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Edgar De Santiago, 23, and Gillian Lieberman, 21, came to “Temptation Island” to see if the next step in their college romance is marriage. However, their youthful relationship is already starting to buckle under the weight of new experiences with other people, which begs the question: How young is too young to consider marriage?
The couple, who met while attending Ball State University, believes testing themselves on “Temptation Island” is the best way to see if their bond will be stronger than all the new experiences they have coming their way in their early 20s. Unfortunately, since coming to the island, they’ve both made strong connections with other people and have begun to question the codependency they developed with each other in their collegiate bubble.
One’s early 20s are a formative time. Although love is something one feels in the heart, relationship experts agree the brain must be consulted as well when it comes to the practicalities of marriage. So, are they too young for this step?
According to research done by professor of family and consumer studies and adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Utah, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, yes. In 2015, he published the findings of a study that sought to figure out the age for marriage that leads to the lowest divorce rates.
“Based on very large national samples, tens of thousands of people, and data collected by the CDC, it showed about 28 to 32 is the sweet spot with the lowest rates of divorce,” he told USA Insider. “If you marry early, your divorce rate is higher. If you wait past your early 30s, the divorce rate is higher also.”
However, Wolfinger stops short of suggesting that marriage outside this age range is a bad idea. There are many factors when it comes to modern relationships that play a role in divorce rates, he noted.
“People from non-divorced families are much more likely to stay married. If the couple goes to church or mosque or synagogue, it doesn’t matter which one, they are in fact more likely to stay married,” he explained.
Another key factor, statistically, is whether the couple has a four-year college degree.
“Many people do marry people they met in college, so that’s very common,” he said. “What does a four-year college degree get you? It teaches you communication skills, patience, and it proves you can stick with something for four years.”
In short, despite his efforts, Wolfinger noted love is not as quantifiable as other scientific measurements.
“On the one hand, the data says wait, but the data is an average. There are plenty of people who do marry young who do just fine. On average, they’re better served by waiting,” he said. “But we don’t live our lives based on averages, right? If I did, I’d never have dessert.”
Dr. Daryl Johnson, a professional psychologist, licensed couples therapist, and relationship coach, told USA Insider there is more to marrying young than simply playing the odds. People in their 20s in 2022 face challenges that simply weren’t there previously.
“I think it has something to do with time and being generational. Getting married earlier nowadays, I don’t really see that too much,” she said. “When we talk about student loans or getting a nice job that can sustain a family, nowadays, that is much harder. I don’t see that as often as you would generations ago.”
Johnson said there is a certain potency to meeting a significant other in college. It's a time when one is in a “protective bubble” that allows people to focus on themselves, their goals, and spend their free time with like-minded people. However, after leaving that bubble, commitment to someone they spent four years with can suddenly be difficult.
“The most concerning part about getting married too early or young is that we don’t get a chance to really experience or know ourselves before bringing someone into the picture,” she explained. “That complicates things a lot. In just that developmental stage, 18 to 25-ish, that’s a very essential stage there.”
Licensed psychotherapist and life coach Tess Brigham agrees. She said formative experiences in one’s life, career, and relationship that happen in people's early 20s help shape them and establish essential tools for a long-term partnership.
“It’s really easy at 18, 19, or 20 to be like, ‘OK I know who I am,’ but you really don’t,” Brigham said. “Until you’ve been out in the world and been working and had opportunities to experience different kinds of relationships, it is hard to really narrow it down and say ‘OK, this is the right person for me.’”
Brigham noted that people in their 20s feel the need to check off life goals ahead of hitting their 30s. Marriage is often one of those goals. However, she tries to tell her clients not to think in those terms and to remember “marriage is long.”
"Life is long, we’re not dying at 40 anymore. We’re living until 80 or 90," she said. "You're going to be married much longer than you’re going to be single."
As a result, she encourages people not to focus on age, but rather on their own emotional maturity and commitment abilities.
“To love this person, to not be annoyed by everything they do, to approach them from a place of love, it’s this daily choice you’re making,” she explained. “You do want to make choices for today that will take you to where you want to go, but so much of this is about a day-to-day feeling and how you show up for that person day in and day out.”
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