It's pretty safe to say that most of us don't fully "grow up" until we're well into our 20's. But now there are real findings that might help explain those feelings of wanting to stay a kid a little bit longer. In the fall of 2011, emerging science revealed that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25. This is huge news, because it means young "adults" are not as capable of making sound decisions as previously perceived, not because of a lack of emotional maturity or sense of responsibility or even an unwillingness to act appropriately, but as a result of an incomplete brain structure. It means that anyone under the age of 25 should be considered an adolescent; an accident-prone adolescent who still needs the love, care and coddling that all children need.
Furthermore, an April 2012 study published in the Lancet, the world's leading general medical journal, showed that "injuries accounted for 40 percent of deaths in 10-to 24-year-olds worldwide." It went on to say that "adolescents are significantly affected by injuries and neuropsychiatric disorders," adding, "Homicides, unintentional injuries related to road traffic accidents and suicides are major cause of death." The biological reason for this is that the pre-frontal cortex - the part of the brain responsible for helping people engage in mature behavior and exercise good judgment - is the very last part of the human brain to mature.
For me, this news came as a huge relief. See, I was only 25 years old when I got married, and knowing that I was literally not old enough to know better when I got engaged allows me to laugh at the mess I made by saying "I do."
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My husband was 34 when I met him, his pre-frontal cortex (theoretically) well-developed. He was a Full Grown Adult with a PhD who wore suits every day, and I thought he was so handsome. He was my professor. I was 21. He flirted with me right away, and I happily took the bait. We began dating in secret, and I hopped in the sack with him immediately because I literally thought it was the "adult" thing to do. A few weeks later, after a sobering talk with a former girlfriend, he realized he'd probably made a mistake by bedding a student (uhhhh), one that he didn't want to lose his job over. (If there was damage to be done, hadn't it already been done?) He suggested we stop sleeping together but remain friends, and we did. I was tortured for the rest of the year, spending all my time with him without being able to acknowledge or consummate the relationship. My parents were totally for the whole thing because he was Older and Foreign and a Professor and therefore he must have been Smarter and More Sophisticated than we were and he could probably Take Care of Me.
So they watched as we dated after I graduated, even though he'd already broken my heart - and my trust - several times. They supported me moving in with him, which I did because I mean what else was I going to do? I wasn't raised to be self-sufficient (my mother once told me, "You should definitely go to college, Carolyn. College is a great place to find a husband."), and all I'd armed myself with after five years was a musical theatre degree (so at least I could sing myself to sleep). I dated my ex for three years before giving him the old, "We should probably get married" line. He shrugged "okay" and we went to Zales. Or Kay. I don't remember. Some store in the mall near my parents' house. I picked out the ring and he gave it to me that night, very unceremoniously, while I was sitting on the horrible plaid couch in my parents' kitchen. I shook with terror as I said yes. This was not how I wanted my engagement to happen. We were supposed to be on a mountain top! Or in a boat. Not talking over the hum of my mother's refrigerator. But it was happening. And I was there. And we bought the ring. So, yes? Yes. Definitely yes. Yay? Awkward, bony hug.
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We got married on August 3, 2002, almost 10 years ago. I was a beautiful bride, and I had a beautiful wedding. I felt like a grown-up. I felt very mature. Much more mature than my friends. But the truth is, any child can get married; it takes an adult to get divorced. It's not that I think everyone who gets married is a child when they do it, or that you'd have to be a child to be stupid enough to get married, but there are no barriers to marriage (for straight people). Sure, you have to get a license, but you don't have to prove that you're ready for the responsibility of marriage, or that you're emotionally ready to be married, or that you're in love or even that your pre-frontal cortex is fully formed. You just have to say "I do" and you've done it. You've gotten married. But to get divorced … Even when there are no children involved, no assets, and no one is at fault, it's extremely difficult and expensive to untie the knot.
And that's what struck me: Why is it so easy to get married and so hard to get divorced? Shouldn't it be the reverse? Wouldn't it be better if we created barriers to marriage so that you had to prove you really wanted to do it, and then removed barriers from divorce, so that if and when you realized you'd made a horrible, horrible mistake, you could get out easily, without fearing for your life? (Or killing yourself, like so many women in Asia do.) I can see now why the Catholic Church makes couples go on a retreat before they tie the knot. There's something wise about trying to prepare people for marriage, in the same way that most of us try to prepare for childbirth. (Though I think what we could all use is more training for parenthood, but more on that in another post.) And I'm not ignorant of the fact that you can marry at 50 and still make a mistake. Most couples are not comprised of two perfectly whole individuals who have no issues and who married when they were totally ready. Many realistically flawed individuals will marry and then find a way to grow alongside each other. But many will not. They will grow alongside each other, but grow apart, and they will divorce, and that process will be difficult. A lot harder than it was for them to get married in the first place. And while I'm not sure that makes sense, I'm also not sure it can be helped, as long as society continues to incentivize marriage. We live in a society that despite a decline in marriage rates still blindly promotes it as an ideal for all (straight) people. (See Sierra Black's recent post on the sneaky anti-contraception, allegedly free love movement, 1flesh, which is really a pro-marriage movement in disguise.)
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Those of us that have gotten married know that the focus is on the wedding, not the marriage, something even the hippie priestess who married my ex and I in a field was eager to point out. What she didn't point out - what literally no one pointed out, to my face, at least - was the fact that my ex was 12 years older than me, that he'd been married before and it hadn't worked, that maybe I should figure out what I was going to do with my life before I got married. Not one of my friends, not my parents, not the hippie priestess. Everyone just said, "OMG CONGRATULATIONS!" like I'd done the thing all girls were put on this earth to do. Yes, that was 10 years ago. Yes, things change in a decade. But still. Some young girl in her early 20s is getting engaged right now, and her pre-frontal cortex is not telling her not to, and she is so happy ,and she will have a baby and then realize she needs to get divorced, and she will not regret it but she will go through a lot of pain, and she will hold her baby tight as she thinks, "Oh my God what have I done and how can I sell this diamond?" because she needs money to start a new life. She will not know what to do and she will cry a lot. And that just breaks my heart.
I'm not against marriage. I would like to be married again someday. But I don't understand why it was so easy for me to essentially sign my life away when I was too young to comprehend what I was doing. I've been divorced for three years now, but when you have a child with someone, you are never really rid of them, no matter how much havoc they cause. I am still in court dealing with the fallout of my divorce. And it has forced me to grow up, yes, which is a terrific benefit, I suppose. Marriage and divorce have been very sobering for me, and I never would have examined my childhood and all of the decisions I've made (with the help of my whole brain or not) without it, nor would I have begun healing old wounds in the way that I have, which ultimately makes me a much better mother than I would have been otherwise. But I certainly don't want to see my daughter marry too young, marry recklessly, or get hurt. Maybe a generation later young women are more discerning than I was, but maybe not. Just to be on the safe side, let's let girls know, getting out of a marriage contract is not as easy as you think, especially if you marry someone who decides they want to make things difficult. If you rush to marry, you may be rushing to divorce, and unfortunately the former is much easier than the latter.
- By Carolyn Castiglia
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