‘It’s scary trying to grow up a little bit’

Jackie McLean

Young adults getting married less, but some are still tying the knot

It was Sept. 14, 2008, and the only moment of sunshine during a week of stormy weather. Yellow, orange and red leaves gently fell from the trees as Charlotte Merriman, 20, enjoyed a picnic with her boyfriend, Mark Litzinger, 24. A cluster of roses and yellow mums surrounded them in a beautiful butterfly garden in Meadville, Pa. Mark got down on one knee and presented her with a Victorian-style ring he had purchased at an estate jeweler.

“It’s (marriage) not all about age. I personally think that it’s a level of maturity that you need to be able to reach,” said Joshua Burke, sophomore aeronautical flight technology major. “People in college aren’t too young; if you’ve found that person, then go for it.”

Adults today are getting married at an older age than in previous decades. According to a trends research brief sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Population Affairs, the median age for a woman’s first marriage was 20 in 1960 and had risen to 26 in 2006. The study suggested the reason for the decline in young marriages is because young adults are now focusing on their education and careers rather than on starting a family.

So why do some young women decide to get married in their early 20s? For Charlotte, it’s her strong Christian values. For Samantha Fedor, 20, it’s the constant butterflies in her stomach. Both women may be exceptions to the trend, but they both have very different stories to tell.

Charlotte and Mark: The traditional couple

Charlotte, a Kent State post-undergraduate student, met Mark at a jubilee conference in Pittsburgh as part of her youth group, Allegheny Christian Outreach. She decided to go see the film “Amazing Grace,” and it just so happened that Mark was in the theater as well. That was the first time the two talked to each other.

“We were joking through the whole movie, and we probably pissed off everyone in the whole theater because it’s not a funny movie,” Charlotte said. “It’s a good movie, but it’s not something you should joke through.”

Mark’s sense of humor was one of the qualities that attracted Charlotte. She was also attracted to how much they had in common. He has a master’s degree in German literature, and Charlotte has a bachelor’s degree in English. They both would like to be teachers someday.

Charlotte also saw a gentleman in Mark. She said he would always go out of his way to help people. Mark even asked for permission from Charlotte’s parents before proposing to her.

Christian values are a very important aspect to Charlotte and Mark’s relationship. They believe they are not only serving one another, but also they are serving God. She believes they are not in this relationship for themselves or to be happy, but they are in this relationship to serve God and glorify him.

Charlotte committed herself to staying a virgin until her wedding night. She believes a strong relationship is not based on pleasure, but on unity. However, Mark was not a virgin, and this was one of the issues they had to work on as a couple.

“He’s changed his perspective since then,” Charlotte said. “He became a Christian and has changed his mind about what sexual relations mean to Christ, what our body means to God and what God wants us to do with our bodies and how that is a way to serve God.”

After getting married, Charlotte was separated from her parents’ house and lived in her own apartment for the first time. For the first time in her life, she had to learn how to balance her checkbook and budget her money.

“It’s scary trying to grow up a little bit,” Charlotte said. “It’s not all fairy-tale wedding stuff, it’s reality, and sometimes I just don’t want to pay taxes.”

Samantha and Justin: The modern-day couple

Customer service representative Samantha married Justin, 26, at the courthouse in Youngstown on June 5, 2009. She wore a black pair of pants and a turquoise tank top, and her husband wore a pair of black cargo pants with a matching button-up shirt. There were seven guests and a small cake from Giant Eagle.

Samantha is not into the extravagant fairy-tale wedding. She chose to be married at the courthouse and told her husband she didn’t want an engagement ring.

Unlike Charlotte, Samantha moved in with her husband before they were married. They dated for two months, and they knew they wanted to get married someday after only being together for two weeks.

“I never felt this way about anyone in my life. I thought I did, but with Justin, it’s like the constant butterflies in your stomach,” Samantha said. “I’m happy no matter if it’s a good or a bad situation, and he can make me smile and make me feel like me again.”

Her husband is a student at Youngstown State University majoring in forensic science. He proposed to Samantha by writing, “Will you marry me?” in crayon on the bathroom mirror.

Since being married, Samantha has had her ups and downs as with any relationship. Like Charlotte, she had never lived on her own until she moved in with Justin and it was a major adjustment for her.

“Things are different when you’re dating, and then you have to learn how to mesh and work out the differences that we do have, but it’s nothing,” Samantha said.

Wedding day

On Oct. 4, 2009, it was another beautiful day for Charlotte and Mark. About 140 guests made their way to their seats in Grace Baptist Church. The flower girl, ring bearer, bridesmaids and groomsmen were all wearing burgundy and pastel yellow as they slowly walked down the aisle to their places. Upon their arrival, all of the guests quickly turned their heads in the anticipation of seeing the bride.

The music began, and Charlotte, wearing a beautiful, classic white A-line dress with little diamonds on the side, made her way down the aisle. Her brown hair was pulled into the perfect up-do with a few strands of curls flowing down her face.

She was glowing as she finally met her future husband at the end of the aisle. For Charlotte, that day was the beginning of a long commitment, and she will share the rest of her life with Mark forever.

Contact features correspondent Jackie McLean at [email protected].