It wasn’t the “right time” to get married when I met my husband. I was pursuing an education at Harvard, a degree in economics and a career in politics. But I soon learned that my husband had an unconventional view of marriage, which changed my perspective. His parents had always referred to marriage as “base camp” — a view he had adopted for himself, and to which I quickly assented. And today, nearly 15 years into marriage, that idea is still working well for us.
My husband and his two brothers were all Boy Scouts and they would often go on treks with their troops. Whenever they went camping or hiking, they always had a base camp — a place to return to, a place with supplies, a place to relax and refuel. Of course, the purpose of the trip is to adventure and explore, but in order to reach the summits, they needed a base camp.
Similarly, marriage is our base camp. It is the place from which we go out and the place to which we return. Each of us has individual callings, but when we return from an adventure, great or small, we can sit around the campfire of marriage where we are known, loved and supported.
A recent Time article, “Millennials Want Jobs and Education, Not Marriage and Kids,” speaks to our societal values today: education and economic accomplishments. The article goes on to state that 55 percent of young Americans believe marrying and having children isn’t very important.
I believe that misconceptions about marriage are the root issue of the declining marriage rate. Whereas in 1970, 79 percent of American adults were married; today only 52 percent are. The misconception that marriage “ties you down” dictates the prioritization of personal achievements over marriage. However, this base camp notion suggests the opposite: marriage is freeing, empowering and supportive, it’s what enables you to achieve your dreams.
We took an unconventional route and married after college graduation at age 21 and 22, which was quite different from most of our peers. Rather than make marriage the capstone event, we turned it into our formative launching pad together. Contrary to popular belief, my husband frequently says that getting married and having kids young was actually one of the biggest boons to his career — because he was then a “life stage peer” with people who were far older than him in age and far more senior in his company.
Education and economic achievements shouldn’t eclipse or prolong marriage because marriage isn’t designed to prevent these accomplishments. Instead, it can be the foundation from which you can launch into those other pursuits. It gives you the ability to pursue an education, a degree, and a career in tandem with a committed lifelong companion who can support you along the way. Each day holds adventures — marriage allows you to adventure freely and safely because you have a base camp to which you can return.
This view of marriage also dispels the false idea that much of my generation has adopted: that we need a comprehensive portfolio of “assets” prior to getting married. It eradicates the false idea that we need to “find ourselves” before getting married and establishing a life with someone else. I speak from experience when I say that you can “find yourself” with someone else.
Let me offer one very important caveat: I have a number of friends who would love to be married, but they haven’t found their spouse yet. I don’t offer any of this to heap even more pressure on people in that situation. I hope only to address those who are delaying that search until some life checklist is complete, to whom I humbly suggest a different view of marriage.
During this National Marriage Week (Feb 7-14), take a moment to examine your own views of marriage. Perhaps a recognition of this institution as additive to your own life goals rather than restrictive might make a difference in your own relationships and your future.
Heather Grizzle, Campaign Manager of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14), has been married for 13 years and lives in New York City, where she and her husband are raising four young children.