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The Marriage Divide
Was I too young to get married or too old? Depends on whom you ask

By Monica Hesse
Sunday, September 6, 2009

The two responses I received last year when, at 26, I announced I had gotten engaged:

a) Oh, God, finally!

b) Oh, God, already?

Followed by:

a) Have you chosen your canape platter yet?

b) Is this because of a tax break or something?

And then possibly by:

a) Where are you registered?

b) Wait, are you sure you haven't been drinking?

Whether my friends answered a's or b's depended entirely on which time zone -- which side of the International Wedding Date Line -- they lived in. The IWDL is a complex concept that can be explained only by me (because I just made it up), but it comes down to this: On the East Coast where I live now, at least among most of my friends, getting married is something you do after college, after grad school, after your 30th birthday, after your second solo climb of Mount Everest, after you successfully balance your checkbook for 16 months straight, after, after, after. In other words, getting married at 26 is pretty much like getting married as a fetus.

In the Midwest, at least in the rural Illinois town where I grew up, getting married is something that you do before you begin to think of buying property, before your single-person routines make you stubborn and inflexible, before your metabolism slows enough that a white wedding dress would make you look like a rhinoceros. Optimal marriage age: 20 to 23. Getting married at 26 is like filing your tax returns on April 16.

So the Midwest friends were supportive, as if they were welcoming me into their club, while the D.C., Philadelphia and Boston friends were just dubious, as if the club I wanted to join was for insane people. When I broke the news to my New York buddy Jo, I sheepishly tried to hide it in casual conversation: " 'Real Housewives' was beyond ridiculous; Simon's pants are horri -- I'm-getting-married-do-you-want-to-be-a-bridesmaid -- fying, and did you see Alex's hair?" Then I called my Illinois friend Jeanne and went, "Eeeeeeeeeeee!"

Neither of my deliveries felt completely honest, probably because I still wasn't sure how I felt about it. I was like the answer to a riddle.

Q: Who is both too old and too young to be married?

A: Someone who doesn't know where her home is.

As melodramatic as it sounds, all of this kind of felt like admitting some sort of geographical allegiance: East Coast friends? Fooled you! It might seem like I belong out here, but in private I'm talking like a "Fargo" extra and making a wide variety of Campbell's soup casseroles.

In the end it didn't matter. You can't choose the age you are when you meet the person you want to spend your life with; my husband and I ended up getting married last September. My Midwestern friends waited until after the ceremony to ask when we'd be having kids, and my East Coast friends danced until 3, carried all the good booze back to their rooms for a continued after-party, then fell asleep in their clothes.

But it turns out that getting married still left me in a state of between-ness. While I was busy planning a wedding, some of my friends in Illinois had been busy having kids. I would log on to Facebook and see status updates that read something like: "is making cupcakes for her son's preschool class. No peanuts!" From the friends of the East, it was more like: "is thinking cupcakes and tequila are a good 4 a.m. snack." No one seemed to be doing what I was doing: "is going to Ikea, then watching three 'Wire' DVDs in a row, then considering the big step of getting a plant."

In the past few months, though, I've been feeling better about my placement. It's nice to have friends who can offer advice in matters marital and domestic, even if that friend is my new sister-in-law, who married my brother at 23 and already owns way more cutting boards than I do.

Recently, one of my most vehemently single friends phoned to tell me that she'd met someone. The romantic pearls of semi-wisdom that I'd saved up during the three years that I was dating my husband and she was occasionally hooking up with a yoga instructor were suddenly, actually, useful.

I'm still the first married friend. And the last married friend. My own time zone on the IWDL.

Which now feels:

a) Weird.

b) Kinda neat.

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