Back in 1946, Frank Sinatra introduced a song entitled, “You Make Me Feel So Young.” The lyrics went: “You make me feel so young, you make me feel there are songs to be sung, bells to be rung and a wonderful fling to be flung. And even when I’m old and gray, I’m gonna feel the way I do today, ‘cause you make me feel so young.”
While Sinatra, a great artist, sadly did not live a life of marital fidelity, my memory still harkened back to those lyrics as I read a piece by Brad Wilcox of the Institute of Family Studies on how young married couples are more likely to have their marriages go the distance – to when they are old and gray – because they have had the joy of mutual love and commitment, without the emotional baggage of failed relationships trailing behind.
In so many ways, they end up experiencing more enjoyment and vitality in their marriages – and for a longer time – than their peers who are pursuing fun, instead of commitment, in their twenties. The spark of their love for each other, lit early, rarely goes out.
Of course, this defies the current “conventional wisdom” that young marriages are more likely to end in divorce, deny women the opportunity to establish a career, and do not allow men the opportunity to be free and independent before settling down to the responsibility of being a husband, and potentially a father.
Wilcox cites these early marriage naysayers and presents compelling evidence as to why these experts are wrong – especially as we see the average age of marriage continue to rise and the divorce rate continuing to remain steady (if not increasing) despite older marrying couples deemed more “mature” and “ready” for marriage.
As Wilcox writes, there are two critical factors that are the mark of these early marriages that succeed: religious faith and lack of cohabitation before marriage. He writes, “We suspect one advantage that religious singles in their twenties have over their secular peers is that they are more likely to have access to a pool of men and women who are ready to tie the knot and share their vision of a family-focused life. Today, young singles like this are often difficult to find in the population at large.”
He goes on to quote Samantha, a 24-year-old woman, who just married her husband Joey (also 24), she met at a church event: She says, “The religious guys are more long-term guys, the guys you want to marry and the guys you want to bring home to mom and dad … they’re going to share my morals and my values and have perhaps a similar background.”
Wilcox comments, “Her intuition is sound. Shared faith is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment, and higher relationship quality.”
History bears this out. Back in the era when Sinatra sang that song, several societal factors were more pre-eminent than they are today: religious faith, younger marriages, and less cohabitation. As a result, divorce rates were lower back then, as these marriages were built to go the distance. And in those days, Joey and Samantha’s age of 24 was at the upper age range for marriage.
Wilcox quotes psychologist Galena Rhodes, who studies young adults and confirms this, saying, “We generally think that having more experience is better, but what we find for relationships is just the opposite.”
Or as Samantha puts it, waiting to move in with each other until after they were married, rather than cohabitating beforehand or having multiple romantic relationships has made marriage “more exciting, because since we did wait then it makes marriage so much sweeter.”
Wilcox concludes, “Saving cohabitation for marriage, and endowing your relationship with sacred significance, seems to maximize your odds of being stably and happily married.” Samantha agrees, saying cohabitation allows couples to “always see leaving as an option … [that] mindset doesn’t really leave…whereas since we didn’t [have previous cohabitating relationships], that’s just not an option we would think of.”
After observing the fun Joey and Samantha have in their marriage and the bond they have, Wilcox concludes that they, along with those other couples who marry young and do not cohabitate beforehand, have found the secret to lifelong happiness. Joey and Samantha, and those other couples who choose to marry young and not cohabitate beforehand have a lifelong “song to be sung,” “a wonderful fling to be flung,” and will continue to do so even when they are old and gray.
Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president of government and external relations at Focus on the Family in Washington DC.
Photo from Shutterstock.