It’s flashy, it’s exciting, it’s the combination of two of the most momentous days of your life.
But is proposing at your OCS graduation also a decision you will regret?
Ryan and Jenny
Ryan and Jenny first met in biology class in their suburban Georgia high school. Their personal chemistry was evident nearly immediately. Jenny started coming to Ryan’s baseball games with her girlfriends, while he would tell his buddies in the dugout about his big plans for their future together. After nine months of dating, Ryan followed the call he felt to serve in the military.
At the age of 18, he reported to Air Force Basic Military Training, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. At graduation, with his whole family and closest friends there to witness, the new Airman proposed. Ryan and Jenny were married within ninety days and began a whole new life together.
The happy newlyweds didn’t mind postponing their honeymoon for Ryan’s specialty training. Although Jenny had some trouble finding work as he moved around during the first year in the Air Force, they found the military community strong, and enjoyed exploring new locations as they built a life together.
In today’s military, getting married young is not uncommon. On average, military couples get married a full four years younger than their civilian counterparts.
Why are boot camp (and other early) proposals so common? On one hand, it makes perfect sense.
Young, new military members have achieved many of the other signs of adulthood early: a steady paycheck, moving out, training in a profession, owning a vehicle, and making significant decisions for their own lives. It would follow that marriages and kids would follow the accelerated timeline.
Tens of thousands of successful, long-term military marriages started young.
Andi Edwards and her husband married at age 19 and they have been married 13 years. “Our biggest tips have always been: Ignore the people who say it can’t be done (because it CAN!!!). Focus on being your best selves and treating each other as you want to be treated. Faith is our family’s focus and that has carried us through tough times, too.” spousebuzz
Unfortunately, as your seasoned basic training staff will tell you: just because it feels right doesn’t mean you won’t regret it.
The bigger the life decision, the less you should rush into it
Ryan and Jenny’s life together became progressively more difficult, as more moves made building careers and deep friendships increasingly difficult for Jenny. Ryan was absent more frequently due to his travel. After his first deployment to Kandahar, he came home a changed man. Distant from Jenny and drinking more, their relationship was already on the rocks when his second deployment came only a year later.
Many young service members and their girlfriends/boyfriends don’t have the life experience to objectively understand their difficult future path and their relationship capacity. How many new high school graduates even have their own unique identity established, distinct from the influence of their childhood environment and parents?
Unfortunately, “young age at first marriage has been found to predict a higher rate of divorce in the military population,” and the military’s divorce rate hovers between 2-3 times higher than civilian counterparts. The higher the deployment tempo, the worse it fares. “Forty-eight percent of couples who marry before 18 are likely to divorce within 10 years. Only 24 percent of those who marry after age 25 will divorce within 10 years. That doesn’t mean half those teen marriages last forever. That means only half of them even make it to the tenth anniversary.” military.com
The chances are, do you think you’ll be an exception to the rule? Military relationships are hard–separation, training, stress, danger, and frequent moves make sacrifice a lifestyle for spouses.
Rose-colored glasses are dangerous upon entering such a difficult commitment, as Jenny and Ryan found out, although they did survive, recover, and have a strong marriage to this day.
Military marriages are tough, and boot camp is a very early time to propose. However, with unwavering commitment and an appetite for adventure, many military couples have enjoyed rewarding decades together.
Can you be one of them?
That’s for you to decide.