I never thought I’d be writing this. Not only because I usually don’t manage to find any time for extracurricular activities, but because I had no idea that the topic even existed on campus.
Here’s how it began: I’m sitting in class on a day when this single detail is the only thing that stands out. The girl behind me, whose name I don’t know, is planning a summer wedding. I eavesdrop some more. Covertly observing her out of the corner of my eye, I am enthralled. She doesn’t appear to be much older than myself—which means she’s in her early 20s—and yet speaks about the time when she will pledge her eternal love and devotion to a man with such surety and determination that I remain shocked, missing half the lecture.
The reason is, of course, that I thought I was witnessing a true rarity of our time. The 2003 census by StatsCan found that Canadians’ average age of entering a heterosexual marital union for the first time was 30.6 years for men and 28.5 for women. I was incredulous. People had boyfriends, sure. People lived together in common-law relationships—at least, those who could afford it. But rarely—exceedingly rarely—did one hear the word “marriage” thrown in. Or so I thought. Until I called my friend Larissa, that is.
Her story was similar: she knew several people our age who were in various stages of engagement or wedding planning. My own curiosity set various other obligations on fire, and the idea for this article was born. If you’re going to be talking to people about their private life, then you need to have a reason. This article was mine.
So here it is. The structure is simple: three stories from three different people, the goal of the investigation being to find the underlying similarities of the three scenarios that seemingly led to marriage like a road sign. A scientific investigation this is not; the people I spoke to were picked because either I or Larissa knew them personally. We aimed for quality of insight, not diversity of interviewees, but we got the latter by sheer luck.
The first story is Fatima’s. I’d known Fatima for over a year, though we were more classmates and acquaintances than anything else. When life’s unending responsibilities had kept me from seeing her over the winter break, I mentally exclaimed “Enough!” and arranged to meet her for coffee one afternoon.
Fatima was married, had a small daughter at home, and had another baby on the way. When she brought it up one day last year outside our shared classroom, I was surprised, if only moderately so. Fatima was a Muslim (of Turkish background), though born in Canada. This is how they do things, I thought—or some of them, anyway. Religion and conservatism often go hand in hand in the public eye. But what I discovered in these interviews is that many young people from all faiths (or lack thereof) and backgrounds are tying the knot way before Canadian statistics would tell them to.
I decided to chat with her about her life in hopes of gaining some wisdom from a young woman who is able to juggle family life, pregnancy, and full-time study. To me, she was superwoman, and I wanted to be one too.
Fatima was 25, actually—not quite “my age”, as I had assumed. But she’d gotten married even earlier than I had guessed: at 17, after a faultless six months of courtship, to a young man eight years older than her of similar cultural and religious background.
When I asked her why she decided to get married after not even a year of dating, Fatima replied that there was nothing to dissuade her from marriage at that point. She’d known the woman she now knows as her mother-in-law before being introduced to her son, and the two got along auspiciously. Fatima said that she knew his family’s values and they coincided with her own. She had always wanted to have a family and have children, so when she met her husband, the 17-year-old girl just “went with the flow”.
Maybe some people are born more introspectively acute, more mature, more instinctively in touch with what is good for them. When I was seventeen, I could never have identified my Prince Charming, not if he was standing right in front of me. I probably would’ve run in the opposite direction screaming. Romance I was saving for… maybe when I turned 40, I thought. Yup, that sounded good.
I asked Fatima how she was managing school and a household. Her reply: when you find yourself in a position to have to manage something, you always find a way. But she did offer the advice that—if you can—keep school and motherhood separate. But I can assure you, readers, she’s doing just fine. Like I said, a superwoman.
Two other things absolutely rocked my world during our “girl talk”. One of them was what Fatima said about love. “Love? It’s complicated,” were her cliché words—but the example she gave afterwards raised the quote to its full stature. She said she loves her husband more now than she did when they first married. We all know how that mind-numbing, stomach-turning, heart-rending affection we love so much is supposed to start to decrease after the fourth year of a relationship (to be statistically specific). Fatima and her husband have just had their 10th wedding anniversary… and the love is still growing.
The other was an anecdote. Fatima told me about her friend at Harvard who recently had a baby. She’s a mathematician, and has devoted most of her life to success in the field. Then came the baby, along with all the anxiety of a change in lifestyle. But she summed up what it did for her in a few short words: “The baby has made life fun again.”
“Fun”, that is, in the sense of wonder. Amazement.
I, too, am left in wonder, as I’m sure, dear reader, are you.