7 Reasons Young Men Should Marry Before Their 23rd Birthday

This post originally ran April 11, 2016.

I want to argue that the war on marriage has many fronts. And while evangelical Christians have done a decent job in resisting some of the more outlandish attacks (e.g. Obergefell), in other areas we have tended to go along with the secular flow completely. One area where acquiescence is evident is when it comes to the age when young people marry.

We do have a pressing problem. According to The Atlantic, right now the average age for a first marriage is 27 for women, and 29 for men. In 1990, it was 23 for women and 26 for men. In 1960, it was 20 for women and 22 for men. This is a grease fire disaster.

The factors driving all this are largely out in the secular world, but the repercussions are very much being felt in the church. Those factors include the availability of sex apart from marriage, the ubiquity of porn, the hostility of feminism to any useful social role for men, and so on. Under this pressure, a number of thinkers in the church have come up with various accommodations which allow us to register our concern about this or that motive, while going along with the general drift anyway.

So here is my suggestion. I think we ought to agree together than young men ought to be expected to find somebody cute and godly by their 23rd birthday. That should be the baseline social expectation, and we will reluctantly make exceptions on a case-by-case basis as they arise. How about it?

Here are seven reasons for believing this.

1. There is no such thing as gift of singleness. That is not a Bible thing. Paul does teach that there is a gift of celibacy. “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Cor. 7:7).

For someone who is gifted with celibacy, marriage would constitute a distraction (1 Cor. 7:33). But for someone without that gift, the absence of marriage would be the distraction. Burning with passion does have a way of distracting.

If someone is single (who very much wants to be married), that condition is only a gift in the sense that every affliction is a gift. Those who are single involuntarily must still worship the Lord, must still love Him, must still live productive lives in the church, and so on. The one thing they must not do is try to talk themselves into the view that singleness is a positive ideal like sunshine and upland meadows. It is a trial, and nothing is served by pretending it isn’t a trial.

If someone is unmarried and the other sex is a distraction, then we are not talking about the gift of celibacy. And if we are not talking about celibacy, and there is no pending persecution (1 Cor. 7:26), then the young men have a duty to initiate marriage, sooner rather than later. Find out what her name is, and ask her.

2. The temptations of porn do not disqualify men for marriage. Rather they qualify men for marriage. God has a solution for sexual temptation for those not gifted with celibacy. That gift is called sex, bounded and surrounded with covenant vows.

Porn can certainly become a disqualification for marriage, but it doesn’t necessarily start that way. There are two major ways that porn disqualifies. If a man despises women, hates his mother and sisters, and seeks out the kind of porn that specializes in degrading women, then no one should be surprised that marriage will fix nothing. Something else is wrong with him — the issue is not self-control of a biological appetite. The issue is malevolence, and the repentance must occur elsewhere. Here the porn is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem.

But the other way porn can become a disqualifier is as catechesis, and this is far more common. We are talking about many years of catechesis and training. Say a young Christian man gets into porn when he is thirteen. Say he marries when The Atlantic says most men do these days, when he is 29. That is 16 years of sex with the best-looking cartoon twinkies on the planet. They make no demands. They are seen and not heard. They bear no children who get sick in the middle of the night. No grocery bills for a teeming brood. Nothing interferes with the weekends of rock climbing or wind surfing. I can’t imagine worse preparation for living with an actual woman.

In short, for most young Christian men who are vulnerable to pornography, waiting for marriage is going to create a bigger problem than it will solve. We ought not to be like those banks that will only loan you money after you prove to them that you don’t need the loan. How many fathers want a suitor for their daughter who doesn’t really need their daughter? In most cases, postponing marriage until absolute purity without marriage is achieved is a bad idea.

3. Men need help, and they need help as soon as they have assumed the full responsibilities of adulthood. Women were given by God to help men because men needed the help, and that help has to do with their vocation and calling. If a woman is called to be the wife of a doctor, she can step into that calling by being the wife of a med student. God does not say “it is not good for man to be alone after grad school.”

4. Marriage is a wonderful way to deal with false ideas of the self. Who we actually are does not unfold out of us over the years like we were unpacking a suitcase. Who we actually are is who we become in long-term relationships with those appointed to us by God. In other words, I am not the same man that I was when I married Nancy, and she is not the same woman she was. We have become who we are now together, and this is the central way that God does it. Put another way, a large part of me was imported from my relationships.

5. Children take a lot of energy, and children are one of the central reasons for marriage. Why did God make them one? Because He was seeking godly offspring (Mal. 2:15). The work that is involved in this is intense, and those parents who are carefully planning to have their eldest hit kindergarten when they are in their mid-thirties are not, shall we say, “thinking ahead.” Delayed marriage is problematic pacing.

6. If we had an expectation for our young people to marry young, this would help head off unrealistic standards from developing. The longer men and women live apart from one another, the easier it is to get crotchety, or even persnickety. This affects many areas of life, but one of them is the area of evaluating the looks of others as though one were a refined and discriminating connoisseur of feminine pulchritude. But you can’t actually become a real connoisseur by walking briskly through every restaurant in town.

An unmarried person should have high standards for their future spouse when it comes to Christian commitments, basic responsibility, compatible personalities, and sexual attractiveness. But this needs to be balanced against the temptation (which comes very easily to men) of not having any awareness of what league they are actually in. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).

When standards are adjusted in the direction of God’s reality, this is actually raising the standard, not lowering it. Getting your head out your daydreams is a salutary activity. If you actually met a woman who fulfilled all your exacting daydream standards, what on earth makes you think she would have anything to do with you?

7. Feminism is a toxic mess. The best and only complete answer to it is for men to find a woman early, love her completely, feed and educate her children, and bring her as much happiness as you are capable of bringing someone. As one Puritan put it, and man should first choose his love, and then love his choice. Young Christian men should marry in such a way as to make celebration of a 75th anniversary a much greater likelihood.

In the words of the great saints of yore, it is time to shake a leg. Get a move on. We are burning daylight.

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Mark H.
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Mark H.

Doug, Have you learned nothing in the three years since you first posted this? If a 23 year old man wanted to get married, he’d have to find a 20-22 year old woman that wanted to. But she’s in college, almost ready to head out into the world and build that career. And if she’s “cute” she will have her choice of men, and why settle so soon? He’s only maybe had a job for a couple of years. She’s got plenty of time. And even if she was willing, Mom and Dad will counsel her that 20 is far… Read more »

Jane
Member

It’s not a counsel of despair for young men if he’s also counseling young women in a similar fashion. Have you considered that possibility?

Nathan James
Member

This brings up an interesting question: has he publicly argued that women should marry younger?

Sleepy
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Sleepy

Jane, for young folks, especially in small, cloistered churches in small towns like Wilson’s, it is a counsel of despair and shame for both the boy and the girl. Please understand that I am not saying that a 23 year old young man should never marry at that age but I am saying, that as a mandate, it is a foolish one.

Alexander
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Alexander

“Marry young!” can often come across hollow and empty, with no foundation, when it is presented by conservative types. Wilson’s exhortations in this area don’t strike me that way, though. Young men should be rising up and taking up the responsibilities set before them. A godly young man in his prime is something glorious to behold. I am thankful to have read Wilson a couple years ago and been (rightfully) shamed by my lifestyle, I was motivated to submit more of my life to Christ. I believe much of his advice leads to a life of hope and freedom. If… Read more »

Jane
Member

I didn’t read this as a mandate, but as counsel about why marrying young when you can is preferable to some idea of waiting longer when the option is available. Can you tell me what about it comes across as a mandate?

Sleepy
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Sleepy

Jane, you are right that Wilson did not explicitly demand that young men be married before their 23rd birthday. But, to make a blanket statement regarding the proper age deadline to marry comes as close to a mandate as one can get. I’m not sure that a 20 or 21 year old man would hear it as something other than that, especially if his peers are heading pell-mell into matrimonial bliss. There is also the question of Wilson’s expectation for the young ladies.

Jane
Member

If you take the headline literally, it comes off as a demand.

If you read what he actually wrote in the piece, I don’t think you can fairly see it that way. Usually it makes more sense to understand a headline in context of the article or post, than vice versa. He is talking about reasons why doing so is good. There is no reason to think that he is requiring people to do something that is obviously unattainable for many, unless you already have a low enough opinion of him to think that he would.

Mark H.
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Mark H.

“…young men ought to be expected to find somebody cute and godly by their 23rd birthday.” It’s the “ought” that gets me – at one level Wilson is treating it as a moral imperative (although I don’t expect he would subject a guy who failed to secure that “cute” somebody to church discipline). But where is the corresponding moral imperative for the young women to put aside college and career to marry those young men? Given the culture in most of the modern church, what I said still stands: If such a young man looks for someone in her early… Read more »

Jane
Member

It seems to me that the whole tenor of his writing about marriage and family in this context and every other, assumes that most young women will desire to find their calling primarily through childbearing and rearing, if that option is available to them. This seems to lead seamlessly to the conclusion that she should get started on it quickly upon reaching adulthood, as what would be the purpose of delay in this context? Any young woman who is listening to Wilson in the first place doesn’t need to be told to marry early, because that’s what she’ll desire, if… Read more »

OKRickety
Member

Jane, Any young woman who is listening to Wilson in the first place doesn’t need to be told to marry early, because that’s what she’ll desire, if she shares his view on life in general. I would think the same logic would apply to the young men who listen to Wilson. That is, they wouldn’t need to be told to marry early, either. From that premise, I would agree with Mark H. and William Gould that Wilson should have written a complementary post for women, or he should never have written this post, much less reposted it. Since this does… Read more »

Mark H.
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Mark H.

It may be true that there are scores of post-teen women in Wilson’s church that are just waiting for the guys to get around to marrying them. But unless he pairs them off like Sun Myung Moon did, the other dynamic in play is that 80% of the men will be attracted to 20% of the women (the “cute” ones), and 80% of the women to 20% of the men (the “real men”). Being Christian doesn’t seem to change that dynamic much. Which leaves about 60% of each out in the cold.

Jane
Member

Are you suggesting that 60% of both men and women are involuntarily celibate for life? If not, what is it that you’re saying?

Mark H.
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Mark H.

No, Jane. I think it would go something like this. Imagine a pool of 100 marriageable men and women, all of the right age range. About 20% pair up with the man / woman of their dreams, after jostling several others out of the way. . Another 20% were never looking for the top 20% kind of person, and find someone they can love and settle down with. The remaining 60% will respond in a variety of ways. Some will quickly settle for a person they were not really attracted to, but checks most of the boxes. Not what they… Read more »

Indigo
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Indigo

It wouldn’t make sense to say “Get married!” to 23-year-old men who already want to be married. I took Doug to be addressing the 23-year-old men who could be married (and suitably) if they chose.

It’s a chilly picture you paint there, Mark. God preserve us from the settling types of marriages. Misery all around.

I dislike the term incel because of the angry and bitter connotations it carries. Does the believer have room for that in his identity, or is “in God’s hard providence, single,” a more fitting description?

Nathan James
Member

I read the post as primarily addressing the middle-aged men and women who set the expectations for their communities. It’s primary message is not to the young folks at all.

Jane
Member

Yes, that’s true! That’s how I think I naturally read it, but I got sucked into other people’s assumptions that it’s addressed to the young men.

OKRickety
Member

Nathan,

While the post was written for all to read, I believe it is primarily addressed to the young men, not to any other group. Certainly that is true for Item 7. And see how he finishes the post:

In the words of the great saints of yore, it is time to shake a leg. Get a move on. We are burning daylight.

Jane
Member

The reason men need to be told explicitly is because men are actors in the situation. They’re the ones who have to get off their duffs and propose. The responsibilities aren’t equal, so the instructions won’t be.

Alexander
Guest
Alexander

Hogwash. If Wilson, or anyone else, sees a particular need for men (or any other specific group) to receive wisdom, encouragement, or rebuke to do/not do a thing, then he doesn’t first have to go find all the other related groups and also find similar counsel for them. What kind of principle is that? Look men, there’s some advice already available for you, but first we have to meet the comprehensive intersectional needs surrounding this issue and then issue a magnum opus to all related parties. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for that.

OKRickety
Member

Alexander,

Of course it’s not necessary to address all related groups, but I’d say it would demonstrate good intelligence to to make the attempt to address them if reasonably possible. And in this case, it’s clearly obvious that the other major group who should also be addressed are the young women. If Wilson chooses to ignore this group, then I believe it is a conscious choice reflective of his true beliefs.

Richard S.
Guest
Richard S.

The church has succumbed to the world’s view of success for too long: finish college first, get a good job first, get established first, then if you get married, put off having children until you’re “ready,” and on it goes. And yet, we somehow expect our children to be sexually pure. I believe this is why so many young people leave the church. We have given them an unbiblical view of life, and when they fall into sexual sin in their teens and twenties, their guilty consciences cause them to lose hope. We have a low, unbiblical view of marriage,… Read more »

William Gould
Guest
William Gould

This is a very good post. However, WHERE is the companion post about why young women should also marry early? You first posted this in 2016. and the corresponding post for young women has not appeared. If you only exhort the young men, and not the young women, you are placing heavy burdens on the young men’s backs and not lifting a finger to help.

Jane
Member

Is it possible that in his context, it’s the men who need the exhortation on this particular topic, and not the women? Remember that most of Wilson’s posts flow out of his own pastoral context and his specific interactions in broader spheres; they’re not meant to cover everything for all people everywhere.

Isaiah Taylor
Guest
Isaiah Taylor

I would submit that the exhortation to women is not needed as much as to men, since the men are the ones who will initiate and the women will follow their lead. We don’t need a bunch of 20 year old women running around trying to get guys to marry them (this would be very ineffective), we need 22 year old men convincing 20 year old women to quit college for them and marry them.

Nathan James
Member

“Quit college and marry” – I’m glad you brought this up. Young women are going to given quite a hard time by society if they actually go this route. And this would be one reason in favor writing a companion piece directed to young women. The pressure to avoid marriage is not only felt by young men. Young women also need wise and godly counsel.

Mark H.
Guest
Mark H.

I would say that the pressure is even stronger on young women. They are the ones with the final say: Man proposes, woman disposes. Christian women who follow (probably unconsciously) our society’s expectations for what a normal woman’s life should look like will see marriage as something for mid to late 20s, after college and after they establish their career,. In such circles the man wanting to find that 20 year old is doomed to frustration. But by the time a woman reaches her late 20’s, her expectations are also higher. Women tend to want to marry “up”, someone more… Read more »

KJQ
Guest
KJQ

Boys became men at 14 years of age, and girls women at 13 in OT times. Extra-biblical sources indicate that Mary was likely 14 or 15 when she gave birth to Jesus. The degree to which that “shocks” we Christians is indicative of the degree to which we’ve let worldly modern day culture define our views (to say nothing of the dumbing down and programmed immaturity of children, youth, and young adults in the public education system). Post-pubescent men and women weren’t expected to burn with passion for decades. Oh, and please don’t tell me early maturity/marriage was because of… Read more »

Jane
Member

And lifespans weren’t THAT much shorter. Life expectancy was shorter, but people who survived childhood and the dangers of childbirth, work, and war not infrequently made it to what we would consider a reasonable old age. IOW, people expected to get old if they didn’t die young, which almost no one actually expects.

GB
Guest
GB

When one says that young men and women weren’t intended to “burn with passion” for long periods of time, I think that misses an important point about why guys should get married somewhat. Many of the younger guys I speak to, (myself included) have wondered out loud if the trials and tribulations of marriage are really worth taking on, just to gain the privilege of a “constructive” or acceptable outlet. We’ve heard repeatedly that marriage isn’t just about that stuff, so why do we make such a big deal of it at the expense of other benefits that marriage may… Read more »