Why in the hell do people wait so long to get married?

I was 21 when I proposed to my wife. I was spending the semester studying abroad in Italy, and I was surrounded by Italians and other Europeans who looked at me aghast when they learned that I was engaged to be married. I didn’t think much of it at the time. After all, I’d heard plenty about how Europeans, and Italians, in particular, were notorious for prolonging childhood well into their adult years (i.e. 30 year-olds living with their parents, declining birth-rates, etc.). If anything, I probably thought they were right, I was a little bit weird. Even by American standards, Lily and I were preparing to tie the knot well before most of our peers. Here’s a graph I put together from data available at Wikipedia (don’t know what’s wrong with the thumbnail, but the link seems to be working):

As you can see, the United States is somewhere in the middle of the pack across the nations surveyed, but it’s an outlier with respect to its developed cohort. Even still, the average age at first marriage for American men is 27, for American women, 25. From what I gather through personal experience and anecdote, though I don’t have any data at hand to back this up at the moment, those averages increase as people climb the economic ladder. As I’ve gotten older, and gained a little more perspective, I’ve become more and more perplexed by this trend, and I have to ask, what’s going on?

Here’s what I see. Most people I meet (right now heavily weighted towards yuppies and aspiring yuppies)that are my age (currently 26) are unmarried. Most of those approve of marriage as a general concept. Most of those (though a decidedly smaller percentage and with much less confidence) want to have kids. Yet very few of these are currently involved in long term relationships, and those that are seem to have no definite plans on actually getting hitched. Why not?

There was an interesting article in the Atlantic a few months ago describing the situation from the perspective of older-single women. The author even went so far as to propose a solution for younger single women: stop waiting for Mr. Right and start settling for Mr. Good Enough. Do you think she’s right? Are people really just too picky? Seems possible, but I think that may be giving most people too much credit. It seems like that might be a relatively painless way of averting an acknowledgment of fear of commitment. If that’s the case, I have to say that most people seem to have an idea of commitment which runs counter to my experience with marriage. Commitments are hard. Marriage is easy. Getting up every day to go to work is exhausting and requires a conscious effort to balance the rewards (paychecks) with the costs (cubicles and crowded subways). Coming home at night to spend time with my wife is easy. Chasing tail in bars is hard. Going to the movies, taking walks, and eating dinner with your best friend is easy. Having kids by yourself is hard. Having kids with a spouse is a little less hard.

So I ask you: Are you married? Do you want to be? When do you think you’ll get married? What are you waiting for? Just curious.




  1. Mayra said,

    June 17, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Hi, I am 42, not married and not looking. I believe that when two single people are ready they meet, they go about it the right way and they get married. I took me a long time to get to this, but I know that I will be truly happy this time. We have become so materialistic in our society that we value someone’s wealth, looks, and social life more than we value the things that really matter like, love, understanding, respect, and compatibility. Material things can never make you happy or unite two souls together and as long as people continue to look for those things aloness will be the result. I was never a materialistic person, but I never knew how to love a man without wanting to make him over or accepting him as he is. I can do that now. I am not religious, but I do believe in God so I rely on him rather than myself now. It makes a huge difference. Many blessings to your marriage. Yes, it is great to find that One person.

  2. Jaybird said,

    October 5, 2008 at 2:06 am

    I am 54 years old and have been married only one time for 21 years. I loved this man with all of my heart and soul. Our marriage ended in divorce and I ended up raising our kids alone.
    I met someone 7 years ago and from the first I told him I beleived in marriage he agreed that he also beleived in marriage. Anyways here we are and we are still not married and he does not know if he can marry me now. I have not done anything wrong he says he just panics every time. I have tried to tell him that I must not be the right person for him? He says he wants no one else, I am lost on what to do. I love him dearly and am broken hearted that I may need to walk away?

  3. Tiffani said,

    November 6, 2008 at 12:08 am


    I am 24 years old and have never been married. I want to be married more than anything in the whole entire world. I was in a bad relationship for eight years before and didn’t believe in marriage, probably because it was bad. I met my boyfriend a little over a year ago and have officially been together for 7 months now. I have more love for this man in 7 months than a man that I spent 8 years with. I know he is the one!!! He on the other hand said that it is too soon to know if I am the one. I don’t think there is a certain amount of time to tell you when you know someone is the one. You just know! I see now that he doesn’t know yet. So, until he knows, if he ever thinks I am the one, I will wait. In my heart I know we are meant to be. We are in love! I am not just going to leave him if he isn’t going to marry me. That would be stupid. If we are happy together, why would I leave somthing that makes me happy because he isn’t ready.

  4. Sarah said,

    February 20, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Hi my name is Sarah, and I have been with my boyfriend now for over two years. I want to get married but he told me that he isnt ready. I love him more then anything and I can understand that he wants to finish school first but this means I will have to wait until august 2010. I find it unfair because he wants me to do it his way but what about me? I really want to marry him. I dont get guys now adays. Seriously, none of them want to commit.

  5. Rebecca said,

    April 2, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I’m 24 years old, and have been married for 1 year and 5 months. My Husband is younger then me, he’ll be 23 at the end of June. I had been in a relationship with someone else for 6 months before I met him, and before that I was in a relationship for 3.5 years. The relationship before that lasted 10 months, and prior to that lasted 1 year. I ended all of them. I stayed in all of them long past the time I had a feeling that they wouldn’t work out, thinking it was just me not wanting to make a commitment.

    I met my husband 1 month before we got married. Yup, MET him one month before. Never dated, I was dating someone else when we met. Didn’t kiss until after we decided to get married. Got our marriage license, and three days later got married at the court house (3 days is state law). Everyone said it wouldn’t last 6 months, asked if we were on something, etc…

    Make no mistake, I did not ‘settle’ for my husband. He is everything and more that I could have ever expected to find in another person. We’re just as happy together today as the day we met. I credit this to the fact that our relationship is the same relationship today as the day we started. We didn’t started out by trying to win each other over, we just were who we are. We didn’t go out of our way trying to impress one another or have to worry about timetables for what was appropriate. No is it too soon to call, to say I love you, to soon to discuss long term future, will I scare him away. The anxiety was taken away. We were together, for the long run, period. If we had a problem we were going to have to work it out, and not run away from it. We didn’t have to worry about commitment, because it was already said and done.

    I love him with all my heart, and am happier with him then I ever was in any other relationship. He is my best friend, and that’s never going to change.

  6. Jordan said,

    June 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I’m 19 years old and I have been with my boyfriend for 3 years. I want nothing more than to get married. If it were more socially acceptable and a few other factors, we would get married as soon as possible, but most likely we will wait until we are about 21 to get married. It bothers me that we even have to wait that long! I love young marriages, I think it’s beautiful to grow up with someone.

    I understand why most people look down on it- because most people are just immature. “You won’t be the same person in 5 years.” While I know that’s true for most everyone I know, I know he and I already know who we are. We will grow together- not apart.

    He is my best friend, and has been for about 4 years now. I have never been more comfortable with anyone in my entire life.. not even my family. I am a very shy person, it can take me YEARS to warm up to people, but I never had to with him.

    I wish I could wake up and be married to him tomorrow, but I know that we are going to wait until we have a little bit more schooling done, and have a little bit more money saved up. I can’t wait though!

  7. C said,

    October 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    I am not married because I have never had a relationship. I’m 26 and I’ve never kissed. Please don’t assume that it’s about choice for all of us.

  8. Addison said,

    December 4, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    So why does anyone have to ever be married? Who cares if marriage dies? Who cares if Europeans don’t get married? Why is this any of your biz pal? How about everyone lives their own life no matter how unique it is?

  9. Lila Belle said,

    April 3, 2012 at 12:32 am

    I believe marriage is ultimately up to the individual, but I had to put in my two cents:

    I am 21, and my husband is 20. Yes….we’re married. Compared to most of our friends (which if you look at it from a statistical perspective speaks for “most” other young adults our age), we were more mature, and more certain with what we wanted out of life. We will be married two years as of June 29, 2012. Most of our friends have stopped attending college and don’t know what they want to do with life, promiscuous, confused and indecisive, unable to hold a job, do not know the basic functions of life (paying bills, arranging leases with a landlord, handling ONE credit card, etc.), and still live with their parents. My husband and I have our own house, are currently both college students (with me about to graduate), workers, and have a one year old daughter, as well as supporting two of my family members and still make time to have fun together, have dinners at home, and, well, be a couple. We have no plans to divorce, and we are quite happy. It made us a little upset that most of our family decided that we were “too young and immature” for marriage.

    Our parents, however, have been widowed, divorced, and separated, and most other family members also. Their perspective is bitter and cynical, and they don’t want to see us “make the same mistakes they did.” I guess it’s understandable, well with all the craziness our generation is currently known for, and what all we do to damn our own names and culture. Looking at my friends, I see that our family thinks we are them. It simply isn’t true. We knew what we wanted and haven’t strayed from our paths. I am soon to be a paralegal, but i want a four year degree in International Relations and will be going back for that. My husband wants to be an Aerospace Engineer and is currently in school for it. Being an interracial couple doesn’t help either. Most people give us even more flack because I am a black woman and he is white. It’s like we’ve violated every taboo (interracial dating, children in the “teens” (19???), marriage in the teens (18???). It’s really sad. I don’t want us to be condemned for when we chose to marry. We are lucky to have each other. Our circumstances were a bit extreme however. Both families were poor and dysfunctional. If we had stayed with them and partied like we “should” have, we would both be homeless and most likely not in school, but rather working somewhere like taco bell or McDonald’s or some crap without any hope of going to school EVER, and eventually becoming a burden to society when we did decide to have families. We know what we want, most young adults do not, but exceptions should not be frowned upon. In fact, those that can brave raising children, being married, and being students AND workers all at the same time should be given a badge of honor. They are still adults, like us, and they will come out on top one day…They will be the quality members of society, while the others who are our age will be behind and catching up when they should be able to sustain our suffering country.

    Even still, marriage should be observed on a case by case basis. No one should be forced to conform to society’s general standard. Also, what if you meet the right one when you’re young, like me, and then because everyone’s telling you how bad it is, you miss your chance at love?

  10. Stephen Swift said,

    December 9, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Are you married? No
    Do you want to be? Yes,
    What are you waiting for? Money, steady decent job.

    I think that’s what it comes down to really. Guy’s just don’t have the money to properly raise families.

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