Before Jan. 3, Megan Roe, 20, always gently ousted her high school sweetheart, 23-year-old Andy Roe, out of her home when the clock struck midnight.
Although there were no parents enforcing this rule — as they had during the budding years of their romance, when her parents sometimes limited their dates to strolls around the block — the couple wanted their relationship to mirror their religious beliefs about being pure before marriage.
But Jan. 3 was their wedding day, and for the first time in their five-year courtship the two were able to fall asleep in each other’s arms.
“God is the center of our marriage. He helps our relationship with each other and influences our ability to (positively) interact with each other,” said Megan Roe, who studies secondary education at MU.
Since the 1970s, when it was common for couples to marry in their early 20s, the average age for walking down the aisle has risen. According to the 2000 census, the average American woman now marries at 25 and the average American man at 27. However, it appears committed young Christians such as the Roes are more likely to marry at younger ages.
One reason is the role marriage plays among such groups of Christians.
“Christianity has always regarded marriage as a vocation, a divine calling that allows men and women to grow closer to God by making a complete gift of themselves to one another,” said Colleen Carroll, author of “The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy” (Loyola Press, 2002).
“Since these young Christians focus on dating people who share their values and with whom they can share a life, it’s not surprising that they would find suitable spouses sooner than secular peers,” Carroll said. “For (them), dating is not a recreational sport. It’s a search for a spouse.”
Even though not every young Christian is on the hunt for a mate, she said, the ones who are will treat dating as a stepping stone to marriage.
Nineteen-year-old Erin Todd and 20-year-old Joe Allyn, one of six engaged couples who attend MU’s Reformed University Fellowship, took this approach to dating and plan to marry shortly after Todd graduates in May 2005.
That’s a different perspective than “average Americans,” who are marrying older because they are moving away from the institution of marriage, said sociologists Robert Schoen and Nicola Standish in “The Retrenchment of Marriage: Results from Marital Status Life Table for the United States,” published in 1995.
The Rev. Corey Whitaker, who serves at the Roes’ nondenominational church, Christian Campus House, described the relationship between God and a Christian couple as a triangle, “with God at the top and then the husband and wife at the other points ... as they (the couple) move closer to God, the closer they move to each other.”
“I am certain that the Lord brought Erin into my life,” said Allyn, who trusts that even when they experience financially lean times — likely, given that he will still be in school at the time of their wedding — God will take care of them.
In part, this lack of worry about material wealth factors into decisions to marry, said Whitaker, who knows of at least 10 young married couples at Christian Campus House. “They (younger Christian couples) are driven in different ways,” he said, adding that they are often more focused on establishing relationships, not on achieving financial or work-related success.
Also contributing — many would say obviously — is a commitment to wait until marriage to become sexually intimate, said both Whitaker and the Rev. John Drage, campus minister at The Rock, where there are six engaged couples and one recently married couple.
“Since sex outside of marriage is not considered a valid option for young orthodox Christians, the sexual attraction that might lead other young adults to move in together would lead these young adults to walk down the aisle,” Carroll said.
Although Allyn and Todd said many people have questioned the wisdom of their pending marriage because of their youth, Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project found no evidence it is best to delay marriage, as the average American is doing. “The question of the optimum age to marry is still open,” the project notes.
The Roes said they thought they married at their optimal time because they knew each other well, had grown in their faith in God and were ready to start their lives together because Andy will graduate this month from Columbia College with a degree in computer science.
“I don’t have to kick him out at midnight,” Megan Roe said with a smile, “and I can just look at the future and know we will be together.”