Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Way It Was

I don’t remember what brought it up, but there we were standing around talking in the kitchen about how old we were when we got married or had kids. I think it may have started out with me mentioning the Eew Equation, a formula that one of my students taught me about how old the youngest person is that you can go out with, without people thinking it was gross. That formula is half your age, plus 7.

So at 14 you can go out with another 14-year-old, because half your age is 7. Then when you add 7 to that, you end up right back at 14. At 30 you can date someone who’s 22, and at 56, I could date someone who’s 34 without people thinking it was totally disgusting.

Now, my 10-year-old daughter loves to point out that the formula doesn’t work if you’re younger than 14. If you’re 12, then half your age is 6, and when you add 7 to that, you end up with a 13-year-old as the “youngest” person you can date. But we seem to have gone off on a little tangent here.

As I said, we were talking about how old we were when we got married or had kids. I was the old guy in the group in many ways. Not only was I the oldest, at 56, but I was 32 when I got married, and 36 when my first daughter was born. The youngest person in the room was 33, and got married and had her son when she was 21 (and according to the formula, she’s also just a year too young for me to date).

But wait, there’s more. Her mother had her when she was 19, and her grandmother had her mother when she was 17. Being the math person that I am, I figured that if this patterned continued, her son should have his first child when he’s 23.

Then one woman mentioned that her great-grandmother got married at 16. Yes…16. Now intellectually, we all know that people did things a lot younger all those years ago, and especially in certain parts of the country, but it was still a little jarring to us, because we tend to think of 16-year-olds as being gum-chewing, iPod-toting, high school kids who don't have the common sense that God gave a broom handle. But it wasn’t always so. In fact, there’s a wonderful story behind her great-grandmother’s marriage.

It seems that one day great-grandma’s boyfriend showed up at the house and asked to speak to her father. He wanted to marry her. Her father figured that he had gotten her pregnant and wanted to “do the right thing,” so he said yes. A quiet little ceremony was arranged a few weeks later, and the rest of the family sat back and waited for the baby.

And waited. And waited.

A year and a half later, a baby arrived.

Great-grandma’s family was a little confused. “We thought you wanted to get married because you were pregnant,” they said.

“No,” she replied, “we wanted to get married because we loved each other.”

Now, while that’s a touching good story, it’s important for what it implies. And what it implies is that back in great-grandma’s day, people assumed that with all the time the kids had taking long walks near the creek and such, with all the time that they had together without being under the watchful eye of some sort of chaperone, it was only reasonable to assume that some of them…maybe even a lot of them…were going to have sex. And if the girl didn’t get pregnant, that was fine, but if she did, the boy was expected to “do the right thing” and marry her.

My friend’s great-great-grandparents were no fools. They knew what was going on around them. And they probably knew what was going on around them because they had done it too, as had their parents before them.

But something changed in the generations after that. For some reason we began to officially pretend that people didn’t do that before they were married…at least good people didn’t. Or maybe it was “good people” of a certain social class. And as a result, all kinds of pain, sorrow, and hypocrisy followed in its wake.

Now, however…we seem to be back to the days of great-grandmother and her parents. 16-year-olds being what they are these days, none of us thinks it’s a good idea for them to be having sex yet. But as I’ve said before, if you’re 26 and have been seeing someone for more than six months, we all pretty much assume that you’re having sex, and no judgments are made. In fact, we’re sort of surprised if we find out that you aren’t. Some people may not like it, but at least the hypocrisy is gone.

I’m glad that the way it was has become the way it is again.

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