Married in Managua @ age 16

I was in Nicaragua all week, where apparently the women (? girls?) get married around age 15-20. Our tour guide’s sister was married at 16. For the first time. She’s been married and divorced a total of 3 times, and can’t be more than mid-40s, so for sure there’s the possibility of even more happy nuptials yet to come.

Anyway. I was just thinking about that social structure, and wondering what in the world would have happened to me if I’d been living in it. Basically I would have married the neighborhood drifter/hoodlum who I had a crush on in 10th grade, and had an interesting teenage life as the wife of a sometime drug addict and petty criminal turned automechanic.

Or maybe I would have married the hippie guy I dated at age 17, and within a couple of years my role as the responsible half of the duo would have been cemented: even then, I brought home a meagre but steady wage as he, 9 years my senior, casually bumbled around the junior college system.

Or, possibly, I would have married my first love, who I’m still in contact with to this day, and still adore and find attractive, even at the same time as his hair-trigger emotions and unwillingness to concede a point continue to drive me insane. Yeh. That’s the most likely option. We’d have great sex and vitriolic fights; I’d be the breadwinner and he’d feel bad about it; and he’d always wonder what life would be life if he’d just held out for a 5’10 brunette. (Now he doesn’t need to wonder, because he’s had about 20 of them that I know of.)

Indeed things would have been very different, and I can’t imagine they’d have been better. As I’ve progressed thru my 20s into my 30s, the range of possibilities has continued to expand, and the experiences have become more colorful, and I’ve become increasingly less willing to sacrifice a bit of it. This week being a perfect example.

It’s hard enough to have rules and restrictions at home–but having them when you’re in a foreign country, on a different schedule, with almost no telecommunications access? How could I deal with the 11PM phone call: “Yes honey, I’m back in the hotel room, no, I’m not going out again….no, I’m not having fun without you.” How could I report my every move back to the person waiting for me at home? (And don’t tell me it’s not like that. It is. Every time. I have enough married/engaged friends to know.)

When my colleagues said they were “going out, but just for a few minutes,” on the last nite, I would have taken the early car home & been snug in bed at my business-class hotel by 11PM, just like the 50 year old artist/eco-journalist from upstate New York and the other lady who came down with terrible food poisoning.

Instead, I wound up bumping into a group of youngster Americanos from Southern Cal, no less, and one of them wound up being pretty damn adorable–so much so that I forgave him for being not only career military but also very stern and that wee bit bossy…and we ended up talking, laughing, dancing till 4AM, while Nicaraguan teenagers shamelessly took advantage of my distraction and stole one after the other of my 25 cent beers. Then the car came, and all my friends and fellow adventurers were waiting for me, and the plane flight was only 10 hours away…so I left. I think I may have heard his email address through the noise and smoke, but I really don’t know for sure.

It was such fun–but still, basically an opportunity only barely explored, and as such, pretty bittersweet.

The husband-hunting teen queen contingent in Managua–you see them at bars and restaurants, dressed up, drinking, smoking cigarettes, feeling very grownup & looking like pipsqueaks–would never let an opportunity like that go to waste. They’d stay with the blonde Americano and do whatever seemed most likely to spur a marriage proposal. (Even if they didn’t speak a word of the same language, and therefore could never get the jokes.) To me this seems insane…and my lifestyle no doubt seems insane to them. I think maybe we’re both a little bit right. The question is, where’s the happy midpoint, and when you’ve gotten to it, how do you know?

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