When should humans marry?
No, I’m serious about this. I have no clue. As yesterday’s post pointed out 23 is too early to marry – apparently – in mainstream eyes. At the same time, there has been some Duck Dynasty kerfuffle (Honestly, till the first kerfuffle I thought Duck Dynasty was an AUSTRALIAN show about a family named Duck. No, don’t ask.) because the main guy said you should marry a woman in her teens. Whatevs. His age seems to be like two years older than his wife, so the question is not “should a middle aged man marry a young woman?” but “Should high school sweet heart’s marry.”
I got married at 22. By that time I was considered an old maid by my society’s reckoning. The one woman who got married just before me was the last but one of my elementary class to get married (also, my best friend at the time.) The one who remained unmarried after me is still unmarried. So, I was at the very tail end of “those who meant to marry.”
Now, I grew up in a rural village, and therefore marrying early was the norm. Most of my classmates quit school in fourth grade (yes, it was illegal, as was working at that age, but it was easy to get a certificate saying your daughter was mentally retarded and should be taught a trade. Which is what happens when third world countries pass laws against child labor) and worked in the textile factory for their “dowry” (and some for help to their parents.)
By eighteen most of these women had been working for eight years, and had money saved for furnishing their first home. Their husbands, too, were young men who worked in the same factory for the same time, or who had just finished apprenticeships in the trades, or who worked the family farm.
Getting married early meant another pair of hands to work and bring money home before the children, and meant more children, who in turn would work and turn at least some of the money to the parents for part of the time.
It was different in the “Class” I belonged to. My brother and sister in law got married at 26. In fact, in my college class only one woman was married, though several had long-term boyfriends.
But I was raised by a mother who got married at seventeen and who insisted that if you got married much past 25 you were “set in your ways” and couldn’t “accommodate” to each other the way young lovers could. I don’t know. A couple of my friends got married in their thirties or older and did/do fine. It’s highly unlikely my older son at least will marry until his thirties, at least if he manages to get into the career path he hopes for. There won’t be emotional room in his life till then. And I hope he marries and is happy.
Median age of marriage has varied, too, as well as the gap between partners. In regency England – something wildly fudged in contemporary romances – it was quite normal for middle aged men to marry seventeen year old girls. For the conditions of the time, this made perfect sense. A more financially/career secure man gave better protection, and a very young woman had more children, which in an age when survival to adulthood was iffy gave more chances at progeny.
Also, to be blunt, neither the high nor the low classes expected EMOTIONAL much less intellectual companionship out of marriage. They weren’t looking for someone to complete them. They were looking for someone who brought something to a rather prosaic partnership and if they could rub along tolerably well, so much the better. (This is of course, generalized from writings of the time. I do not doubt some people had wild love-matches.)
At other times and in other places, marriage partners were expected to be roughly the same age and marriage ages have ranged from the early teens to the mid twenties. Usually not much further than that, because absent modern medicine the chance of children past that was minimal. And the chance of living much past sixty about the same.
So, why would 23 – or any other age above legal age of consent be “too young” for marriage? Is there an age that’s too old?
Look, there have been very few studies done on the subject of marriage. They tend to be conducted in skivvy ways too, to prove the researcher’s pre-conception. There’s a reason we call them “soft” sciences.
The few that have been done often yield odd results – like the idea that arranged marriages do not result in more or less happiness than marriages “for love.”
I think the high degree of divorce we’re experiencing (nowhere near 50% but high enough) comes from the fact that none of us knows what to think marriage is for, anymore. It used to be fairly clear it was for “a helpmate” and “the procreation of children.” But female liberation and the pill have made those not immediate certainties. Artificial reproduction, which is just around the corner, will only make it more so. So instead people are trying to make marriage about “love” – a fleeting emotion, unless it’s viewed as a life-long growth process – or “self actualization” or “happiness.” None of those are possible of a metric, and a lot of people give up.
I can only report on my own case. For me marriage was for the formation of a family; for having kids (at which I’ve had underwhelming success, but hey, I have two) and to have a man I could respect and trust and with whom I wouldn’t need to play games.
Under those objectives, I was wildly successful. Did we make stupid mistakes because we were really young when we got married? Sure we did. But we also did grow together. To be honest, I’m not sure, given the different cultures, how this would have worked had we been ten years older.
And love? Oh, love too, judged as a long-growing emotion. We have our peaks (shush you) but most of the time it’s sort of a low-grade, simmering happiness. In fact, we’re both agreed if we could have it differently, we’d have got married at 18, because then maybe we’d have a few more kids.
For us, for various reasons and because both of us needed to find a path together (again for various reasons, mostly because we were odds and therefore scarred) an early marriage worked. I have several friends who I would not have advised to marry before thirty. Some of them did anyway, and some of those marriages turned out all right, to my shock.
So, would I condemn someone for saying high school sweethearts should marry? Well, no. For some people it’s the right thing. I wouldn’t make it a universal rule. That would be stupid. But I would say some high school kids are ready to marry. Others aren’t. Projected career paths, number of kids wanted, support by in-laws and various other factors would have to be taken into consideration before saying whether it’s a bad or a good idea.
Would I condemn someone for only marrying in their forties – again no. Some people – particularly odds – simply don’t find the right person till then. And you shouldn’t marry Mr. Right now just because you haven’t found Mr. Right. (Or Ms.)
Some things I have observed though – some people never fully grow up until they’re married. This is – forgive me – more true of men than women. I think it’s because men’s social function is predicated on “loving and protecting” and until they have that someone to love and protect, they’re not “whole” as adults in our society. Not all men. I have bachelor friends who are obviously grown ups. But some men – perhaps a majority of men – seem to need a unit within which to be an adult.
If the man in question is one of those, waiting for him to grow up outside of marriage/before marriage it simply won’t happen. He’ll only grow up if he takes responsibility for someone else.
And the same is true of some women. Some women will just run around being self-centered until they have someone to care for and look after. If you’re waiting for them to grow up so you can marry them it won’t happen.
Again, I can only judge from my case. Maybe I got immensely lucky
What do you think? Is there a “right” time to get married or does it depend on the person? Is marrying young a bad/good thing? Is raising expectations of happiness in marriage good or bad?
Likely none of us will fit any of the categories. Being Odds, we move in Odd ways – but as an intellectual exercise… Is our repulsion of the mismatched ages of Regency couples a manifestation of sanity? Or something our descendants will find very odd?