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Meet the rare tribe of young newlyweds tying the knot while barely out of their teens

Meet the rare tribe of young newlyweds tying the knot while barely out of their teens

Last year, Megan Webb married her teenage sweetheart, Dan, in a classic English country wedding. Like many couples, they pushed the boat out as far as savings would allow: booking a beautiful country house, buying a lace bridal gown and inviting 80 guests. So far so conventional, you might think. Yet behind this traditional white

Last year, Megan Webb married her teenage sweetheart, Dan, in a classic English country wedding. Like many couples, they pushed the boat out as far as savings would allow: booking a beautiful country house, buying a lace bridal gown and inviting 80 guests.

So far so conventional, you might think.

Yet behind this traditional white wedding lies a more subversive story — for the couple had dared to tie the knot in the face of scepticism and cultural pressure.

The dissent wasn’t on account of a big age gap or wildly differing backgrounds. Neither was it a shotgun wedding, or one born of necessity because of religious or personal beliefs.

The reason for the trepidation among their family and friends was simply their age. Megan and Dan had barely turned 21 — and in today’s you-only-live-once (so don’t commit too soon) culture, that put them firmly in the minority.

Last year, Megan Webb married her teenage sweetheart, Dan, in a classic English country wedding. Like many couples, they pushed the boat out as far as savings would allow: booking a beautiful country house, buying a lace bridal gown and inviting 80 guests. The reason for the trepidation among their family and friends was simply their age. Megan and Dan had barely turned 21 — and in today's you-only-live-once (so don't commit too soon) culture, that put them firmly in the minority.

Last year, Megan Webb married her teenage sweetheart, Dan, in a classic English country wedding. Like many couples, they pushed the boat out as far as savings would allow: booking a beautiful country house, buying a lace bridal gown and inviting 80 guests. The reason for the trepidation among their family and friends was simply their age. Megan and Dan had barely turned 21 — and in today’s you-only-live-once (so don’t commit too soon) culture, that put them firmly in the minority.

Indeed, last week the Office for National Statistics revealed that the proportion of women in Britain who are married has been declining for a decade and has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time. Those who do marry are older than ever, with a marked increase in over-70s walking down the aisle.

The average age for marriage is steadily creeping upwards, and is now 37.9 years for men and 35.5 years for women.

According to a report by think-thank The Marriage Foundation, only half of those who are teenagers now will ever marry, compared with 90 per cent of those now in their 60s. So why did Megan and Dan choose to buck the trend?

‘We did it because we wanted to,’ says Megan defiantly. ‘We were in love and knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Yes, we could have just stayed living together, but we wanted to make a life-long commitment. I’ve always believed in marriage.’

This conviction wasn’t enough to silence their critics, she says: ‘There were lots of comments along the lines of ‘you’re so young’, ‘there’s a whole world out there’ and ‘how can you know that this is ‘The One’?’.’

There are some reasons why Megan and Dan’s friends might have felt justified in their concerns.

The age group with the highest divorce rate is the under-30s, often as the result of an unsuccessful ‘starter marriage’ — one lasting less than five years and with no children having been born. Some fear there is a trend for young couples to tie the knot because they want the attention of a fabulous party, or have romanticised the idea of finding ‘The One’.

But Megan insists this is far from the case for her and Dan.

We were in love and knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Yes, we could have just stayed living together, but we wanted to make a life-long commitment. I’ve always believed in marriage.

‘I see couples waiting till they are 30 or 40 to get married, but none of us knows what’s around the corner, so why would Dan and I wait ten years just to conform to social norms or make other people happy?’

Of course, not so long ago couples routinely married in their late teens or early 20s. These days we tend to infantilise early twentysomethings, deeming them too young to know their own minds, but as recently as the mid-1970s attitudes were very different.

Back then, 28 per cent of all women married by the age of 20, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) were married by the age of 25, and more than 90 per cent were married by the age of 30. The average age of women marrying for the first time was 22 — it was 25 for men — and the first baby usually arrived within the next couple of years.

Yet last week a report found that we now don’t consider young adults to be fully independent until the age of 26 — later than ever before.

Ysabelle Graham-Smith, now 26, met her husband, Steven, during freshers' week at university in Aberdeen in 2012, where she was studying international relations and he physiology. Just three months after they graduated, by which time Steven had started a further degree and Ysabelle was working, they were married at a country hotel in Aberdeen, with 70 guests. They were both 22 on their wedding day

Ysabelle Graham-Smith, now 26, met her husband, Steven, during freshers’ week at university in Aberdeen in 2012, where she was studying international relations and he physiology. Just three months after they graduated, by which time Steven had started a further degree and Ysabelle was working, they were married at a country hotel in Aberdeen, with 70 guests. They were both 22 on their wedding day

So why have our attitudes changed so dramatically in little more than a generation?

Many experts point to the acceptance of cohabiting and child-rearing out of wedlock, as well as the high cost of the average wedding (£31,000) and an increase in the number of those who have turned against marriage after witnessing parental divorce.

We tend to spend longer in formal education these days, too, while getting on the property ladder — a milestone once associated with marriage — is out of the reach of many, thanks to soaring house prices and stagnant wages.

Harry Benson, from The Marriage Foundation — who himself married at 25 — says: ‘As a society, we have turned our back on marriage to our great peril, viewing it as a status symbol to aspire to only when you have achieved everything else, such as career success and financial security.

‘But there’s an awful lot to be said for marriage being the starting point of the adventure for a couple, and for them learning to shoulder challenges together.’

Megan agrees: ‘Many of my friends think marriage means you can’t go out or do your own thing. But actually, I think being married brings you freedom — the freedom to grow and develop with the person you love most.’

Megan is now 22 and works in marketing for an online fitness platform. She and Dan started dating when they were both 13, after meeting through mutual friends. They moved in together when they were 19 and, with help from their parents, bought their first home two weeks before their wedding.

Dan, a cinema manager, also 22, proposed during a trip to Disneyland Paris in March 2017.

Megan says: ‘We’d spoken about how lovely it would be if we could one day get married, but I don’t think either of us expected it to happen till our mid-20s.

‘I don’t really know what changed Dan’s mind — I think it just felt like the right time.

‘To prove our commitment, we saved really hard to contribute £8,000 of the £14,000 for our wedding and honeymoon in Majorca. Our parents paid for the rest.

Many of my friends think marriage means you can’t go out or do your own thing. But actually, I think being married brings you freedom — the freedom to grow and develop with the person you love most.

‘It still feels strange introducing Dan as my husband and hearing him refer to me as his wife. But being married has made me feel happier, more settled and as though we’re more of a unit.

‘I know lots of people in later life marry because they want to have children, but that wasn’t the deciding factor for us. We’ve always said children will happen at some point but not right now. We married simply because it felt right.’

Dan spoke to his own parents — who have been married for 40 years — and Megan’s before proposing and they all gave their blessing.

Megan says: ‘Everyone warned us that marriage is hard, and we do bicker over the usual stuff, such as building Ikea flatpack furniture and whose turn it is to do the washing up. But we’re always open and honest.

‘The only downside is waiting for our friends to catch up — although the girl who caught my bouquet is now engaged!’

Yet there are some warning signs that suggest it may be a mistake to marry too soon. While we often tend to think that making the commitment of getting married is good news for a couple’s longevity, experts warn that the age you marry is closely linked to the risk of divorce, with those marrying in their teens and early 20s being at greater risk of splitting up sooner. So, were Megan and Dan unwise to take the leap so soon?

Determined to prove their own commitment to getting married young, business development managers Emma Christophi, now 25, and husband Andrew, 26, paid for their £20,000 wedding in June 2017 themselves, including a honeymoon to Dubai and the Maldives. The couple met at school when Emma's friend was dating one of Andrew's friends. That romance lasted all of a week, while Emma and Andrew have now been together for nine years, and were 23 and 24 when they wed

Determined to prove their own commitment to getting married young, business development managers Emma Christophi, now 25, and husband Andrew, 26, paid for their £20,000 wedding in June 2017 themselves, including a honeymoon to Dubai and the Maldives. The couple met at school when Emma’s friend was dating one of Andrew’s friends. That romance lasted all of a week, while Emma and Andrew have now been together for nine years, and were 23 and 24 when they wed

Simone Bose, a private practice relationships counsellor who also works for Relate, says: ‘I’ve seen couples marry very young with a lot of success, particularly if — like Megan and Dan — they aren’t in any hurry to have kids.

‘This gives them time to enjoy just being a couple. They tend to be conscientious and want to take care of their relationship.

‘Yes, when you meet someone when you’re older, the chances are you know yourself better. But the flip side is that you can be stuck in your ways, whereas when you’re young there is an opportunity to grow together.’

Megan agrees: ‘Because we’ve been together since we were 13, I am who I am because of Dan. We have grown — and learned to become adults — side by side. I think that makes us stronger; I’ve never known anything other than having Dan by my side.’

 We have the same mentality that you can work through things if you really want to be together. We’d been talking about marriage for a year or so before we actually did it, and although friends weren’t terribly surprised, both sets of parents — who have divorced — said: ‘You’re a bit young for this, aren’t you?

Determined to prove their own commitment to getting married young, business development managers Emma Christophi, now 25, and husband Andrew, 26, paid for their £20,000 wedding in June 2017 themselves, including a honeymoon to Dubai and the Maldives.

The couple met at school when Emma’s friend was dating one of Andrew’s friends. That romance lasted all of a week, while Emma and Andrew have now been together for nine years.

‘We knew quite quickly that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together,’ says Emma, who lives in Bedfordshire.

‘We have the same mentality that you can work through things if you really want to be together. We’d been talking about marriage for a year or so before we actually did it, and although friends weren’t terribly surprised, both sets of parents — who have divorced — said: ‘You’re a bit young for this, aren’t you?’

‘Our response was that we make each other happy, so why wouldn’t we want to marry? Plus, people always think we’re older than we are because we’re both very headstrong.’

The fact that they had both witnessed their parents separate didn’t deter them. ‘Andrew and I are both traditional and it’s nice to know we are committed to each other,’ says Emma.

The couple bought their first house when she was 21, and kept it to rent out when they bought their current home two years ago. ‘Challenging things have come up which are too personal to discuss, but nothing that has shaken our marriage.

‘We’re a unit, so there’s no question of one of us dealing with something big on our own.

‘It could all go belly-up in ten years’ time. Who knows? But the same thing could happen if we’d married at 40. It feels right now and that’s what matters.’

One of the objections to early marriage is the fear that those who haven’t ‘played the field’ in their youth will stray farther down the line.

Simone Bose, a private practice relationships counsellor who also works for Relate, says: 'I've seen couples marry very young with a lot of success, particularly if — like Megan and Dan — they aren't in any hurry to have kids. This gives them time to enjoy just being a couple. They tend to be conscientious and want to take care of their relationship.'

Simone Bose, a private practice relationships counsellor who also works for Relate, says: ‘I’ve seen couples marry very young with a lot of success, particularly if — like Megan and Dan — they aren’t in any hurry to have kids. This gives them time to enjoy just being a couple. They tend to be conscientious and want to take care of their relationship.’

Yet marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall says the memory of previous liaisons often does little to help a marriage: ‘The first problem of marrying later is that you are more likely to bring old baggage into your relationship.

‘I have to help some couples unravel the influence of someone two or three relationships back.’

But according to Marshall, the greatest issue of marrying in your late 30s is ‘the need to start a family almost immediately’. Many couples have no time to get to know each other properly and the demands of small children can come as a real shock.

He continues: ‘The couple who married at twentysomething have a longer shared history of good times and bad. So, faced with a crisis at fortysomething, they can look back and feel a sense of pride in past problems overcome. Their approach is often more dogged: ‘We won’t let this defeat us.’

‘The couple who married in their 30s, when they felt fully formed, are less flexible and more likely to have a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to their partner.’

Ysabelle Graham-Smith, now 26, met her husband, Steven, during freshers’ week at university in Aberdeen in 2012, where she was studying international relations and he physiology.

‘Neither of us had been in a long-term relationship before and I went to university wanting freedom, not a boyfriend!’ recalls Ysabelle, who works in marketing at the University in Edinburgh. Steven is a guidance tutor.

‘We met in a bus queue on the first day and that was it. Until then, I honestly never thought I’d ever get married, but within days we were having long conversations after nights out, joking that eventually we’d get married.

‘In January 2015, when we returned to university after the Christmas break, Steven proposed with a diamond ring as we were walking along the beach in Aberdeen.’

Steven’s parents, a civil engineer and a retired chiropodist, have been married for more than 30 years, while Ysabelle’s mum, an HR manager, and dad, a prop hand at a film studio, split when she was five.

‘Both families were excited but also surprised, especially mine, as I’d never had a long- term boyfriend and used to get irritated by anyone who wanted to spend a lot of time with me,’ she adds.

‘Our friends were shocked and confused because we’re so young, and a few of them told us they thought we were crazy, that we’d be tied down and should wait till we were older. But it didn’t bother us.

‘Buying our flat in Edinburgh was far more scary than getting married. You have to do things at your own pace and it was right for us.’

Just three months after they graduated, by which time Steven had started a further degree and Ysabelle was working, they were married at a country hotel in Aberdeen, with 70 guests.

They footed the £8,000 bill themselves, though Ysabelle’s mum paid for her £1,200 wedding dress, and Steven’s parents for his suit.

Yet marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall says the memory of previous liaisons often does little to help a marriage: 'The first problem of marrying later is that you are more likely to bring old baggage into your relationship. I have to help some couples unravel the influence of someone two or three relationships back.'

Yet marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall says the memory of previous liaisons often does little to help a marriage: ‘The first problem of marrying later is that you are more likely to bring old baggage into your relationship. I have to help some couples unravel the influence of someone two or three relationships back.’

‘We look to Steve’s parents as role models because they married at the same age as us and have been together for 30 years. If we experience half as much happiness as them, we’ll be doing well — and Steve said that in his speech at the wedding.’

Many advocates of early marriage point out that whereas in the past people married young because of social pressure, now it’s a free choice and so more meaningful.

‘We never thought about bucking trends,’ says Ysabelle. ‘We just wanted to be together. Being married was a natural step. And it wasn’t about wanting children: although I love them — which really confuses people — we don’t really want them. We’re both quite selfish, we like our lifestyle and we don’t particularly want to change that for kids.

‘When we got married, everyone assumed it was because we wanted to start a family, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. We got married because we love each other and we wanted to.’

Ysabelle adds: ‘People are always surprised when they realise I’m married. Except for a few friends who are in relationships, most of them are single, but it doesn’t really separate us socially as we tend to go out in one big group.

‘None of our friends are going off travelling and having wild holidays either, so we’re not missing out. We’re a pretty sensible bunch, with properties and jobs — and if Steve and I did want to travel, it’s much nicer to do it together.

‘And as for wishing we had the freedom of single life… not at all. I’ve got friends who admit they wish they were as settled as we are. Some of the horror stories I hear about online dating make me feel very happy I’m away from all that. I couldn’t recommend marriage more.’

 

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Susan E. Lopez
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