A Perfect Age for Marriage?

Let’s start advising people to marry if they feel they’ve met the right person, not because they’ve come up against their 30th birthday.

 

I read with great interest this piece in the Atlantic by Pheoby Maltz Bovy: There’s No Perfect Age to Find a Husband. The article’s point is essentially stated in the title. Of course, I concur, as I’ve written on similar topics before.

While I agree strongly with the piece, it also saddens me, not because of anything written in it, but because Maltz Bovy’s article is obviously necessary. Yes, America needs a magazine like the Atlantic and a writer like Pheoby Maltz Bovy—she’s a graduate student at work on a dissertation regarding Jews and inter-marriage in 19th century France—to tell women there’s no perfect age to find a husband. To hammer the anvil a bit louder: someone studying the 19th century needs to help us in 2013. If we don’t believe this, we’re not paying attention.

I know a guy who’s ready for a wife; he’ll actually be at this reception later. He drives a Volvo. Not the best, I know, but better than nothing 

I was inspired to try imagining the perspective of a young woman—her name was Julie and she was single—who felt the marriage clock was ticking. She was 25, perhaps 30. Several of her friends had married, the weddings extravagant. Julie was a bridesmaid at one or two but attended several others as a regular guest. At one she sat at the table furthest from the bride, a surprise to her; Julie had thought she and the bride were better friends. I wondered, as I imagined her wandering through the reception, among older relatives, crusty aunts and sports fan uncles, how many times she’d hear this loaded question: “So, when’s your wedding?”

♦◊♦

Men get this question only rarely, if at all. We might get, “Are you thinking of getting married?” Other times it’s, “Can you see yourself doing it?” The few times I was asked, by guys my own age or women from my mother’s clique of friends, it seemed a sincere inquiry. When I was in college, I had discussed the question with seriousness following lectures about The Awakening and The Yellow Wallpaper, and I also witnessed embarrassing conversations (Man, this is it, drink up, the last day of your life, no way I’ll ever do this, ugh!) at bachelor parties. But no one had ever asked for the date of my wedding, at a reception or otherwise, and certainly not when I wasn’t seeing anyone.

This has got to be awful. Especially when, if some of the comments under marriage articles here at the GMP are any indication, the alternative refrain seems to be Marriage sucks. Welcome to the mindfuck, ladies. Marriage sucks but when’s your wedding? For the love of it, you’re almost 30! What, you’re already 31?! The next boyfriend—you’ll get him to propose. I’ll show you how. I have this book and this series of DVDs, and I’ve clipped so many articles for you from a mag. I also know a guy who’s ready for a wife; he’ll actually be at this reception later. He drives a Volvo. Not the best, I know, but better than nothing.

In an environment like that, a girl like Julie might just marry to fend off the pressure, announce herself as regular and normal, please the crusty aunts and cut off their questions. Julie doesn’t know what questions lurk next: Are you pregnant yet? When are you going to invite us to a barbecue at your huge house packed with junk you can’t afford? Are you going to Paris for your first anniversary? The bullshit will continue until she hears, You know, at your age, you really should be thinking about securing a marble tomb at the mausoleum.

No! No, crusty aunt and pot-bellied uncle, hysterical mom and romantic myth: Julie does not need to be thinking about anything you have plotted for her. She will not be any less of a person if she is married this decade or the next, just as Volvo Boy will not change in any intrinsic way if he over-extends to buy a Benz. His car payment will rise, and he’ll be under more stress, driving among people who mostly ignore the car. The only reason he bought it was to shut you up. But you won’t, will you? You’ll find something else to pressure him about.

We’ve got to leave the kids alone. Young Americans exist in a world of enormous uncertainty, ridiculous pressures built into the basics of life: school is expensive; no one really knows what’s going to happen with healthcare; wealth is being driven to the top of the hill; the job market is a bad thing; the environment is a disaster. When elders pass these problems over to the kids, the least they can do is give them some space to work out questions of romance and courtship on their own terms. Yes, it’s wise to put marriage off, if you’re interested in it, until you’ve got some stability—if that’s good advice, it ends there. There’s no magic age for marriage, no magic amount of cash or yearly salary that announces someone’s readiness for the justice of the peace. Teaching anyone, a woman or man, that they’re incomplete if unmarried is identical to screaming Marriage sucks from the hilltop. It’s not a lesson of wisdom but an expression of inadequacy and self-consciousness.

Photo by bravenewtraveler

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About Gint Aras

Gint Aras has two decades of experience teaching, over ten of them in a Chicago-area community college. He writes a weekly column, True Community, about young men and education. His writing has appeared in St. Petersburg Review (forthcoming, 2014), Antique Children, Criminal Class Review, Curbside Splendor, Dialogo, Šiaurės Atėnai and other publications. He's a photographer and the author of the cult novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar. Check out his website, Liquid Ink. Follow Gint on Twitter @Gint_Aras and "like" him on Facebook.

Comments

  1. PolymathChic says:

    Thank you! Speaking as someone who married very early for all the wrong reasons and am now dealing with the myriad consequences, the only right time to get married is when it feels right to you.

  2. Great wrap-up:

    “Teaching anyone, a woman or man, that they’re incomplete if unmarried is identical to screaming Marriage sucks from the hilltop. It’s not a lesson of wisdom but an expression of inadequacy and self-consciousness.”

    Being someone who is approaching 30 in less than a month’s time, I concur with both your conclusion and the sense of societal pressure to “be complete” by virtue of marriage. I don’t disagree with the practice, I just agree with what you are saying here. Cheers!

  3. This is so true and so beautifully stated. A marriage-and a happy marriage at that-can occur at any age. The couple could have been together 2 months or 12 years before tying the knot but if there is respect, love, support, and friendship, it will go far. To love, to life, to marriage! (P.S. check out this article I wrote about interracial marriage and how it was illegal in the United States until 1968-You Gotta Fight for you Right to Marry: http://sookton.com/2011/06/13/you-gotta-fight-for-your-right-to-marry/

  4. I guess it could be:
    22-25 for women
    25-30 for men

  5. I agree with the sentiment of this article. It makes sense. Marrying the wrong person for the sake of being married can cause problems that will take you years to recover from. The one thing that works against women is biology. If women who desire to have biological children and raise them with a husband (not a boyfriend or some guy you were intimate with) could delay childbearing, it would remove a lot of pressure to marry to early in life. Infertility is real. I know several people who married later, but want children & they are dealing with struggling to conceive & spending lots of money to make that happen IF it happens. I also know of a couple who have an autistic son they believe may be due to their ages at conception. If raising children is not important to you, or if you are a man (they seem to have a longer fertility window) then the luxury of waiting for that person that rings all of your bells is yours.

    • Just curious, Beautifully. Would you advise a woman who wants children but perceives herself as approaching the age of infirtility—let’s say she’s almost 40, just for the sake of argument—to marry someone?

      • I think women should separate childbearing from marriage, especially if they took the time to get educated and build a career. There’s no need to find a husband to do that, just a willing man. If that fails, there are sperm banks too.

        What’s important is that under no circumstance should a woman put pressure on a man to procreate. I’m still a die-hard romantic in this regard, and I feel that a man should be doubly more willing to have children than to get married. I couldn’t care less if a man wanted to marry me or not, but I certainly want to hear that he’s chosen me to be the mother of his children.

        • I agree with @Olive on this one, but with caveats.

          Separating out childbearing from marriage is what an intelligent woman will do – I believe – certainly a woman who is considering becoming a “choice mom” rather than one making the terrible decision of whether or not to continue an unplanned pregnancy.

          I was, at one time, a single 32-year old woman wondering exactly that. At the time, I made a decent living, but there was no man in the picture. I knew I had a few more “good years” ahead, and frankly, I wasn’t particularly interested in marriage – unlike most of my friends. Motherhood, to me, was also something I hadn’t set my sites on in the way most women do.

          Still, at that age, I felt compelled to consider my options, and concluded that raising a child alone – with all the unknowns and no family support system – (note, I say raising a child, not giving birth to one) – that was a 20-year undertaking I couldn’t imagine, and I wanted any child I had to know two parents if possible, and not one.

          It’s ironic that just a few years later I was in fact raising two children on my own… precisely what I hadn’t wanted…

          And having lived through the experience of slugging out parenting day in and day out, while trying to pay the bills and raise decent young men in a chaotic world, I will return to that caveat I mention to Olive.

          Pregnancy, babies, even toddlers are one thing. Raising a child? It really does take that village, and in my opinion, as many good, strong role models as possible to do it right. Theoretically, there is stability and greater likelihood of that in marriage. But that’s theoretically – or – looking at the glass half full, that’s the case for 50 to 60% of the population (making some assumptions).

          Separating children from marriage? Sure, we do it, and perhaps we must.

          Forcing women to feel inferior if they do not marry (or remarry)? It pushes some into marriages that are disastrous, with lifelong consequences.

        • “I think women should separate childbearing from marriage, especially if they took the time to get educated and build a career. There’s no need to find a husband to do that, just a willing man. If that fails, there are sperm banks too.”

          WOW, you just put in a plug for women to have kids without their having a dad. I’d also like to point out that what you said here is that the women made a choice for education and career. It’s a choice and if that choice means she blew her chances of having kids, then so be it.

          I agree that having kids is not a reason for marriage but I also believe that all kids deserve a mom and a dad and in the best case situation, a married mom and dad.

          Where did the idea that we deserve and should have everything we want in life. Wanting kids is not a reason alone to have kids. Children are living breathing human beings that deserve the best.

          My wife and I wanted kids really bad and tried for 8 years. We gave up and started state adoption and bingo bongo, she was pregnant. Never did we feel entitled simply because we wanted kids. Things happen in life and sometimes we don’t get what we want.

          @Polymath who said “Speaking as someone who married very early for all the wrong reasons and am now dealing with the myriad consequences, the only right time to get married is when it feels right to you.” Speaking from someone who was married very early (20 years of age),did so for all the right reasons and as of last month, have been married for 39 years. The key is “the right reason … it makes all the difference.

      • Gint,
        Not at all & for the obvious reasons stated in the article. I just want to acknowledge that the maternal desire in women is real & challenging & puts us at a serious disadvantage on this issue. It is difficult to separate childbearing and marriage for many women, who have NO desire to choose to be single parents, but still want to have biological children and have not yet met the person they want to marry. I am just pointing out that the man approaching 40 & the woman approaching 40 are not on equal footing. He can most likely wait for the “one” and still have the things he desires (biological children) but the woman is taking a bigger risk by have to wait.

        • Just a thought, @Beautifully Complex, while I completely understand our viewpoint – if our expectations of “The One” were less extreme, less idealized, and likewise our expectations of marriage, perhaps we as women would give full consideration to a broader range of men to love.

          I don’t mean to sidestep the issue which you raise which I agree with entirely. Rather, I want to point out that we have so romanticized Love & Marriage that it would be difficult for most men to come close… In my experience.

          That is one of the lessons I’m happy to have learned as I’ve grown older, as have a few of my women friends – how many fine “real” men there are who are capable of deep loving, and so worthy of our attention.

  6. I agree with you on this post, great one…

  7. A wonderful, thoughtful post, Gint. It’s affirming to read a man’s viewpoint, stepping into the imagined experience of a woman who is – in some cases from the time she’s a teen – constantly asked about when she will marry.

    It’s exhausting, demoralizing, potentially destructive. And as you say, we don’t put this pressure on our men, nor judge them by marital status.

  8. All wonderful points, but what we aren’t discussing is the notion of no marriage–of being single, intentionally, and happy with that life. Marriage has never been a ‘solution’ for a happy life. Yes, a good loving relationship can help complete one’s life. But, maybe we need to stop pushing the whole Marriage thing?

  9. Jennifer J. says:

    I would like to add that just as there shouldn’t be pressure to get married *by* thirty, there shouldn’t be pressure to wait *until* thirty, either. My husband and I got married in our early twenties and had our daughter at 26. We were considered odd in our group of college-educated professionals, but we felt that we’d found what we wanted. There is a stigma about getting married and having kids early, as if you can’t take your career seriously if you want to have a family while you’re still young.

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