weddings

'I got married when I was 22. I've been judged by more strangers than I can count.'

I got engaged when I was just 22.

When the time came, my partner and I had been dating for almost five years and we felt more than ready.

But although our close friends and family were absolutely ecstatic for us, we didn’t exactly get the same response from everyone.

In the past year, while we’ve been busily preparing for our wedding, we’ve encountered constant judgement from acquaintances, potential wedding suppliers and even complete strangers.

You see, when you’re engaged in your early 20s, you start to hear the same responses time and time again: “You’re far too young”, “Are you sure you’re ready to settle down?”, “Why don’t you travel first?” or even “Are you sure it will work out?”

It’s almost as if when you’re married… you suddenly lose your ability to travel, make career moves or even have fun.

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For others, our marriage was deemed downright pointless. To them, they’d already made up their minds – we’re young, so we won’t last.

One man, whom I’d just met, told me, “He’ll get bored after a few years. You just wait.”

Another person, who I barely knew, tried to pressure me into keeping my own last name, because “let’s face it, it will probably end in divorce.”

And that’s just the start of it.

We decided to reach out to other women who have married young or had children young to find out what their experience was like.

Here’s what they shared.

Alyssa

I met my now-husband at my 17th birthday party.

We decided to get engaged when I was 21. We both just thought, ‘Why wait?’ It was obvious that we could see each other in our lives for a long time. We were married when I was 22 – everyone told me that I was too young to get married and that I shouldn’t get married so young.

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My parents came from a generation where people traditionally got married really young and although their marriage did work out, I think they thought it was old fashioned to get married so young.

getting married young
Alyssa with her husband and their two children. Image: Supplied.

After hearing my older sister having a phone conversation with a friend about me getting married so young and that I might be making a mistake, I began to question everything. I told my husband I couldn't get married, only to tell him the next day that I definitely did want to get married and that I was just letting other people's own opinions cloud my judgement.

Many people thought we wouldn't last because we got married so early – but the people that thought that have since either been divorced or had their kids get divorced. We're about to celebrate 10 years of marriage in February.

After we got married, I had my first child at 23 and my second child at 24. When I first fell pregnant, the messages of congratulations were always followed by 'but you're so young, you should just enjoy being married'. The friend group I had from high school also became non-existent because they were partying it up while I was taking care of a newborn.

Despite all the judgement, I have no regrets about doing it all young. I've been able to grow with my kids, be silly and have fun with them. I started a university degree when my daughter was two and finished it this year and I'll be doing another degree next year. People thought that I was making a mistake because I was staring a family early rather than partying it up like others in my 20's and they thought I'd regret it. But now that my kids are a bit older and in primary school, I'm able to focus on my personal goals and career. As women we can do anything and be whoever we want to be when we decide. There should be no judgement – we all have our own journeys.

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getting married young
Alyssa and her husband on their wedding day. Image: Supplied.

Jade

I met my husband while we were both working on Hamilton Island. I was just about to turn 21 and he was 26, so he was a little older than me. After two and a half years travelling around and working together, we decided to settle down and have a baby. At the time, he was nearly 30 and was ready and I always wanted to have kids young.

We got pregnant on our first try when I was 23 and I very quickly dealt with a lot of judgement. When I first presented at the doctor, I was offered "options". There was no "congratulations, let's get you into prenatal care!"

I think my family were shocked as well but I didn't have time to see the judgement. When I was just four months into my pregnancy, my 15-year-old brother was killed and we had to move back home to help my mum, so I think she was just grateful and happy for the new life and some light among the grief.

getting married young
Jade and her four children. Image: Supplied.
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Getting married was a decision that came after we had our first baby. We welcomed our first child at 24 and I was 25 when we got married. My close group of girlfriends from high school were really supportive about our marriage, but they didn't understand how my life had changed. They are all just having kids now as I have welcomed my fourth.

Overall, the main judgement I felt was from health care professionals and older mothers at playgrounds and play groups.

My health nurse asked one mother's group if I could join and they told her I wasn't a right fit as they were all in their late 30s. After just having lost my brother and being a first time mum, I felt really isolated and after being rejected and ignored by so many older mums, I developed really bad social anxiety.

The other mothers at my local mothers groups and playgroups also wouldn't speak to me when I was pregnant with my second child and I was often asked by people around town if it was hard being a single mum when I was so young.

There was always an assumption that I was a single mum and I'm not sure why. Now that I'm in my 30s, I'm treated completely differently when I'm out and about with my two-year-old. We now have four kids and we've been together for 13 years.

Karlie

I was raised in a relatively conservative Christian environment that highly prioritises marriage and family. I met my now-husband within that church community. He's about four and a half years older than me and we became friends when we were around 14 and 19 respectively. After he moved away for a number of years, he moved back when he was 22 and I was 17. At that point, he was at the stage where he was ready to settle down and there was a fair bit of pressure from his family to do that. Once I finished high school, we started dating. Four months later, we were engaged.

In terms of reactions, his family were supportive and actively pushing for my husband to get married. But my high school and uni friends were completely shocked. I had lots of comments like, ‘Why don’t you just live together for a while?’ but that wasn’t an option from a religious perspective.

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We got married just a few months after we were engaged. During that same time, I got into a pretty competitive Psych (honours) degree and had just started that. But what I soon found out was that being married at such a young age was really, really socially isolating. None of my high school friends could relate to me, none of my new uni friends could relate to me, and even my friends from church couldn't relate to me because I got married so young – even by their standards. I pretty much just dropped off everyone's radar.

Then, probably naively, my husband and I decided to have kids almost straight away.

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I had my first baby, a little girl, when I was 19. I was actually really embarrassed to be a teenage mother. Outside of the church community, most people assumed she was an accident, and I was even given access to government services on the basis of being a teen mum. People would always comment on how I looked so young and straight-up ask me how old I was.

I had my second child at 21, and suffered postnatal depression. I didn't really have any close friends or any practical support from family. I was exhausted and felt guilty about not wanting to ever have another child again.

I managed to do the rest of my undergraduate degree on a part time basis while most being a stay at home mum. I then did my honours degree part time while my second daughter was in preschool. By the time I was finished, after eight years for a four year degree, I was pretty over study. That was around the same time that my peers were starting to have children and I felt like it might be on the cards for me again.

Unfortunately, I had a miscarriage at 26, but then at 27, I had a little boy. It was a completely different experience – 100 per cent positive. No negative reactions from anyone. No feeling like an outsider among other mums. It was like I could blend right in and relate to other people (until I mentioned my older children). We later decided to have one more child when I was 29.

From my perspective, now when I meet people, I certainly don't lead with the fact that I have a 12-year-old (or that I was raised ultra-conservative). I think it changes how people perceive me – like they are less able to relate to me.

The feature image used is a stock image.


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