Get your single, over-35 friends on the phone, because there's good news for those bridesmaids who are never the brides.
In 1986, Newsweek magazine did a study that predicted a single, 30-year-old woman had a 20 percent chance of marrying. By age 35, her odds narrowed to 5 percent. Her prospects were even dimmer at 40.
Ten years later something happened to change all that, and it wasn't a Zales closeout sale. The 1996 census showed that a 40-year-old woman suddenly had a whopping 40.8 percent chance that she would marry! Even more to the point: By 2006, most of the women involved in the original Newsweek study were married. (Other parts of that original study were proved wrong as well.) And although there's no statistical evidence for 2010, experts think the percentage is even higher now.
Why? Newsweek cited the typical woman-is-too-busy-with-a-career-to-settle-down theory. Once a woman is fulfilled in her career, the article speculated, she makes time for marriage and a family.
Hogwash. Women who marry later might be using the career excuse as a way to save face among married friends. But we know why a woman's priority to go from computer to cupid intensifies as she ages. After a while, being single becomes a drag. Marriage is fun!
Yeah, I know the compromises and the disappointments and the mortgage payments and the dirty laundry do not make every married day a celebration. But … do you remember being single?
Sure, you got to rule your own TV remote, and any snoring in your bedroom was your own. Your money was yours to handle as you pleased. You made all the decisions.
But what about those lonely nights when everyone except you had a date? Or the times when you were suddenly awake at 2 a.m. with no one to talk to? Did you ever come home from work and long for someone to hear about your day?
When I think about returning to singledom, I feel like I do about going back to seventh grade: no, thank you. Those days were fun, but they don't hold a candle to my life right now.
And it's not just me. I've witnessed many of my friends who've gone through the same change of thought. For example, Erika, 43, is due any day now with her second baby in three years. She says she "didn't mean" to wait so long to start her family—she married at 39 and conceived her first child on her honeymoon—but she was so caught up in earning her medical degree and starting her practice that she lost track of time. Before she knew it, she was 38 and getting tired of her long-time bicoastal engagement. So she gave up her practice and moved to her fiancé's hometown. With her growing family taking precedence, she's had to give up her medical practice for now. And that's just fine with her. In fact, she says she wishes she'd done it years ago.
What? Marriage and child-rearing are more fulfilling than a career? Are women in my generation giving up their careers to return to the 1950s model, when wives stayed home to cook and clean all day, and met their husbands at the door with slippers and a cool beverage? Thankfully, no. Newsweek said the advantage of women marrying later is that they do pursue academics and careers before choosing—rather than compromising—to marry. This more egalitarian coupling results in stronger marriages too: Newsweek said marriages between college-educated men and women are less likely to end in divorce.
I have my theories about all of this, based on some not-so-deep empirical studies among my friends. One, we were the generation who saw the rapid rise of divorce. We witnessed what it did to kids—because we were those kids. So now as adults we're waiting to be sure we have Mr. or Miss Right before we take the plunge.
Two, we saw our mothers trying to live out feminism's directive to "have it all" by working full-time and having kids. This resulted in moms rushing home to settle for TV dinners instead of healthy family meals, and laundry folding at midnight while anticipating a 5 a.m. alarm.
But most striking, I think, is that we Generation X women went to college, climbed the career ladder, and found the top rung—only to realize the ladder didn't have a next step, just an empty void. Of course, work can be challenging and rewarding in its own ways. But as a saying goes, who would ever look back on his or her life and whine, "Gee, I wish I'd worked more." Instead, we find our greatest achievements in the bonds with our family and friends.
So the next time your single friends brag about their latest Friday night escapades while you were home giving your toddler a bath or watching bowling with your husband, remember what really matters in life. When you're older, you want to be able to look back and say, "Gee, I'm so glad I spent that time with my husband [or wife] and my kids." Marriage is the most exclusive of all relationships you will have on this earth. Revel in yours.
Christy Scannell, a newspaper editor, freelance writer, and writing teacher, is co-author of the novel series Secrets from Lulu's Café (Simon & Schuster). She and her husband, Rich, live in Southern California. www.ChristyScannell.com
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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