By Leah Szepesi
When I was 10, my mother convinced me to start playing the flute. I loved music, so I didn’t question it. Even though I haven’t played in years, I am thankful for that instrument to this day because without it, I would never have met my fiancé.
I went to a high school with a regional arts program. I had to perform two concerts a year, and the rehearsals could take up three periods of the school day. If you missed your lunch, as I did the day I met my fiancé, you were allowed to eat during fourth period instead. My childhood friend also had lunch at that time and one of her friends, Alex, was there. He was this really annoying guy with big blue eyes.
As they say, the rest was history.
Four years later, we were sitting together on our fourth anniversary. Keeping with the theme, we went to a restaurant called Four, taking our seats at 4:44 p.m.
As we sat down at the table, he pulled out a small jewelry box—the fourth gift he gave me that day. I must have looked as shocked as I felt. His face changed and suddenly, he looked concerned. Before he could ask, I blurted, “Let’s talk about this before you embarrass yourself in public!”
Inside the box was a charm for my Pandora bracelet, not a ring—something I wish I had known. Alex had a good laugh at my expense. At the time, I thought that would be it, but three weeks later, he turned to me and said, “You would have said no?”
I knew I wasn’t ready to get married. Not because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with Alex, but because I needed to make sure we were on the same page before I committed.
A week passed and I presented him with a list of twenty questions. It included inquiries about whether or not he wanted to have kids, where he saw himself working in the future, what sort of things he absolutely had to do in life, and so on. In-depth discussions about how we saw our futures independently and as partners unfolded over the year and a half.
When he actually did propose, I was just as surprised as that day in the restaurant. But this time, I knew I was ready to say yes.
The number of young people getting married is gradually decreasing. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, in 1950, the average age for women to wed was 25.9 years. By 2008, the average became 29.6 years for women and 31.6 for men. Research has also shown that age is a determining factor of the success of the marriage. Teens who get married nearly double the risk of their marriage dissolving compared to someone in their mid-20s.
Since getting engaged, I’ve received a lot of unsolicited advice from older women urging me not to limit myself to my high school sweetheart. It always brings back the poignant memory from my high school psychology class, when the teacher told us that we should dump our current partner when we graduate to avoid settling prematurely. At the time, I thought that was stupid advice, and frankly, I still think that.
Of course, I know why my high school teacher, the office administrator at my first internship, and one random customer at the Oakham Café felt the need to warn me about getting married young. All of these women came from a generation where finding a husband at a young age somehow made you more “complete,” and better equipped to start a life.
This has resulted in an oppositional social pressure that constantly questions whether young people are getting married for the right reason.
Many people, myself included, love the romance of a traditional wedding. It’s not wrong to want that, but it is important to be mindful of the problems that are sure to arise after the honeymoon ends.
“You have to be sure you’re ready for the work that’s involved in building a lasting relationship and that you’re ready to settle down,” says Dr. Wanda Malcolm, a psychologist who provides marriage counselling services in Mississauga. She knows better than most that there is no formula for marital success.
“People should not be together just to have a wedding,” she said. “That’s a bad reason for getting married.”
Reverend Stephanie Douglas, an Anglican priest who has performed many marriages in her career, says the stress of being professionally successful before getting married is quite prominent.
“Historically, there’s a pressure that’s still around, to be at a certain place in your career and in your financial portfolio before you settle down. I hate that pressure,” says Douglas. “It’s not supposed to be a show, but there’s still a pressure on young people to spend ridiculous amounts of money on one day. For a generation that is financially strapped it’s so grossly unfair.”
There’s a plethora of relationship experts out there that can give you advice on how to deal with marital issues, but I prefer simple, grounded guidance from others with similar life experience.
“Marriage is all about communication,” former Ryerson student Casey Lynne told me over the phone, speaking from her condo that she owns with her common-law partner, Jeremy. Like Alex and me, they have been together for six years. Lynne told me how excited she is to get married someday, and how they were waiting until they could afford the right ring before getting engaged-—at which point I heard Jeremy laugh in the background.
I asked her for advice on how they keep that good-natured laughter and happiness going, even after years of living together, and she gave it a lot of thought before answering. “Just remember, when things get tough, it’s not me versus you,” she finally told me. “It’s us versus the problem.”
I think this is good advice for every couple. In my experience, the success or failure of a long-term relationship rides on two key things: practicing good communication habits during stressful situations and being able to put down your pride to provide for your partner’s needs to the best of your abilities. That commitment makes you better as an individual, and as a couple. So, with all due respect to everyone who has questioned my motives: I know why I’m getting married, and it’s for the right reasons.
I have my wedding planning list open. Although I’ve already booked the venue, the catering, the photography, and the entertainment, it still feels like I’ve barely dented my to-do list.
But instead of stressing out over everything that’s left to do, I think I’m going to go dust off my flute and play a piece—maybe something from the long-lost repertoire of a 15-year-old girl in love.