So if you married your sweetheart in that sweet spot: Congratulations. I wish you a lifetime of statistically probable happiness. But if you’re single, younger than 28 or older than 32, and want to marry someday: Pay little attention to that chart. Age isn’t the only thing that determines marital happiness. I imagine that marrying at the “right” time — and picking the wrong person — could also increase your chances of divorce.
You can’t plot the path of your life ahead of time, as if it were a chart waiting for you to fill in the data points — especially when those life events depend on other people. You can decide to move somewhere by a certain age, sure, or save up a certain amount of money to buy a house or a car months or years in the future. But you can’t decide ahead of time exactly when you will marry, have a child or make a certain amount of money. There are other people or factors involved: potential partners, fertility fluctuation, employers, the economy at large. I don’t have a new study here to back me up, but in my experience — not as a sociologist or economist, but as a person — trying to control all that can make you crazy.
These kinds of news stories, on top of cultural expectations that a person “should” marry and settle down by a certain age, all tell singles that don’t fit into these graphs: You’re doing it wrong. You’re doomed. But dating as if you must be married by age 32 — or whatever your self-imposed “deadline” is — can be pretty miserable and unproductive.
In my experience, deadline-dating has looked like this: First dates asking me about my five-year plan or how large a family I want. When I got these questions in my early 20s, like most recent college graduates, I barely had a five-month plan, let alone a picture of what my life might look like in my late 20s, 30s and beyond. I knew, even at that young age, that no matter how many plans you make, life has a way of blowing them up. And being on early dates that are essentially spouse interviews are fun for no one.
Hey, how about we talk about what our lives are like now before projecting into the future? Sounds like a better, and much saner, place to start.
In her recent book “The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook,” my Washington Post colleague Ellen McCarthy has written about her own panic at being 30 and unmarried. She’d wake at 3 a.m. worrying: “What if it never happens? What if I don’t find the right guy? What if it happens too late?”
“Most of all, I worried that all this incessant worrying would cloud my judgment,” McCarthy writes. “I didn’t want to marry someone I wasn’t in love with just because my eggs were creeping toward their ‘past due’ date.” So she froze some eggs and immediately relaxed: “The night terrors eased,” she writes. “Dating became (kind of) fun.”
McCarthy married the guy she was dating when she froze those eggs, and they now have two beautiful children.
I’d rather focus on her story — and those of others who haven’t found the love of their life but do love their lives — than fear-mongering data. So my takeaway for singles reading these studies is: If you want to tie the knot, the best age to get married is when you meet the right person, and both of you are eager to marry each other.