As emerging adults leave high school and enter college, the idea of commitment and marriage may not seem like a priority. So many emerging adults have this notion that your college years are the time to party, experiment, and just have fun, rather than be locked into a relationship with someone. Are these emerging adults afraid that they cannot do these things if they are committed to one person? Personally, I believe that you can go out to parties, have fun and experiment with one particular person while still getting to know them on a deeper level. Why not do these things with the same person you could potentially see yourself spending the rest of your life with? In the 2013 research report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America Kay Hymowitz and colleagues explained:
“Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone”—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.”
Being committed to one person, means that you are deciding to give your all to the person you have chosen, and that you are letting go of other options. Although emerging adults may be meandering toward marriage, most have a strong desire to marry and marriage remains an important lifetime goal (e.g., Willoughby & James, 2017). If this is the end goal, to one day be married and have a family, there is no reason why you cannot look for that in your college years. Who says you have to wait until you graduate and obtain a job before you can test the waters in talking to or dating potential partners? Research indicates that those who postpone romantic relationships are more likely to drink excessively, be more depressed and report lower satisfaction in life when compared to their married counterparts (Hymowitz et al. 2013). Unfortunately, a common misconception is that the only way to be satisfied through out college means playing the field. Contrary to common ideas, those who marry in their early twenties are more satisfied in their relationship, are more sexually intimate, and fight less and with less intensity than those who marry in their late twenties or early thirties (Hymowitz et al. 2013).
Research has also shown that many emerging adults perceive that 25 is the ideal age for marriage (e.g., Hymowitz et al. 2013). If this is the idyllic time for marriage, your college years seem to be the perfect time to spend getting to know a potential partner. Sibley et al. (2015) explains that developing commitment is a gradual process that requires sufficient amounts of time to really get to know your possible partner prior to committing to them on a serious level. If one can get past what makes them afraid or not interested in committing, the possibility of finding a potential lifelong partner will be so much easier. You just have to be willing to put yourself out there, and there is a good chance it could lead to a happily ever after.
In the 2015 research article An Exploration of the Construction of Commitment Leading to Marriage, D. Scott Sibley and colleagues interviewed 15 newly married couples (30 participants), who had each been married for less than 13 months. In the Sibley et al. (2015) analysis three categories and six unique themes emerged from their data:
1. The Construction of Commitment During Courtship:
- Gradual process
2. Influences on Partners’ Conceptualization of Commitment:
- Positive examples of commitment
- Negative examples of commitment
3. How Partners’ Communicated their Commitment in their Relationship:
- Planning for the future
- Words of affirmation
Much of the research on marriage, and the development of commitment in couple relationships, highlights the impact of parental example on the decision-making of their adult children. In other words, parents and their marriages can have a profound influence on how young people believe marriages work and function. Research has indicated that parental divorce can significantly increase the odds that offspring will see their own marriages end in divorce (Amato & DeBoer, 2001), and can lead to negative attitudes about marriage and commitment (Cui, Fincham, & Durtschi, 2011).
My Decision To Marry
As a child of divorced parents, I did not really have the best example of a good, functioning relationship to follow as I grew up. I grew up in a single parent household, because my parents divorced when I was only five years old. I do love both of my parents very much, but in a sense, I was shown what not to do when it came to romantic relationships. I myself was in a few bad relationships as I was leaving high school and transitioning to college. I was not too sure how I was supposed to be treated in a romantic relationship, until I met my husband, Justin. As a freshman in college, I became committed to one person by the end of the school year. Before then, I had been to my fair share of parties and talked to a couple guys here and there. But at the end of the day, I was by myself. I found myself wanting to share a romantic connection with one person, and wanting to get to know someone on more of a personal level. I was ready and willing to commit myself to someone. That is when Justin came into the picture. Our love story began my freshman year here at Northern Illinois University. For about nine months, we developed a great friendship and became very close with each other. On April 16th, 2012, he asked me to be his girlfriend. From then on, dating a man like him was a whole new world for me. He showed me how I should be treated in a relationship, and that eventually allowed me to experience what true love really feels like.
After my freshman year at Northern Illinois University, I transferred to a community college back near my hometown. This meant that I would be living about an hour away from my boyfriend for the next two years, and that was quite difficult to deal with. This is where the real challenge set in. Now I know that living just an hour apart is not too far, but with us both being full time students and myself working two jobs, we did not get to see much of each other. This was the real test of our commitment. He was really involved with his fraternity, and at times he was presented with a lot of temptations. Yet he remained committed to me, as I did him. We both watched many of our friends experience bad relationships and many break ups. We did not understand why relationships seemed so hard for our friends, when it seemed to come so easy to us. I always felt like being committed to him was easy. This showed me that our relationship really meant something, and we both realized that it could be something long term. I transferred back to Northern Illinois University to finish my degree, and when I came back I moved in with Justin. We were living together for almost a year when he decided to take the next step in our relationship.
On our third anniversary, as we were exchanging gifts, Justin got down on one knee and surprised me with an engagement ring! Of course, I said yes, and we could not wait to share the news with all our loved ones. At the time, we were both 22 years old. He was about to graduate with his bachelor’s degree and I still had about two years left to go. He said he wanted to propose to me before he graduated, but wanted to wait until after I graduated to get married. This gave us a lot of time to plan our wedding since we were both still in school. We were engaged for a little over two years before we finally got married, and it was most definitely worth the wait. The day I married my husband was easily one of the best days of my life.
Now, we have been together for almost six years and married for five months. I am unbelievably happy in my relationship, and I feel very blessed to have him as my husband. Even though I committed myself to someone at the age of 19, I do not feel like I missed out on anything as a young college student. I have shared countless memorable experiences with my husband that I do not think I would have had if I was not with him. I feel lucky to say that I have been able to do all of these things with the same person and I look forward to seeing what else our future holds. We are still growing and building together not only as a couple, but as individuals as well.
Commitment to me means giving your whole self to one person, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Commitment is loving your partner unconditionally, remaining faithful and loyal, and being there for them through both good and bad times. Taking the right steps in developing commitment is extremely important for a long-term relationship. It is essentially the foundation for couple relationships, because without it, it will not work. Despite the doubts and insecurities I used to have about relationships, I took down the wall that I had put up and it ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself. And because of that, I have my own happily ever after.
- Amato, P. R., & DeBoer, D. D. (2001). Marital Stability – The Transmission of Marital Instability Across Generations: Relationship Skills or Commitment to Marriage?. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 4, 1038.
- Cui, M., Durtschi, J. A., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). The effect of parental divorce on young adults’ romantic relationship dissolution: What makes a difference?. Personal Relationships, 18, 3, 410-426.
- Hymowitz, Carroll, Wilcox, & Kaye (2013). Knot yet: The benefits and costs of delayed marriage in America. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, National Marriage Project, Relate Institute.
- Sibley, D. S., Springer, P. R., Vennum, A., & Hollist, C. S. (2015). An Exploration of the Construction of Commitment Leading to Marriage. Marriage & Family Review, 51, 2, 183-203.
- Willoughby, B. J., & James, S. L. (2017). The marriage paradox: Why emerging adults love marriage yet push it aside. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hi! My name is Jaquelyn Smith and I am a recent graduate from Northern Illinois University. I am currently a Student at Large here and my goal is to obtain a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. In my free time, I love spending time with friends and family, and trying new adventurous things that I have never done before.