Who Says Marriage Has Anything to Do with ‘Settling Down’?

If fears of ‘settling’ too early are putting you off marriage, it’s time to let them go.
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If fears of ‘settling’ too early are putting you off marriage, it’s time to let them go.

Get married when you’re finished doing everything else, they say. Those who refer to their spouse as the “old ball and chain” caution that exciting jobs, traveling, exploring, partying, and passionate liaisons end the moment you decide to tie the knot.

TIME magazine reports that unmarried millennials cite being “not ready to settle down” as one of their top reasons for not getting married. With headlines like “14 Signs You’re NOT Ready to Settle Down,” articles geared toward twentysomethings often speak to our fear of what marriage could mean. They say that feelings of wanderlust, a desire for a good career, eagerness to discover new things, and a need for personal and spiritual growth are all reasons to not get married yet.

And I don’t blame them. Who’s ready to settle? If getting married means “settling down” (i.e., your life gets even less interesting than it was before), it’s no wonder many millennials aren’t chomping at the bit to do it.

But I’m a millennial, and my experience with marriage has been anything but boring. I am 25 and married nearly two years, have a 9-month old daughter, and am far from ready to “settle down.” In fact, I have never felt more wanderlust, more desire for career growth, more eagerness to discover new things, and more openness to personal and spiritual development. Far from putting out the fire of these things in my heart, my marriage has fueled them.

The truth is, I was much more “settled down” before I got married. I had my job, my friends, my family, and my occasional travels. And my biggest motivator was myself. If I were less than successful in achieving my dreams, the only one who missed out was me. It was a lot easier to put things off.

I’ve always had the dream, for example, of taking time to learn and master graphic design as a professional side gig. When it started looking like my life was headed toward marriage, I was worried that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to ever pursue that dream. But my husband’s support and enthusiasm for my project, the flexibility of shared income and resources, and the added energy that comes from chasing after an active baby have set me well on my way toward that goal.

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior said it well when she argued that young people, especially young women, are better off when they view marriage as the cornerstone, not the capstone, of their lives. Personally, I have found that “settling down” or “settling” in general is really just a reflection of your mentality toward life—married, single, dating, or otherwise. In other words, your marriage should be part of the force propelling you to where you want to go, not the thing you settle for once you’ve already gotten there.

Think about it: What is it that you are desperate to do that having a spouse would prevent you from doing?

Skydiving? Jump together.

An insanely busy career? Find someone who supports it.

Fancy cars and expensive clothes? Save jointly; you’ll get there faster.

The responsibility and camaraderie of having a spouse, and especially kids, requires you to take advantage of time, resources, and energy in the best possible way. If you’re less than successful in achieving your dreams and the joint dreams of your family, there are a lot of people you love who will be missing out. And that’s a much bigger motivator than your own self interest.

Marry someone who supports your goals and feeds your sense of wanderlust, but also be courageous enough to see your dreams grow bigger than yourself. Marriage will give your career aspirations even deeper purpose and your dreams of travel a new spirit of generosity, a desire to share that wanderlust with your spouse and even your children. Allowing your dreams to grow ever larger to include your spouse and family only makes your aspirations that more amazing.

Marriage unsettled me. It shook up my comfortable patterns and pushed me to walk on the edge, to shatter my boundaries and to discover a person inside myself I only saw rarely before. I travel more, I’ve visited more interesting places, I’ve spent more time with friends, and I’ve certainly grown so much more professionally, personally, and spiritually.

So if fears of “settling” too early are holding you back from thinking about marriage, it’s time to let them go. Getting married might be the very thing that saves you from getting too comfortable.

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan Photography