Twentysomethings: To Marry or Not

My mother married at 19 and I married at 23. Compared with many of my peers, I was fairly young. If you look at today’s twentysomethings, I was very young! What is the ideal age to get married? As we watch the age of marriage rise, there are mixed feelings about the results. As I’ve been reading about 20somethings, delayed marriage could be more evidence of folks failing to take seriously their young adulthood as an important time to establish themselves towards the lives they intend to have in the future.

This lack of intentionality can lead people into presumably casual relationships or hook ups that just don’t end. A type of inertia grows that can some couples into long-term relationships with people they never intended to marry. “Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples often bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.” (p. 92) The lack of intention and deliberate choosing of a partner can lead people to prolonged, lackluster relationships that slide into unsuccessful marriages.

Meg Jay suggests that sliding, not deciding (p. 92) leads many people to decide to marry their romantic partners when they reach about 30 because they realize that they really do want to be married in their 30’s and the “switching costs” feel so high that they cannot stomach the idea of breaking up. So, rather than choosing their spouse out of a sense of confidence and joy, they slide into marriage because they have spent so much time with someone they are not sure about that they feel they need to start on marriage or risk getting started far later than they ever intended. The mistakes feel clearer in hindsight as divorcing couples realize that they were not taking their dating choices seriously in their twenties out of a false sense of having all the time in the world.

All of this is interesting to ponder in light of the values that we honor in our society and media today. Romanticizing singleness in young adulthood may be a way that we are duping ourselves into foolishness. “A study that tracked men and women from their early twenties to their later twenties found that of those who remained single—who dated or hooked up but avoided commitments—80% were dissatisfied with their dating lives and only 10% didn’t wish they had a partner. Being chronically uncoupled may be especially detrimental to men, as those who remained single throughout their twenties experienced a significant dip in their self-esteem near thirty.” (p. 172)

Interesting, isn’t it? What should the implications be? There is something to be said for motivation to marry and I think we would all benefit from talking about it.

The quotes are from Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade. I recommend her book and her Ted Talk on twentysomethings.

5 comments


  • Mike

    Interesting post. I think there are multiple variables at play in this shift in age and marriage other then inertia. Men and in a much larger part, women are putting off marriage in their early 20’s in favor of pursuing careers and graduate education. I also think there is a shift in attitude about commitment and marriage (one not necessarily leading to the other). No doubt some are sliding but for a long time I have been skeptical that marriage is a sufficient measure of commitment let alone evidence of failing to establish oneself.

    May 30, 2013
    • rob zeigler

      I tend to agree Mike. Getting married isn’t a measure of commitment anymore than having a child is a measure of committed parenting. Commitment is something demonstrated over time and challenge.

      It seems there is a growing tide which questions the very need for marriage at all. Absent government benefits like tax deductions, legal rights and such, what is the value of marriage for a secular world? If the “commitment” one makes in the ceremony can be broken with little fanfare and if real commitment is measured through some kind of fidelity, why marry at all? As we move further along the secular road, I am expecting there to be less and less civil support for the institution.

      May 30, 2013
  • John Thiel

    I am impressed by the decision recently made by two of my fellow 20-something friends. They are dating and had been living together for about a year when they realized they had just sort of slid into this and hadn’t really thought about what they wanted for their relationship. So they are both moving out to new apartments and looking forward to having to make an effort to be with each other, hoping that this will make their relationship more meaningful.

    May 30, 2013
    • Janice

      Wow! Thanks for sharing that anecdote. It’s encouraging to hear that they stopped and recognized the slide. Very cool and hope the best for them!

      May 30, 2013
    • Janie

      Very interesting and thought provoking story about the young couple. Their process speaks to me, both in terms of Janice’s overall theme and the issues you have all named in terms of what young adults face. My take away is that intentionality is the key–key in terms of meaningful relationships, meaningful work, and central to the development of a stronger sense of identity (a big part of young adulthood.) Kudos to them for taking the risk!

      May 30, 2013

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