Why We Married Young and Thoughts on Married Life

Tri completely changed the direction of my life. If I hadn’t had met him, I would likely never come to Nepal and never have learned to speak Nepali. I would never have realized my interested in Linguistics, probably would not have majored in that subject, and would never have thought about getting a masters in what I’m hoping to go to grad school for. My own habits and manerisms have been deeply affected by my husband and the time I’ve spent abroad. Without having met him I think I would be a very different person with a very different life. And this same goes for him. I know that I’ve changed the way he thinks and experiences things, his view and opinions, and goals. I don’t credit or blame him for every success and failure I’ve had, and I certainly am my own person, but he was one of the major catalysts that set my life going in the direction it has.

I met Tri when I was 18, pretty young to meet your future spouse (although not out of the question), and we got married when I was 21, soon after college graduation last spring. The last year of our lives has been a whirlwind of activity and emotion, filled with a lot of sadness but excitement too. What happened during this time that led us to marry at a young age was a set of events that we could never have predicted.

Everything started in the early spring of 2011. Tri and I had been dating for about 3 years at that point. Right from the beginning of our relationship, we knew that we were in it for the long haul. Everything just felt right with him and always has. I know that sounds horribly cliche, but it’s true. We had always talked about getting hitched sometime after my college graduation (he graduated two years before me), so last spring, we started talking to both of our parents about the possibility of getting engaged over the summer. We didn’t want to get married yet…we didn’t feel like there was any reason to, but we thought it would be nice to take the next step in our relationship.

Both of our parents were very happy with this idea and supported our plan to have an engagement ceremony in Nepal. We all thought that an engagement in Nepal and then a wedding in the US a few years later sounded good. But then Nepali culture and the rules that go along with it kicked into high gear. In the process of planning for our wedding, Tri’s mom consulted an astrologer. He felt like it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to just have an engagement ceremony, that we needed to get married as well. In Nepal, people don’t often have long engagements. Usually they have a khura chine ceremony and then a wedding a few weeks (or sometimes days) later, so the astrologer felt it would be culturally inapropriate for us to have just an engagement ceremony.

Tri’s mom started talking to us about the possibility of upgrading our engagement to a wedding. I think we were both a little bit in shock at this idea. Of course we had thought about marriage and wanted to be married someday, but it was strange to think it would be happening so soon. But after talking about it, the idea started warming up to us, and we agreed.

That set the wedding planning in motion. Tri’s parents were choosing a location, compiling a guest list with hundreds of people, and doing lots of shopping. I was excited to be getting married but a little bit freaked out too. I was trying to finish up my last semester of college and frantically look for some kind of employment. Doing that on top of preparing to be married in a foreign country was a bit overwhelming.

And then everything came to a horrible halt. Tri’s mom died suddenly in April, 2011. I don’t feel like going into the details of what happened because it’s still very painful to dwell on, but maybe later, when we’ve come to terms with her death a little better, I can write more about going through those initial days and weeks of grief.

Everything was put on hold, the wedding, Tri’s job, our lives. Tri left for Nepal within 12 hours of getting the horrible phone call, and I felt stranded and alone. Getting through those last few weeks of my last semester of college was hell. But I do have to say, my friends and family were incredibly supportive and helpful. You know who you are! And I love you guys.

About a month later, after the funeral and initial grieving period in Nepal were over, Tri came back to the US with a plan for us to return to Nepal to live with his brother and dad. I was incredibly supportive of his decision.

But in order for me to stay in Nepal for an extended period of time, I had to be married to Tri. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Nepali Hindus believe that having any kind of celebration, doing puja, or going to weddings, etc. is not allowed the year after a family member dies, so us getting married was a bit of a problem. That’s why we decided to have the simplest wedding we could manage, nothing religious and without any bells and whistles. We had the mayor of our small town marry us at my folks’ house. Because it was such a small ceremony, we didn’t get an opportunity to celebrate with most of our family and friends, but we’re not going to leave them out. Tri and I are planning a wedding ceremony that will hopefully happen in about a year and a half…a topic for future posts.

Anyway, some Nepali people were very against our marriage at the time because of breaking the one year rule, but we had no choice. We both felt that Tri needed to go back to Nepal, and there was no way that Tri and I were going to be separated.

In the craziness of those few months and the aftermath of that period that included moving to a new country, lots of culture shock, and language learning, I haven’t really had the time and energy to process and understand the fact that I’m married and what that means for my life and relationship.

It’s only now that I’m really starting to think about how my life has changed after marriage. Being in Nepal has definitely had a huge affect on those changes.

In Tri’s parents’ generation, marrying young, even for educated women living in urban areas, was normal. Tri’s mom was 19 when she married his dad. Even now, women in rural areas marry young, sometimes as teenagers. But it is a bit unusual these days for a woman who comes from an urban, middle class family to be married at age 21. Because I’m mostly around people from urban, middle class families, I sometimes get surprised looks when I tell them I’m married.

I think part of it is that some Nepalis have certain stereotypes about Western women, about them having many different partners and marrying very late, so I don’t fit into their stereotype. But it’s also that there has been a push in Nepal from NGO’s, social service organizations, and other influences for women to marry later.

When I was in Dhampush, I made friends with another one of the girls on the trip who is about 27 and was married last year. We stayed in a lodge, and one day we started talking to the owner about her daughters. Like me, they married in their very early 20’s. My friend started scolding the lodge owner (in a friendly way), telling her that she should have made them wait, finish school, and then marry. But then my friend looked at me and remembered that I was 21 when I married too! We both laughed.

Besides getting some funny looks and reactions from Nepalis about being married young, I’ve also received greater acceptance.

Before getting married, I had some people tell me that life after marriage didn’t change their relationship with their signficant other one bit, and I’ve had others say it changed everything. I’ve found that the way that Tri and I treat each other hasn’t changed, but the way that others treat us has. This is particularly true in Nepal. Our relationship wasn’t really valid in the eyes of many Nepalis before we were married, and although Tri’s parents accepted our relationship, they were hesitant to tell others that Tri had a girlfriend. When I was in Nepal for study abroad, I stayed with Tri’s parents and brother for a week here and there, and they only revealed to their closest family and friends that I was Tri’s girlfriend. Being married has made our relationship in Nepal valid in the eyes of others, which is honestly a relief. Some say that that validation from others shouldn’t matter, and our love for eachother is definitely more important than what others think, but having that societal acceptance does make things easier.

I’ve also found that women treat me differently. For some reason, I think being married has made other people, especially women, see me as more of an adult. They talk to me about more adults things and divulge secrets with me that I probably wouldn’t have been privy to before. Part of this may be the fact that I’m older. But I think it’s got something to do with being married.

Since we were only in the US for about a month after being married, I don’t know if others there will treat us differently as married people. I think that they probably will but maybe not to the same extent that people do in Nepal. I guess I’ll find out in a year or so 🙂


14 thoughts on “Why We Married Young and Thoughts on Married Life

  1. Great post! I greatly admire your commitment and support for each other during such a turbulent time in your lives. I hope as you both move forward from such a tragic event and the quick changes in the aftermath that you will have the time and space to process everything accordingly.

    I met P a few days before turning 19. After about a year and a half of being together we both wanted to get married, but it took us a lot of time.

    I think for P getting married meant that he wanted to be more financially secure… he is still a graduate student, so hasn’t had a “real job” yet, and I think his parents didn’t put so much pressure on us because we were living in the US (and away from potentially judgmental eyes in Kathmandu) and I think in their minds marriage=children and they didn’t want P to have kids until he finished graduate school.

    We dated eight years before we got married, and were engaged for three. Even though we lived together I have to admit that after a while I was upset that we hadn’t gotten married. When friends of ours who had been in relationships for a short period of time then us started inviting us to their weddings I felt hurt. It sounds so silly, maybe even childish to say, but I was tired of being a “domestic partnership” or “boyfriend/girlfriend” (I really hated “boyfriend/girlfriend”– to me that terminology sounded so kiddish, like we were in high school. I felt like our relationship was on pare with a serious commitment like marriage, and I thought it was easy for people not to think we were serious if the “boyfriend/girlfriend” label was used).

    Since P is 3 1/2 years older than me, a lot of our friends are closer to his age, so for a long time I was viewed as “young” and they didn’t understand why I was so eager to get married. In many ways I thought they felt I was being silly too, which made me feel more frustrated.

    Finally P received a big research grant that gave us the extra cushion we needed to pay for a wedding, and plans were finally put in motion. After waiting so long I am always so have to say “husband” and to finally be “outed” as P’s significant other to family back in Nepal.

    Being married hasn’t really changed how we feel or act towards each other… our household isn’t that much different, and again, maybe it sounds silly, but now to the outside world I feel like our relationship has more “weight” and stability.

    • I do feel like US society generally views marriage as more valid than just living together. And now that Tri and I are filing taxes together for the first time, I’m realizing the financial benefits of marriage too. That’s why it’s so horribly unfair that not everyone can marry the partner of their choice everywhere in the US.

      I’d be interested to better understand the ways things work in some European countries where two people live in domestic partnerships for many years, sometimes having kids without getting married.

      And it doesn’t sound silly at all. I know what you mean. I feel the same way about my relationship having more weight and stability.

      • I whole heartedly support gay marriage. I just don’t understand the people who rally against it, and I am really happy that some states in the US have started to pass legislation that allow same sex couples to marry– but it isn’t far enough.

        It breaks my heart that people in international relationships in the US cannot benefit from the same immigration rights that I am privy to because I fell in love with someone of the opposite gender.

        We went to the wedding of one of P’s colleagues from his phd program a few years ago. She is South African, and she was marrying a local Massachusetts woman. They could marry legally in the state, but the student couldn’t get a green card through her spouse like P did. With that came problems such as… if they traveled abroad so that her wife could meet her family in South Africa and the immigration officials found out at the airport they could potentially separate them. Technically her marriage to a US citizen is in violation of her F-1 student visa “non-immigrant intent” clause. Instead the South African student will still have to jump through the hoops of an H-1B work visa, and hopefully green card sponsorship through her employment which could take many years.

        There was another article in the news recently about another US/South African couple. They had been together for like 30 years and one kept having to come in to the US on a tourist visa, then leave the US for 6 months, then come back in on a tourist visa… now that they were getting older they were worried about medical emergencies– what if one of them were sick or hospitalized and the other was stuck in a foreign country! What a challenging existence!

        If love can be blind to nationality AND gender, equal marriage rights and equal immigration rights should be available for all 🙂

  2. Someone asked your grandma for the secret of a long marriage. She responded, “Get married young and stay married.” You are halfway there!

  3. Ahh it all makes sense now. This post really reasoned with me. I found some hostility from Nepalis when they knew we were not married yet. I really like this line “Being married has made our relationship in Nepal valid in the eyes of others, which is honestly a relief.”

  4. My mother married my father at age 20 i think, youngest out of all her siblings. A bit of a shock to her parents though because my parents was a love marrige (onky one in her family with a love marrige) and she is a baun and my baba is newar. At least i think thats what happened because no one tells a child anything. I am 15 and we live in florida, US.

  5. It’s interesting looking at American Nepali’s comments again and your post in the light of Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development (where 20-24 is the love stage, where you discover if you can love another person).

    If you think about it, you, American Nepali, me – well, we were all 18 when we met our future spouses, even though you married at 21, American Nepali 8 years after starting to date and me at 22. Well, what is interesting about this – with specific regard to European culture – is that from what I observe from my friends, they’ve actually met their future spouses young even though they’ve tended the live together sometimes for many years. (Actually, I say this but it’s my husband’s friends who have tended to live together before marriage – mine don’t as I have mainly Christian and Muslim friends who are quite devout and don’t believe in living together. My husband, although a Christian, tends not to be able to stand many Christians as he finds them false. So most of his friends are not Christian and their lifestyles are more typical of the secular ways of living typical in the UK) Anyhow my point is this – our friends who are now married, well, 90% met their spouse young even if they didn’t marry immediately. And as we approach 40, the ones who were not in a relationship at 20, mostly are still not with a partner.

    So, funnily enough, it looks like if you are going to be able to have a relationship, you find this out in the 20-24 age range, roughly. Interesting!

    • Interesting observation. It’s funny because I always grew up thinking that most people meet their spouses in their late twenties, outside of school. I thought this because it’s the way my parents met. But in reality, I think a lot of people meet their future spouse in college or graduate school, probably because people with similar outlooks and dispositions end up there.

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