Not everyone should get married. There are many reasons why someone might choose to not get married. Please don’t respond to tell me this obvious fact; I haven’t overlooked it. This myTake is intended just for those who believe that they want marriage to be a part of their future.
If you have previously been married, everything in this myTake is relevant to you, but there are additional considerations for divorced people, especially if you have children. The primary additional concern is avoiding getting into a rebound marriage. That issue is beyond the scope of this myTake.
1. The most important rule!
There is no age at which you “should” get married and making sure that you have found the right partner is more important than sticking to some predetermined timetable. If you think you need to be married by age 27 and you are with a creep or skank when you are 26½ years old, the time is not right for you. Getting married simply because you are at the age where you “should” be married significantly increases the odds of a marriage ending in divorce. Marriage is great, but only if you are married to the right person. Nothing is more important than taking the time to carefully choose a partner for a successful union.
2. Are you ready emotionally?
When you are young, you need to establish independence. You rebel against your parents, you want to make your own rules, and eventually you separate from your parents so that you can have autonomy. That is how things progress for most young people. When you have finished establishing your independence, you may look around, take a survey of your life, and conclude that their must be more than simply paying your own bills and staying out until 4 AM whenever you feel like it.
However, if partying every weekend and staying out late are still an important part of your life, you are probably not ready for marriage. We are talking about a commitment in which your partner will expect you to do certain things, not do certain things, etc., and being obligated to answer to another person causes resentment in some marriages. Regardless of your age, if you are not ready to surrender some of that independence, you are not ready for marriage.
3. Are you ready financially?
When you first get married, your financial circumstances may improve, at least temporarily. Assuming that both you and your partner are gainfully employed, you now have two incomes but only one rent to pay, only one bill for electric, water, cable, internet, etc. However, for young people, marriage is usually followed by children. Having children may mean that one of you – probably the wife – will withdraw from the work force to be a full-time mother and homemaker.
Will you be prepared to live on just one salary when you reach the age at which you want to have children? Are you on a track where your income will be sufficient? Once you have children, you will probably want to purchase a home. While there are some financial benefits to home ownership, it also involves a significant outlay of cash. Will you be able to accomplish that goal or will you feel financially trapped?
You and your partner should have discussed the question of having children. Is it something you both want? If so, do you want to begin immediately or do you want to wait at least a few years. Waiting may give you a few years to improve your financial status but, depending on your age, the incessant tick of the biological clock may be a larger consideration.
4. How old should you be when you have children?
Since most marriages of young people lead to children, you should consider the age at which you want to begin your family. For most couples, there is an ideal age range for having children. First, how many children do you want to have? If you want two or more children, that means that your financial obligations will be stretched out over a longer period of time. Maybe you have the idea of retiring at age 55 and spending time on the beach in Tahiti but that won’t happen if you are 55 and your youngest child is still a junior in high school.
Second, how far apart do you want to have your children? Some people feel that a three year gap between kids is the absolute worst circumstance; the kids are far enough apart that the older one does not want to hang out with the younger one while the younger one wants to tag along whenever the older one does anything. Have kids one or two years apart and you may have two or even three kids in college at the same time; what a burden! Have kids further apart and you will be even older when the last one is finally independent.
Third, you need to be old enough to handle the responsibilities of being a parent. Getting up with a fussy baby at 1 AM and again at 3 AM and again at 4 AM can drive you crazy. Do you have the patience to handle that? Most people develop that patience as they age. Many have that patience when they are quite young but some don’t develop it until they are almost 30 and some never develop the patience necessary for raising children.
Fourth, think about the age issue from your child’s perspective. Suppose you want to wait and have your first child at age 35. You will be close to 60 by the time that child completes college. If you have more than one child, you may be close to 70 when that child finishes college. How does that comport with your plans for soaking up the sun on the beach in Tahiti? More importantly, how will your child feel about having a parent who is so much older that their friends’ parents? As kids get older and get rebellious, they sometimes act embarrassed about being around their parents; how do you think that works when mom is 68 and dad is 71? Or even worse, what if you don’t live that long and your child is only 17 when they suddenly don’t have a mother? Of course you don't want to consider the prospect that you will ever die but, if you are considering having children, you need to have the maturity to contemplate such somber topics.
So, for example, if you want three children spaced 2 years apart, you want to be finished with your primary financial obligations to your children by age 55, and you want to be married for at least 2 years before you have children, then you should be married by age 24 (first child at 26, third child at age 30, third child reaches age 25 when you are 55 years old.) Aren't these numbers scary? Being finished at age 55 is probably unrealistic and learning to live with all of these considerations requires some ability to compromise.
5. Are you subject to any cultural or family expectations about marriage?
I am not suggesting that you should be a slave to any cultural custom about being married by age 21, or to your parents’ non-stop harangue about getting married and giving them some grandchildren. However, these are forces that you can’t make disappear unless you move away from your culture or abandon your parents, and those are not realistic scenarios for many couples. So, at the very least, consider the pressures that you have from your environment about marriage.
6. Are all of your friends getting married?
This certainly increases the pressure from within. “All my friends are getting married and I’m not even dating exclusively right now. What’s wrong with me?” That type of self-talk is not unusual but it’s not a great reason to tell yourself that you need to be married within the next 2 years. If you adopt that mindset, you may settle for a partner who is clearly not a good match for you.
7. “This has a good chance for success, but if it doesn’t work out ...”
If you are telling yourself this is probably the right person but you also have an exit strategy developed, either you are not ready for a commitment or you have not found the right partner. When you are ready for marriage, you won’t be thinking about where you will live after the divorce. That may sound overly-simplistic but having an exit strategy in place means you probably are not 100% committed to the idea of being married. The divorce rate is not high because marriage is a failed institution; the divorce rate is high because too many people get married without being prepared to give it the time and energy which it requires.
While you have the chance, talk to your grandparents about how difficult marriage can be, how much effort it takes, how much compromise is required. My grandmother frequently said, “Marriage is the toughest job you will ever have.” Grandma was right. If you are not ready to devote yourself to a tough job, don’t get married. However old you are, that’s not the right age for you.
I hope this helps you to see some of the difficult questions which need to be answered before you can decide at what age you should get married. All of the questions should be discussed with your partner and you should have a mutual understanding of all the considerations before making the most important decision of your life.