The pressure to “settle down” mounts when women hit their 20s, and if a woman’s 30th birthday passes without a proposal, she can be made to feel as if she’s missed her moment.
My own future as a spinster was close at hand. Then I met a man thousands of miles from home on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a work trip in the Galapagos Islands. He proposed three months later, and we got married right on my 35th birthday. Thank the matrimonial gods! Seriously. Here’s the thing: Women who get married after the age of 35 might actually be setting themselves up for happier marriages than women who marry in their 20s. And isn’t that what we all want? A real happily ever after.
The majority of my own friends got married at 28. Less than a decade later, half of them are divorced. Many marriage therapists, the people who help fix unhappy marriages, believe this is because wisdom truly does come with age.
“After a certain age, women tend to have a higher level of emotional maturity. You have a wider range of experiences to evaluate a potential mate,” Dr. Peter Pearson, co-founder of the Couples Institute, told me. “You’re more independent, less clingy, less needy. You are emotionally resilient, you’re smarter at separating the wheat from the chaff.”
I was terrified of divorce. After all, I’d waited a long time to finally tie the knot. In fact, I was so nervous that I spent the first year of my marriage crowdsourcing advice from around the world to figure out how not to fail at it. After interviewing hundreds of women across five continents and 20 countries about how to create and maintain a satisfying partnership, one of the “secrets” I learned was this: Wait.
Seven times out of 10, when I asked a woman in an unhappy marriage what would have made her union more satisfying, she responded with some iteration of, “I wish I’d lived more of a life before I got married.” The most fulfilling marriages I encountered all over the world — in Israel, France, India, Qatar, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Mexico, Chile and beyond — launched when women were 35 years or older, an age in the U.S. when we start to self-consciously refer to ourselves as “past our prime” or worse, “old maids.”
Age at marriage doesn’t stand alone as a benefit or harm. The most significant additional factors are:
However and importantly, Glenn explains that it would be “premature to conclude that the optimal time for first marriage for most persons is ages 22-25” because other critical factors impact risk of divorce and marital happiness as well.
- premarital cohabitation
- having parents who are divorced
- educational attainment
- general maturity and personal commitment to the idea of marital longevity
- having healthy marriage attitudes and behaviors modeled by both sets of parents
- involvement in a healthy church/faith setting that takes marriage seriously
- completed meaningful premarital counseling