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.