By: Kathryn Andersen
My name is Kathryn, and I’m a statistical anomaly.
I’m one of the 27% of millennials who are married.
Student debt, cohabitation, and the “failure to launch” phenomenon have all been blamed for the plummeting marriage rates for people my age.
While those may certainly be factors, I think there’s one, huge, underlying issue that is mostly to blame. The best way I can explain that issue is through my story of cliff jumping.
Ever since I can remember, just the sight of a place called the “Hole in the Rock” — a tall cliff jumping spot on the lake my family frequently visited — was enough to make my heart pound and my hands sweat. Every time we boated past it, I’d stare at the black rock with the circle-shaped opening and experience a conflicting mix of emotions.
Part of me wanted badly to climb to the top of the cliff, step to the edge, and throw myself over it, curly blonde hair flying, to triumphantly and gracefully splash into the lake below. I’d seen many others do it, and even climbed up there myself with boys I desperately wanted to impress, but every time I got close to the edge, I’d step away.
Because, as much as I wanted to cliff jump, I was terrified. When I was little, my mom had cliff jumped in that spot, and hours later, she was struggling to walk, the bruises on her back as dark blue as the lake she had jumped in. When she jumped, she had landed on her back, and on top of some sticks. As I watched her—my strong, resilient mom—experience more pain than I’d ever seen her in, I was horrified. As much as I wanted to cliff jump, I decided that if it caused that much pain, it wasn’t worth it.
For years, that’s exactly how I felt about marriage. As I grew up, my dad was a professional photographer, so I tagged along with him to countless weddings. I’d watch the bride walk down the aisle, smiling and confident, and my heart longed to be married someday.
But as soon as the wedding march faded, fear set in.
I’d remember the night my mom sat across from me at our wooden kitchen table, telling me about how her first marriage, when she was 18 years old, ended in divorce. Her mascara smeared as tears rolled down her face, and she tilted her blue eyes up towards the kitchen window. Before that moment, I had never seen my mom in that much emotional pain.
After that night, every time a guy I was dating began talking about the future and possible marriage, I’d picture my mom crying in pain, and I’d end the relationship. As much as I wanted to get married, I decided that if it caused that much pain, it wasn’t worth it.
Here’s the thing: As millennials, we blame financial security and other factors for why we’re prolonging singleness. But deep in our hearts, we are simply scared. Terrified out of our wits.
For every happy marriage we’ve seen, we’ve seen a marriage that caused unexplainable pain. We were raised by a generation who mostly entered marriage without realistic expectations. So, with the very best intentions, they made sure we knew how difficult marriage can be. But the enemy, as he does, twisted “difficult” and turned it into “terrifying.”
We started noticing the painful marriages around us, and pain in marriage began to seem inevitable and unavoidable — something that just “happens.” So, we go about our life, pursuing things we can control (like our careers, our savings accounts, our Starbucks orders, and our Instagram esthetics.) We do want to be married, but we also want a painless marriage, so we’re stuck in limbo and wondering if marriage will “happen.”
That was my theory, too.
But then … I met this guy.
A tall, blonde, handsome paramedic, with a dimple on his left cheek when he smiled. From our very first date, I knew something was different in a good way. And although my instincts told me to run, as I had done in the past, I felt God’s gentle whisper, Stay. But I wasn’t sure yet.
One day, Cody was at the lake with me and my family. We all piled in my grandpa’s boat and sailed past the “Hole in the Rock.” As we passed, I pointed out the cliff jumping spot to Cody. “I’ve always wanted to jump off of that,” I admitted. Cody looked at the cliff.
“How about we jump now?” He asked casually. I laughed. It was early May in Missouri, and the water and wind were frigid. But Cody didn’t laugh. He just nodded and looked me in the eyes. “I’d jump with you, if you want!” I looked at him for a second and bit my lip.
“Ok. Let’s jump.”
We strapped on life jackets, climbed out of the boat, and started up the trail to the cliff jumping spot. With each step I took, my heart pounded, and I told myself, “You don’t really have to jump. You can back out. It’s not too late.”
We reached the top of the trail and stood on the rock, looking down at the steep drop into the sparkling lake.
Adjusting my yellow life jacket, I took a step forward, wiggling my bare toes on the cool rock. Just ahead of my toes was a cliff that gave way to a huge lake, sparkling in the sun. My heart pounded in my chest. Over and over, I thought to myself, “You don’t have to do this.”
I was just about to step away from the edge, when a thought popped into my head that was so revolutionary, it gave me a surge of courage. I smiled at Cody, and we counted to three, and jumped.
When we emerged from the water, sputtering and smiling, and climbed into the boat, my dad’s mouth was slightly agape as he looked at Cody. “Wow. I can’t believe you got her to jump! I never thought she would!”
I wrapped myself in a towel and smiled, thinking about the revelation I’d just had.
I didn’t jump to impress Cody (that had never worked in the past!) I didn’t jump because I wasn’t scared (I was terrified!) I didn’t jump because I was convinced that I wouldn’t get hurt (in fact, the stinging on the back of my legs gave me a hint that I’d have some bruises of my own).
Here’s the reason I jumped—the revolutionary thought that popped into my head that gave me a surge of courage:
I wanted to.
I chose to.
So, here’s the bottom line. If you want us millennials to honor marriage and build families, here are the three things we need to know:
- Marriage is a choice. It won’t just “happen.” We are responsible for stepping to the edge, trusting God with our lives, and taking the leap—even when we’re scared.
- Bad marriages don’t just “happen.” The difference between joyful marriages and painful marriages is simply the choices each spouse makes. We can’t control how our spouse will act, but we can choose to be loving and put God first in our own life. That is our choice.
- Never making a decision to get married won’t guard us from making mistakes or having regrets. Single or married, we can’t escape being human! We need to know the same thing my mom told me, at the end of our wooden-table discussion about her first marriage.
That night, she wiped her running mascara, looked at me, and smiled.
“Kathryn, that divorce is a choice I’m not proud of. But, because of that, I married your dad. And then I got you,” Mom looked at me deep in the eyes, pronouncing her words slowly as if she was writing them across the whiteboard of my brain. “Never think your choices—even your bad choices—are beyond God’s redemption through Jesus. Nothing is.”
I’ll never forget what she said that night—and that is why I’m a statistical anomaly.