Are You Wasting Your 20s in the Military?


Out there in the civilian world, people are kickin’ back in their 20s. We military spouses get the message that we jumped into life too soon. We wasted our 20s. We should have partied more. Backpacked around Nepal. Hooked up with 110 different strangers instead of settling down with that one military member. After all, 30 is the new 20, right?

Not so fast. In her new book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How To Make The Most Of Them Now, clinical psychologist Meg Jay says that your 20s are the most important time of your life. They are the time in which what you do determines who you will become.

I wondered what Jay would say about those of us who married young military members and how that choice affected our lives. Here is what she had to say in a recent phone interview:

SB: Why are your 20s such an important part of your life?

Meg Jay: We know that your 20s are a critical period of adult development. Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments occur before age 35. Two thirds of wage growth occurs in the first ten years of your career. Your personality changes more in your 20s than at any other time of your life. Your fertility peaks at age 28. Even your brain caps off last part of its growth in your 20s. At this stage of your life, what you do day in day out is going to have far reaching impact.

SB: In your book, you say that Twentysomethings need to get two things in order—work and love. We spouses tend to have the love thing in order. We met someone great. Dated ‘em. Married ‘em. Moved to their duty station. Shouldn’t we get a little credit for having the love thing nailed down?

Meg Jay: I absolutely think you should. Our culture has Twentysomethings second- guessing themselves. They get in a good relationship and think, This can’t be it, I am only 22. Not every 22 year-old is ready for marriage, but many of them are. Doing something later is not the same as doing something better

SB: Is there a particular kind of person who chooses marriage first?

Meg Jay: Some people who marry younger may be more traditional, so they know marriage is a priority for them. They are ready to get going on it and take it seriously from the beginning. Smart, intentional people who choose to marry young are saying that this is my top priority. This is the foundation on which everything else will be built.

In other words, once you know what you want, why would you wait? Which is exactly was thinking when I married my sailor at age 21. In her book, Meg Jay has a passage that I think strongly applies to military life.  “An adult life is built not out of eating, praying and loving but out of person, place and thing: who we are with, where we live, and what we do for a living. We start our lives with whichever of these we know something about.”

Like so many military spouses, I knew I wanted a life with this one particular guy and that he wanted a life with me. And that certainly defined a decade...and more.

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