The complexities of marrying early

Sometimes, I don't understand the concept of marriage at all. When I think about it, it seems just so complex! While I understand and respect the feminist movement that critiques the institution of marriage, I also respect the ones who want to get married and advocate in its favor. Personally, I'm like Geet of the Hindi film Jab We Met in this case! "Bachpan se hi naa ... mujhe shaadi karne kaa bahut craze hai, by God!" For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to get married. That's my idea of being hopelessly romantic. But being in my early twenties, I realized that it's okay for one to not want to get married. Or to get married to someone who's younger or older than themselves. Or to get married really late in life. Or even to get married really soon in life.
Now, hypothetically, if I am a middle class eighteen-year-old girl from a well-off educated family who wants to marry right after high school, how supportive would the world be about this? I want to pursue higher education but that's not what I want immediately; of course, that can happen in due course. But what if I prioritize getting married as an immediate goal rather than getting a degree? Does that make me any less of a responsible and independent woman?
It's appalling how many, in today's time, easily judge people, regardless of their gender. Men, too, fall prey to the superficial judgment passed on them by the world for deciding to marry at a young age. Wanting to marry before getting a college degree or while getting one is as much a social aberration as a career-oriented woman wanting to prioritize her education and career over her marriage. This makes me wonder if there is ever a right answer, when it comes to our society and its glares.
Let me narrate an actual event. Right after I graduated from high school, one of my classmates got married. Of course it shocked me. I thought, "But what about college!? She's just a kid!" And if that sounds judgmental and presumptuous, you're right. I was judgmental and presumptuous about college girls wearing engagement rings, or people making life-long commitments before their 25th birthdays. But it took me a while to realize that what my understanding of a "kid" was is probably not her understanding, and I cannot assume the same. It took me a few years of growing up to understand that a girl need not be pregnant to marry young! There are these seemingly simple words—desire and choice—that need to be respected when something as essential as marriage is in question.
When we hear of our school or college junior marrying at an age we consider as "extremely young", how often do we think, "well, maybe they just want to marry right now!"? Who wants to marry that young, you'd ask? That's where I talk of respect. Just because someone does something in a way you wouldn't, don't deem it as unnatural or abnormal. These are social constructs, not pre-defined notions. Marrying young has become an anomalous trend. One’s 20s are reserved for finishing college, pursuing degrees, securing dream jobs, establishing careers and “settling down”. Relationships are, at best, not as interesting as prestigious job openings or a scholarship at an Ivy League. At worst, people say that relationships distract one from these opportunities.
The progressive side in us strongly believes that a girl or a boy should not be forced into matrimony. But, one must also remember that people should also not be forced to NOT get married when they wish to. Mainstream society has taken a major shift in this decade. Young couples who get married are widely assumed to be old-fashioned, anti-feminist, super religious, ignorantly inexperienced, and destined for divorce or, usually, all of the above.
We often talk about societal mindset. But while discussing and critiquing society, we must remember that we are also products of the same society we criticize. Society doesn’t operate in isolation; we make our own societies. The muddled way of societal thinking is very much imbibed from ourselves in more ways than we might acknowledge. Something as solemn and personal as marriage should really not be contaminated by our idea of rights and wrongs.
While I talk of respecting the decision of a young individual or a couple who decides to marry at an ostensibly early age on the basis of free-will, choice, and agency, one must be prudent to look at free-will with a critical eye. Is freewill, in fact, free of societal and clandestine influence? Can freewill operate in isolation? This is where the definition of freewill is sometimes blurred out. Is the freewill of those who choose to enter the world of marital bliss, absolutely manipulation free? Is informed choice in line with freewill? These are some indispensable questions one must keep in mind when they think of tying the knot at an early age willingly.
 - Manisha Massey is a graduate in psychology from Delhi University who interned with FAT from January-May, 2015