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The best age to get married

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Time magazine rolled out an app to predict when you should get married.

The app averages the age at which most of your married Facebook friends tied the knot, and gives you a deadline.

I'm 23 and single, and when I tried it, the app said I should expect to be married at the age of 24.1.

"That leaves you 2 months and 22 days."

Thanks, Time. I really needed another reason to feel completely inadequate when I'm comparing myself to my Facebook friends.

But in all seriousness, the app raises an interesting question: What age should we twentysomethings expect to get married?

U.S. Census data shows the average age for marriage is at an all-time high of 28 for men and 26 for women, and it's climbing ever further away from the norm in our grandparents' generation (the early 1950s), when it was 22 for men and 20 for women.

Scott Hall, a family studies professor at Ball State University, said part of the reason we're marrying later in life is because the way we view marriage has changed.

"Marriage is now viewed more as a capstone experience rather than the beginning of a life together," Hall said.

By that, he means that instead of getting married and starting a life together, we're starting our lives and getting married when we feel that we've "arrived," whatever "arrived" means to us.

A March 2013 study called Knot Yet said we see marriage as the "capstone" instead of the "cornerstone" in our lives because we want to lay a foundation for adulthood and parenthood before we say "I do."

It makes sense, considering that most people in their 20s today graduated college in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when student-loan debt was high and job availability was low. So marriage has naturally taken a back seat to paying off our student loans and establishing our expensive careers.

But the natural tendency for twentysomethings to marry later has coupled with a cultural stigma that makes getting married young a "death sentence" of sorts — likely to stifle self-discovery, end in divorce or both.

If you scroll down far enough in your Facebook newsfeed, you'll probably come across articles telling you "50 things to do before you get married" or the infamous "23 things to do instead of getting engaged before you're 23."

"There's a sense of, 'Go out and find yourself first,'" Hall said. "It's a cultural narrative of being single longer, enjoying that life, making more of yourself and then settling down later on."

Even though Jay-Z's "30's the new 20" rhetoric might have influenced this thinking, Hall said our parents are also playing a role in telling us to marry later.

A 2012 study published by researchers at Brigham Young University asked 536 young adults and their parents at five colleges across the country when they expected the young adults to get married. It found that the parents, on average, reported a higher desired age of marriage for their children than the children themselves did.

The reasons for this vary, Hall said, from the parents wanting the next generation to avoid divorce to the parents wanting their children to become financially independent before sharing finances with a spouse.

But the funny thing is, a 2010 study found that even though people who waited to marry after age 30 had a higher chance of avoiding divorce and attaining financial success, they were also less satisfied with their marriages than those who married between the ages of 22 and 25.

The study analyzed data from five American data sets and concluded that even though marriages of younger people run a higher risk of divorce than marriages of older people, "most persons have little or nothing to gain in the way of marital success by deliberately postponing marriage beyond the mid-twenties."

So should you use your 20s to find yourself or find that special someone? I hate to break it to you, but nobody knows, and the answer is bound to be different for every person.

I can't tell you when marriage should fit into the timeline of your life. But that's because marriage isn't about having a timeline at all. It's about falling in love with someone and committing yourself to that person forever. You can't put an expiration date on that, and you shouldn't swear against it until a certain age, either.

In the end, maybe the best thing we can learn from Time's marriage app is that nothing good ever came from comparing ourselves to Facebook friends.

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