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 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