Does an Early Marriage Kill Your Potential To Achieve More in Life?

Wedding cake.
Wedding cake.

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by TJ Murphy:

My wife and I got married at age 22. The average age of marriage in the U.S. is between 26 and 28. That means we were very young when we got married.

I can’t say what happens to every couple that gets married young, but I can speak to my experience. We both come from poorer backgrounds. I grew up in inner-city Baltimore and relied on low-income programs for a normal school experience. I dropped out of college at 20. Shortly before we got married, I was making $2 over minimum wage.

My wife had a rough life growing up. She had to abandon her original college major after family issues forced her to move home. She managed to graduate on time right as we got married, but only after lots of evening and summer classes.

Then we got married.

My wife is starting her third year of medical school. She will go on to become a full-fledged doctor and save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Her earnings will be commensurate with what you would expect a doctor to earn.

I’ve gone on to raise tens of millions of dollars in venture capital pursuing startups. The products I’ve built have reached millions of people. Every day I mentor up-and-coming founders. And I love every minute of it.

Marriage is orthogonal to career success. You can succeed in your career and fail at marriage. You can fail in career and succeed in marriage. Life is what you make it. It takes hard work, dedication, and a little luck.

I’ve been married for four years and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Answer by Mike Sellers, entrepreneur, game designer, AI researcher, dad:

I don’t think so, but I’m sure there’s a huge amount of individual variation. In particular, the life experiences, maturity, and determination to make it work on the part of both partners will be absolutely crucial (but then this is always true).

In my case, I married at 19 to my high-school sweetheart after one year of college. It took me a little longer than normal to get through school (we had our third child just before I graduated from college), and she didn’t finish until later. While being in school with a family at times made things very, very hard, I was definitely a better student for being married, as my priorities were much clearer.

On one hand, I didn’t become a neurosurgeon as I had initially planned, nor did I finish my Ph.D. In neither case was this due to being married and having a family, though those were factors. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that my potential to achieve has been killed or even much affected—and if it has been affected, then on balance, I’m a much better person for it and would easily make that trade-off again.

Without wanting to blow my own horn too much, I’ve been able to have a varied and satisfying career, start several companies, work on groundbreaking research and products, write professionally, and have a rich married and family life.

Finally, because we married young and had our kids when we were young, we’re now fairly young for empty-nesters, and are really being able to enjoy that— while still being focused on achieving even more in life.

So no, I can’t say that my potential for achieving (in any sense of the word) has been killed by being married or having a family when I was young.

Answer by Satvik Beri, mad scientist:

I got married right out of college, when I was 19. In many ways, this screwed up my early career because I spent almost all my time and energy on the relationship rather than on my career.

I can’t say for sure if I would have gotten a better job right after college if I hadn’t gotten married because I didn’t even look for jobs outside of my location or with heavy travel requirements. But if I hadn’t prioritized the relationship, I probably would have had a faster start on my career.

On the other hand, committing to someone so early in my life forced me to grow much faster than I would have otherwise. I learned a lot about myself, my weaknesses, and how to relate to other people. Before getting married, I was extremely closed-off, aloof, and absent-minded. In contrast, I’m now at the point where I know what I want, and I can connect to people very deeply very quickly.

So I’m not sure whether the marriage helped or hurt my career. If I hadn’t gotten married, I would probably have stronger technical skills but weaker social skills and less of a network. So based on what I know about the workplace today, I would say that getting married hurt my career early on, but helped it in the long run.

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