When to Marry?

Megan McArdle — whose work I have long liked — argues for being open to marrying early:

[P]eople should be looking to get married as early as possible.

I say this as someone who married late, and since I wouldn’t want to have married anyone except my husband, I’m glad I waited. But as a general rule, you should err on the side of marrying early. By which I mean not that you should marry whoever happens to be around when you turn 22, but that you should be willing to recognize, at the age of 22, that you’ve found someone you want to marry. Right now, most Princeton students don’t think that way. They think there’s something weird about committing at 22. And if they try to commit, their friends and parents will warn them off.

This seems like a mistake. The age at which the right person comes along depends on luck, not some kind of calendar. You can’t plan for it to happen between 26 and 28, so that you can get married by 30 and have your first kid by 32. If you don’t meet them right then, all that pressure to marry whoever happens to be around, which you so neatly avoided at 22, pops up again — around 30 for women, around 35 for men, judging from my experience. At 22, you’re less likely to have to settle: the dating pool is larger, and it’s easier to say, “Well, I’ll wait a few years until the right one comes along.”

My thinking (and I married at 34) was always that one should be hesitant to select a life partner at 22 — it’s just too early to know well (1) what one wants, (2) what one will want in ten, twenty, or thirty years, and (3) how to evaluate a prospective spouse. To be sure, it’s all guesswork whenever one marries, but it seems to me likely to be better educated guesswork at 34 than at 22. (Of course, it helped that I traveled in social circles where marrying in one’s mid-30s was common; this decision might have been much harder if I were in an environment where 22-year-old men were all expected to be married, and 22-year-old women all expected to get married.) And there’s also the value of being flexible early in one’s life and one’s career — flexible to move to a different city or country for a job, for education, or for fun, to try a low-paying or no-paying job or project without having to consult with a spouse about it, and so on.

This having said, there are lots of arguments for marrying earlier — whether related to McArdle’s point about not missing the right person, to avoiding difficulty with having children, or to other things. So I’d love to hear what our readers have to say about this.