When Millie Bobby Brown posted what appeared to be an engagement announcement to Jake Bongiovi on Instagram, it nearly broke the internet. While some commenters offered congratulations, many people couldn’t get over the fact that she is 19. In fact, “She’s 19” trended on Twitter soon after she posted the news.
I was 19 when my boyfriend of two years dropped to his knees on the beach at sunset and asked me in his nervously awkward but oh-so-endearing way if I would marry him.
I didn’t hesitate to say yes. He swept me into his arms and kissed me, relief surging through every muscle of his body. We watched what should have been the sunset over the water but the horizon had filled with stunning lightning strikes that punctuated the dark sky in the distance.
Then we headed into town to celebrate. I was too young to toast our engagement with Champagne, so we got ice cream cones at Dairy Queen. The heat and humidity of that July evening melted them and, as we strolled through the quaint seaside town, the chocolate dripped down my arms and onto my pink dress, which still hangs in my closet all these years later.
When we excitedly broke the news to our families, most of our relatives thought we were too young, too naive, and didn’t have enough of a practical life plan to get married.
They weren’t completely wrong about that last part. My recently-graduated-from-college fiancé was having trouble finding a job, and I had only just finished my sophomore year of college and was bouncing from one creative major to the next, leaving most people to question my less-than-traditional career ambitions.
My late 30s self now recognises how absurd this must have seemed to everyone around us. We had nothing figured out except that we each had found our person. There was no plan. All we knew is we wanted to start our life together by having the world legally recognise that we were on the same team.
Unlike Brown and Bongiovi, we didn’t have to face backlash from the Twitterverse or the rest of the hellscape known as social media because (1) we aren’t famous but also (2) none of that existed at the time of our engagement. Yet, we still faced so much criticism, especially from the people closest to us.
At least three different older adults sat me down and tried to talk me out of getting married ― or at the very least waiting.
People pelted us with questions like “Are you going to quit school?” and “How are you going to pay for things?” and “You’re too young to know what you want.”
The last one was my favourite because I heard it from the same people who had always told me how stubborn and single-minded I am when I do know what I want.
And I knew what I wanted.
I wanted to marry the awkward ― but awesome ― young man that I was certain loved me with his whole self.
Despite our insistence that this was right for us and that we’d figure things out as we went, most people refused to get on board with our plans, and our wedding approached with little fanfare from them. No one offered to plan a big splashy bridal shower or bachelor and bachelorette parties for us, as they’d done for other, older family members who had gotten engaged.
A cousin of mine who had gotten married a few years earlier felt bad that I was missing out on all the traditional celebratory things that she had just experienced and put together a lovely bridal luncheon for me. I hadn’t gone to her wedding and we didn’t know each other particularly well at the time since we lived several states apart and have an age gap between us, but even now I’m still touched by her kind gesture.
My then-fiancé put together a very small surprise shower in someone’s apartment. It was simple, unfussy, and totally unlike the big affairs that are so common for engaged couples. But he made me feel loved by making sure I had this experience and now I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Our wedding planning chugged forward despite all the naysaying. Since I had the good fortune to win a large sum of cash on a game show, we paid for our dream wedding with my prize money and held a casual oceanside event with 40 guests that took place just steps from where we got engaged.
One family member strode up to my soon-to-be mother-in-law on the morning of the wedding and told her that the marriage was a bad idea because I would grow tired of her son. Other than that, most of the friends and family who had warned us against getting married did end up attending. Their approach to us formalising our relationship was less celebratory and more “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” We didn’t care ― we were just thrilled we were getting married and about to officially start our lives together.
The early days of our marriage were definitely a financial struggle, but they were fairly happy days despite that. We very rarely argued and we supported each other.
We spent our first few years sleeping on an air mattress as we each tried to find a career path that suited our goals both individually and as a couple. I chased my dreams of acting and photography. My husband was a grad student getting a degree in a field he later figured out he hated.
We worked long hours and were both frustrated when we reached professional milestones only to discover that they didn’t make us any happier then we’d been or kept us from spending time together. We both changed careers.
We finally started making a little money and bought a real mattress and then, eventually, a fixer-upper on a quiet country road. The Great Recession hit us a couple of years in and we were poor again, struggling to pay our mortgage and stay afloat. We each switched careers again, trying to find something that would allow us to prioritise our vision for what we wanted our family life to be like.
After a lot of trial and error, we’ve found freelancing suits us and allows both of us to work at home and be with each other and our kids. We’ve fallen into a happy rhythm, starting the day drinking our coffee together and ending the day by putting the kids to bed together, each of us singing one bedtime song ― with lots of adventures and outings and fun in the hours in between.
Despite how happy we are ― and have been since we said “I do” all those years ago — I understand why there’s so much worry about people making a huge life decision like marriage at a young age. It’s a big risk and it doesn’t always work out. But I still believe when you know, you know ― and if any of our children choose that path, we will support them (with the caveat that the person they choose to marry treats them with the love and respect they deserve).
Even though we had no idea how our lives would work in the future, we figured it out ― together. We survived the naiveté of youth, career changes, and the devastating loss of one of our twin sons because we’ve always had each other’s backs. All of the things that have tested our relationship and could have broken us apart have only made us more sure of the strength of our marriage. I know no matter what happens in the future, as long as we have each other, we’ll be OK.
I think even though I certainly didn’t know much at 19, I did know that.
My husband was my person then, and now, almost 20 years later, he still is ― even after all the growing up and changing we’ve both done.
We’ve been happily married for 17 years and I can say without a doubt we proved the critics wrong. I know our choices aren’t for everyone, but I wouldn’t change a thing. If I could do it all over again, I would, and I wish Millie and Jake all the best.
Jenna Fletcher writes about loss, parenting, health and wellness, and food. She runs a food blog at seasonedsprinkles.com. When she’s not writing or thinking about food, Jenna likes creating things, trying to be a yogi, riding horses with her daughter and chasing her sons.