‘Too young or too old to marry’ dilemma

By on February 12, 2013

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Love is in the air and so is a lot of buzz about marriage. Studies are showing some interesting things about the value of marriage and the prevalence of divorce, but there’s a social phenomenon that hits much closer to home for many women in the “college-age” demographic: The too young/too old to get married dichotomy.

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Since I got married one month after my 21st birthday, I’ve heard it a hundred times: “You’re way too young to be married!” After a while, I began to reply with, “You’re way too old to have such bad manners.” These charming well-wishers have a variety of stock reasons why I should have waited longer, like, “You’ve gotta see what’s out there first,” “Finish your education,” or “Make sure you’re financially stable.”

I realize that I’m about to graduate and my husband’s job supports both of us. Yet many people still hold on to an idea that women who marry at my age are either settling in some way or are country bumpkins lagging behind the rest of the trailer park because we don’t have three kids by now. A much older generation seems to think that twenty-one is a perfectly acceptable age to be married—i.e. my grandmother, who was married on her 17th birthday—but most others tend to show at least mild disapproval upon noticing my wedding rings.

I’ve begrudgingly explained numerous times, “There’s No Perfect Age to Find a Husband,” to quote Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s article in The Atlantic. The majority of post-undergraduate educational programs put women at about age 25 upon completion, and some, like medical school, take them until at least 30.

If she determines to wait until her career is established to start finding a husband, as Bovy points out in The Atlantic, “The problem…is that if one is to be single throughout one’s 20s, yet married for all of one’s 30s, this leaves rather little time for meeting a boyfriend, marrying him, and having children before 35, or ‘advanced maternal age.’” Once a woman finishes school, the pressure is on to find a boyfriend and get him to put a ring on it, STAT. Even if she does not want children, there still seems to be a magical door that women walk through at thirty and emerge doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

I have no research to prove this, but I think there is a vestigial cultural tendency to unconsciously, if not vocally, deem these 30+ ladies unmarriageable. I’m certain that there are open-minded folks out there who don’t hold this view, but the unmarried, 30+ women I know overwhelmingly feel that everyone expects them to become crazy cat ladies. Some well-meaning, elderly women even gently interrogate them as to whether or not they realize their time is almost up.

So we women have a problem: Just about everyone (including Cosmopolitan magazine, of all things) tells us that we should be in the latter half of our twenties before considering marriage, but if we can’t manage to find husbands in that one-to-five year period, we’re hopelessly single for life. While I see the value of following some guidelines and not running off and getting hitched with $100 in the bank, my default response to too old or too young remarks is, “It’s none of your business.”

Whether someone criticizes you for being married too young or whispers behind your back because you’re 32 and single, unless they are legitimately concerned for something like your safety, it’s simply none of their business. Every situation is different, and you’re the one who will have to live with your decisions—not your overbearing aunt, the saleswoman in the mall, or the girl in line behind you at Starbucks.

Laura Ann Tipps
Staff Writer
lab0405@uab.edu

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