One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Warren Farrell’s book Why Men Are The Way The Are is because it helped me look at an important aspect of my life from a different angle.
You see, although I do plan to get married, I can’t help but note that most of my friends who are my age have already gotten married and had kids. So, have I waited too long to get around to it?
There’s a lot to be said for being married to a woman you love, living in a house with a white picket fence, and pumping out 2.1 rugrats. In fact, that represents the American dream to a lot of people. I find it appealing as well and ideally, that’s how things will play out for me in the future.
However, there are a couple of issues a man in my situation has to consider.
The first is rather obvious. Yes, a lot of people my age are married and already have kids. Of course, more than a few of those people are now divorced, too. I’ve gotten to see the ramifications of divorce up close — really good people who’re broken hearted, struggling financially, and engaged in angry, horrible fighting over the kids. And the whole idea of finding one person you love so much that you want to spend the rest of your life with her or him — then after spending years together, watching that relationship shatter despite your best efforts — it must be crushing. From what I’ve seen, even the most “amicable” divorces usually leave horrific scars.
Also, after seeing a number of friends go through bad marriages and divorces, it’s a little scary to realize how unrealistic the romantic notion of marriage I had when I was young turned out to be. Two people find each other, they love each other, they get married, and it’ll all work out in the end. Simple, right?
I’ve seen marriages implode because one of the people involved just got complacent. Other times, one of the partners kept growing as a person while the other didn’t. Then there are the people who met each other’s needs when they got married, but a few years later, they realized they just weren’t well suited for each other. And there’s always a backstory. We all like to make one person into the “bad guy” or the “b*tch,” but it’s usually not that simple.
Have you ever seen someone cheat and thought, “That’s wrong, but if I were married to someone who treated me like that, I might be tempted to cheat, too?” I have. Have you ever seen a really decent, confident, competent person who questions everything he’s ever done because his marriage is falling apart and thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I?” I have.
So many times I have seen men who’ve gotten divorced. They got married young. They worked their behinds off day in and day out, at jobs they didn’t really like, because they wanted to take care of their family and their kids. Then, the marriage implodes and the man’s devastated and bitter over all the sacrifices he made for his family that he thinks went unappreciated. Meanwhile, the woman’s hurt, angry, and upset, too. She’s also thinking that she’s already had her “dream” and lost it. Now, she’s older, isn’t as confident of her looks as she was at 25, and she has kids. In her mind, she feels like a used car competing with newer models that are rolling off the lot. It’s pretty horrible all the way around, and it’s so easy to see how I could have ended up in that same position if I’d gotten married younger, when I knew less about women, less about what I like in a woman, and less about life in general.
What Farrell’s books helped me realize is that there was another potential peril for me that I would have never seen coming. You see, I love what I do. I get up when I want to get up, I go to bed when I want to go to bed, and I don’t have a boss. I call my own shots, I do my own thing, and if I won 10 million dollars in the lottery tomorrow, I would still keep writing. That’s how much I love what I do. It’s a hobby that I was willing to do for free that I managed to make into a career.
Yet, if I had gotten married 10 years ago, would I be a blogger today? Probably not. What about five years ago? No, I don’t think so. Why? Because the truth is, up until fairly recently, I could have gone to D.C. and gotten a job as a staffer, a consultant, or a think tanker and I could have made twice what I was making as a blogger.
It has been pretty easy for me to pass that up as a single man. I have relatively simple tastes, I don’t mind taking some risks, and my salary just supports me and a dog in an area that’s relatively cheap to live in. If I’d been married 5-10 years ago, it would have been a different story. It’s one thing to take risks personally, but risking your wife’s security or your child’s? That’s a different matter entirely. If you’re married, you don’t do what I did — get laid off from a job and then try to go professional in a brand new field that only a handful of people had succeeded at previously. Instead, you do something that makes guaranteed money so you can be sure your wife and your kid are safe.
Today, I’ve gotten well enough established and there’s enough of a potential upside to what I do for a living that it’s now just part of the package going in. That’s important, because even if I live to be 100, I hope to be writing somewhere until I keel over. When I get married, my wife will be marrying a writer and that was worth waiting for.
PS: Thanks to Warren Farrell who suggested I write a post on this subject during an email conversation.
Update #1: David Swindle wrote up a response to this post over at Newsreal. Read it here .
Update #2 President Friedman posted a really excellent response in the comments section that made a lot of good points and deserved to be seen by a wider audience. Here it is,
As someone who takes the opposite view, that waiting until mid-to-late adulthood to get married is a generally bad idea (there are always exceptions), here are a few thoughts:
- Like you, I’ve also watched many couples marry and divorce. 10 years ago I was watching them marry and then divorce over issue with maturity and finances. Now I watch them marry and divorce over different sets of issues… instead of fighting over one or the other staying out too late with friends, they fight over whose family they are going to spend Christmas with, because as adults they have become accustomed to their independant holiday traditions. Instead of fighting about lack of finances, they fight over joing management of finances. I cringe whenever a newly married friend tells me he and his wife tried doing joint checking accounts, but just couldnt’ make it work, so they are going back to keeping their finances seperate… it’s like hearing their marriage was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And even when couples do marry in middle age and their marriage prospers, I am constantly schocked by the number of couples my parent’s age who are divorcing for various reasons after decades of marriage. Here’s the truth: mariage is a risky proposition at any age, and even if you find the “right person” there is no guarantee they (or you) won’t change over time in some fundamental ways. Whether the risk is worth it to you or not all depends on how much you value the potential rewards.
- Another obvious issue is that the longer you wait to get married, the fewer quality marital candidates are available to you. Here’s another truth: people who put a highest priority on family life tend to seek out opportunities to make a family for themselves as soon as possible, and this is especially true of women. A man who waits until he is 40 to start seriously looking for a wife has to contend with the fact that most of the women who make the best wives and mothers were looking for a mate sometime in their 20′s, and they’ve had ample time to find one. And while it is a sign of maturity to wait until you are financially established to start a family, I can’t tell you how many of my middle aged male friends have seen relationships go to pot because they were (justifiably) paranoid about whether the girl they were dating really liked them or just had an eye on their bank account/house/car/income. When you start dating your spouse at a younger age and have to make decisions like whether to go to dinner OR a movie becasue you can’t afford both, you can pretty safely scratch ‘golddigger’ off your list of things to worry about.
- Finally, you make a good point about the freedom to follow your dreams and carreer path as a single person, but I’d also say this isn’t an impossibility from within the bounds of marriage. I worked while putting my wife through college, and then continued to work so she could stay home with our daugther until she started school. At that point I really wanted to start my own company, a dream I’d had for years, and my wife went to work full time (at a well paying job that utilized her degree) for the first two years while my business was getting off the ground. Since then, I’ve been able to help her start a small business of her own doing something she loves. And because we’ve each had a hand in supporting the other’s struggle to accomplish these goals, we have a deep respect for the outcomes they produce. Somebody who came along after my business was already established could never have the deep appreciation for the work I do that my wife has.
I readily admit that the decision of when to marry is a deeply personal one, and nobody but the two people involved can ultimately determine what is best for them. But I’ve long thought it a problem that our society keeps pushing couples to wait longer and longer to get married. The problem doesn’t lie in the delay itself, but in what it says about our prioritization of marriage and family: that these aren’t things worth doing unless done from a position of financial and social stability. My grandparents had 4 kids while living in a 14′ x 40′ trailer house eating rice and beans for dinner every night because that’s what they could afford, and had to clean out dresser drawers to make a crib for their babies to sleep in. But they valued that time in their life, and look back upon it now in fondness, becasue they were starting their family. That deep valuation of family as one of the primary aspects of life is simply not reflected in the “wait until you’ve accomplished all these other things” attitude of marriage, and I think it hurts us as a society.”