wait.

You can't drive. Not everyone can drive, or has access to a car, but being able to get around by yourself really is a sign of independence. Get a licence, even if you don't have a car. There's nothing worse than being a sitting duck, stuck at home, and not even being able to visit a friend, get to work, or going to a movie without getting a lift. Many jobs also require that you have a driver's licence. Just do it. Before you walk up the aisle.

You haven't made final career choices. You're still not sure what you want to be when you grow up. Except married. No, not really good enough. You're taking on joint responsibility for supporting a family and you need to be able to earn a living of some sorts. Whether you want to be a freelance carpenter or a fulltime bookkeeper or a singer in a rock band, make sure your career is in place before you set the wedding bells ringing. If you love your partner enough, you wouldn't want them to live with the endless insecurity of your job-hopping or unemployment.

This is your first relationship. This is a big one. There are people who can make a success of a marriage based on this, but they are probably few and far between. Most people would like to explore relationship possibilities with several people before they settle down. It's sometimes difficult to know who you are and what you want from relationships, if you've only ever been involved in the one. The grim reality is that many people then go on to explore other possibilities after they've tied the knot.

You own no furniture of your own. If you have no bed, table, desk or electrical appliances of your own, except a cellphone, there might be a few other things you need to pay off, before you get to the costs for the reception. In short, you need to earn some money and spend it on some nice-to-haves for yourself. You haven't really lived until you've eaten toast for a week, because you spent all your money on a new hi-fi. You can't do that if you have to buy nappies for your baby.

Your friends are all still unmarried. Getting married changes a lot of things. People tend to socialise with others who find themselves in a similar situation to their own. If all your friends are still single, and out there partying, with everything on their minds except settling down, maybe you should also reconsider. Or at least wait a year or two. And no, most people do not give definition to the institution of marriage - it often gives definition to them. We can't always get away from society's expectations.

You would like to study further. Some people manage to study later in life, but it's no mean feat to accomplish this when you're working fulltime, or dealing with nappies and a household. It also puts a marriage under great risk when one person works fulltime to support the studying spouse for years and years. It's tough when there is never any extra cash for treats, etc.

You've never had to cope with a crisis. There have always been others around to pick up the fallout of problems in your life. It's never been just you between a rock and a hard place. Marriage is no easy ride and you're going to need all the coping skills you can muster. If you don't have any, maybe you should live a little on your own before going down the aisle.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated September 2011)


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