Miley Cyrus, pop star and heir to the “Achy, Breaky Heart” fortune, has announced that, at 19 years old, she’s engaged to marry her boyfriend of three years, actor Liam Hemsworth. I have this to say: Don’t do it, girl!
And when I Googled “Liam Hemsworth” to find out who the hell this dude is, the first result was his official website, and the blurb excerpted is … an interview with Miley Cyrus. Friend, if you are 22-years-old and your professional career is already defined by your romantic relationship according to the seminal information provider of the whole internet, I feel obligated to pass along a ‘Don’t do it, girl!’ to you, too. (Jessica’s Note: He was also in “The Hunger Games.” I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of him!)
Now, I know that trying to dissuade smitten young people from making bad romantic decisions is an exercise in futility. Miley Cyrus is gonna marry this dude. It will happen. And maybe, just maybe, she will not be a twentysomething divorcee. Miley Cyrus, I hope you are not a twentysomething divorcee! I want your marriage to Liam Hemsworth to work out. I want you to be the happiest, most forever-married person in the world.
But if Miley Cyrus asked me — and she definitely did not — I would discourage her from getting married at 19. If any 19-year-old in the world asked me, I would discourage that person from getting married.
But not, perhaps, for the obvious reason, which is that the younger people are when they get married, the more likely they are to get divorced. Divorce is a thing that happens to half the people who get married; it’s an eventuality every married person should be prepared for whether they’re 19 or 29 or 39. I don’t want Miley Cyrus — or any 19-year-old — to be a twentysomething divorcee, but more than that, I think it’s best for people to grow up into the people they are, not the relationship they’re in.
Nineteen is a weird age. Legally, you’re an adult. Emotionally, economically, educationally, you’re … well, you’re whatever you are — and I’m speaking in terms of the vast majority of American 19-year-olds, because I know there are 19-year-olds out there who have had to grow up very fast and who definitely don’t fit the profile of the person I’m talking about. So take what I’m saying here with that caveat, please.
I spent two years teaching college freshmen while I was in graduate school, which means I spent a lot of time hanging out with 19-year-olds. My fall semester freshmen tended to be a bright-eyed, pimply-faced bunch either desperate to break out of their high school identities or desperately hanging on to same. My spring semester freshmen? Invariably more confident, settled and mature.
When you’re 19, major personality, goal and life changes happen over days and weeks. Every day is a renegotiation of who you are as a human in the world. At the same time, your high school days are behind you and therefore feel like you’re the oldest person in the world. It’s a weird place to be.
Of course, Miley Cyrus is not your average 19-year-old. I’d bet good beer money that she’s seen a lot more than most of the people in her peer group. I’d bet good beer money that she’s wiser than anyone gives her credit for. I’d also bet good money that no amount of unusual and privileged life experience changes the fact that 19-year-olds probably don’t know who the hell they are. And I think that to build a solid marriage, the people involved need to have a firm foundation of self.
I didn’t know who I was when I was 19. I was a college freshman learning that the religion I grew up with was seriously flawed. I was barfing at parties because I still couldn’t figure out how much was too much to drink before it was too late. I lived with perpetually blistered feet because I hadn’t yet figured out that it was totally fine to wear flats on your way to the office.
One thing I did think I had a lot of experience in was dating, and I wasn’t wrong. I’d had two serious high school boyfriends and a slew of also-rans. My college boyfriend had totally swept me off my feet. But when I looked at my future, as much as I always wanted to plug a forever partner into it, I couldn’t envision that at 19. My future was a gray area, filled with possibilities for shifts and changes. I still had moments when I was sure that what I needed was an anchor, and that love would conquer all through my future life building a career, social life and home.
But there were moments when I wasn’t sure, and they kept me from taking an ill-advised trip to the altar. Surety is a wonderful thing, but it can also be deceptive. When I think about the kind of wife I would have made at 19 years old, I cringe not at the idea of being a wife so young, but at the idea of the person I might be today if, in every decision I made since I was 19-years-old, I had had to take into account the needs and wants of one other individual, a romantic partner.
Would I be a feminist? Would I be a cat owner? Would I be a writer? Would I live in Texas? Maybe I would be richer. Maybe I would be religious. Maybe I would have gone into filmmaking or public relations or politics. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I think this kind of wondering about what could have been or should have been is a largely unproductive train of thought — and I think the way to avoid it is, well, to not get married when you’re 19 years old.
I’m not saying Miley Cyrus doesn’t feel, right now, and hasn’t felt, for the last three years of her relationship with this guy, that he’s The One. What I fear for all 19-year-old brides and grooms is the wondering that I strongly suspect will come. The wondering that, when you’re 22 and you’ve slept with one person, and dated one person, and lived with one person, about whether you shouldn’t have taken the opportunity to explore some other options.
It’s just good sense to do this. It’s just good sense to hold off. And maybe that’s what Miley Cyrus intends to do — maybe they’ll just be engaged for a long time, and maybe they’ll get married in a few years. There’s no need to rush into marriage now. But one of the things that I think pushes people into marriage — people of any age — is the idea that The One is out there, and if we don’t put that person on lock, we’re going to die single and miserable. (Because obviously single = miserable, in modern relationship parlance.)
In my experience, meeting a person you’re willing to marry and who is willing to marry you is a matter of circumstance and luck more than any other factor, no matter what relationship self-help books say. The timing has to work out. The geography has to work out. The money has to work out. The life goals have to work out. So many things have to fall into place to make a marriage happen, and that can make it seem like there’s one magical person out there, but really, there are magical sets of circumstances out there.
I think the best way to position yourself to fall into that magical set of circumstances is to know who you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to go. That way, if a marriageable candidate comes along, you can work on growing old together instead of growing up together.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com.