My parents were married when they were 24 years old. My grandparents were married when they were 18 years old. As for myself, the descendant of lifelong, stable relationships, I sigh and think, “Different times. Different generation.” I proudly climbed through my twenties. Thirty is around the corner. According to classic chick flicks and sitcoms like Sex in the City and Friends, I should look in the mirror each day and grimace in disgust at my husbandless face, my ringless finger, my empty (and never-been-full) nest. But I don’t. I put on some makeup, smile, and go to work. I am 27 years old. I am not married. I am ok.
And I am not alone. It is not that I am against marriage…far from it. I uphold the same traditional family values as the rest of my family, and I hope to have a fulfilling marriage and raise a family in the future. Furthermore, I am currently in a relationship. So being in a promising relationship and not being married at this age may seem confusing if I tried to explain it to my conservative, “find yourself a husband” grandmother. I would first have to convince her that this is actually not a conflict. My boyfriend and I are in love, not in a rush. But I am not referring to him when I say “I am not alone.” I am referring to the growing population of women who choose not to get married until later in life.
According to the United States Census, the average age a woman married between the 1950s and the 1960s is 20 years old. In 2015, the average marrying age is 27 years old. According to this statistic, I am truly a product of my generation. After I stop gaping at the drastic age increase, I can’t help but recall the 20 year old version of myself.
At age 20, I was in the heat of college. I wore sweatpants more often than socially acceptable, and complained about rolling out of my dorm and loping off to my 8 am economics class. It never crossed my mind that the professor of that particular class probably had to wake up much earlier than me so that he could make his own breakfast (no dining hall for him) and fight through a morning commute (I walked 5 minutes across campus), to teach yawning young adults who were still in their sweatpants. I looked forward to watching The Jersey Shore with my friends each week, stayed up until 2am doing homework that should have been finished a week prior, and thought it was “the coolest” that the girls down the hall had a pet lizard, even though pets were clearly not allowed in the dormitory. I had barely begun to date, let alone foster a serious relationship with a man with whom I would build and share a life.
Instead of fostering that “all-important” relationship, my twenties were spent on me. I graduated college. I took some time in the business world, navigating sales and client-relationships only to discover that, AGHH it was awful. It was simply not for me. Contemplation and curiosity led me to consider graduate school, where I was lucky enough to find my passion in teaching. After several years of being a teaching assistant and finishing up courses, tests, and my practicum, I am proud to say that I love my job as a teacher.
While it is pleasant and polite to sum up the years when I found and established my career, the truth is that my twenties were ugly. My days were swollen and stretched into too many hours while I clumsily balanced studying and my day job to pay for my courses. I had no money. Going out with my friends involved extensive planning, so these occasions were few and far between. I lived with my parents. Spare time was as scarce as spare money. There was no time for dating. Would I redo my twenties? Never.
But through these years, I learned the value of hard work. I worked hard in school with my eyes on a fulfilling career. I worked hard as a teaching assistant, seeking learning experiences and potential job leads. I worked hard to live peacefully with my parents, and grew to appreciate spending time with them. Traditions such as singing Luke Bryan songs and watching The Walking Dead religiously grew from those years at home, and we uphold these proud traditions even after I have moved out. Now, I work hard as a teacher, daughter, friend, and girlfriend.
Hard work is not the sole outcome of my twenties. Hard work grew parallel, or perhaps intertwined, with maturity. I appreciate the hard work that goes into a fulfilling, mature relationship. I am proud to be financially stable. I am proud of my career. I am proud to be independent. I am proud to have control over my present and future, and I am proud to put this version of myself–the version that survived my twenties–towards my relationship. This is the version that is ready to build and share a life with another.
Some of us women may be drawn towards different fields and career opportunities that require our full attention as students. Some of us may be a little hesitant after watching the many divorces our generation’s parents endured. Whatever the reason, the result of putting off marriage is a population of established women. The socioeconomic trend reflects that couples who marry later tend to be more educated and wealthier than their counterparts who married early in life. Is this true for everyone? Of course not. Is it possible for a woman to explore an education and start a career while maintaining a marriage? Sure! But this is rare. One thing is certain. In this time, where women have more opportunities and independence than any other time throughout history, women are marrying for love. Putting marriage off until later is not a sacrifice. It is an effort to make the marriage stronger. Women are working to grow as individuals through education and careers, enabling us to exist as equal and interesting partners in marriage.
I will say it again. I am not married. I am not in a rush. I am ok.
Written by Mary Francis
Photo by Emily Chastain Photography