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A Perfect Age for Marriage?

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Let’s start advising people to marry if they  feel they’ve met the right person, not because they’ve come up against their  30th birthday.

 

I read with great interest this piece in the Atlantic by Pheoby Maltz Bovy: There’s No Perfect Age to Find a  Husband. The article’s point is essentially stated in the title. Of  course, I concur, as I’ve written on similar topics before.

While I agree strongly with the piece, it also saddens me, not because of  anything written in it, but because Maltz Bovy’s article is obviously necessary.  Yes, America needs a magazine like the Atlantic and a writer like Pheoby Maltz  Bovy—she’s a graduate student at work on a dissertation regarding Jews and  inter-marriage in 19th century France—to tell women there’s no  perfect age to find a husband. To hammer the anvil a bit louder: someone  studying the 19th century needs to help us in 2013. If we don’t  believe this, we’re not paying attention.

I  know a guy who’s ready for a wife; he’ll actually be at this reception later. He  drives a Volvo. Not the best, I know, but better than nothing

I was inspired to try imagining the perspective of a young woman—her name was  Julie and she was single—who felt the marriage clock was ticking. She was 25,  perhaps 30. Several of her friends had married, the weddings extravagant. Julie  was a bridesmaid at one or two but attended several others as a regular guest.  At one she sat at the table furthest from the bride, a surprise to her; Julie  had thought she and the bride were better friends. I wondered, as I imagined her  wandering through the reception, among older relatives, crusty aunts and sports  fan uncles, how many times she’d hear this loaded question: “So, when’s your wedding?”

♦◊♦

Men get this question only rarely, if at all. We might get, “Are you thinking  of getting married?” Other times it’s, “Can you see yourself doing it?” The few  times I was asked, by guys my own age or women from my mother’s clique of  friends, it seemed a sincere inquiry. When I was in college, I had discussed the  question with seriousness following lectures about The Awakening and The Yellow  Wallpaper, and I also witnessed embarrassing conversations (Man, this  is it, drink up, the last day of your life, no way I’ll ever do this, ugh!)  at bachelor parties. But no one had ever asked for the date of my wedding, at a  reception or otherwise, and certainly not when I wasn’t seeing  anyone.

This has got to be awful. Especially when, if some of the comments under  marriage articles here at the GMP are any indication, the alternative refrain  seems to be Marriage sucks. Welcome to the mindfuck, ladies. Marriage  sucks but when’s your wedding? For the love of it, you’re almost 30! What,  you’re already 31?! The next boyfriend—you’ll get him to propose. I’ll show you  how. I have this book and this series of DVDs, and I’ve clipped so many articles  for you from a mag. I also know a guy who’s ready for a wife; he’ll actually be  at this reception later. He drives a Volvo. Not the best, I know, but better  than nothing.

In an environment like that, a girl like Julie might just marry to fend off  the pressure, announce herself as regular and normal, please the crusty aunts  and cut off their questions. Julie doesn’t know what questions lurk next: Are you pregnant yet? When are you going to invite us to a barbecue at your  huge house packed with junk you can’t afford? Are you going to Paris for your  first anniversary? The bullshit will continue until she hears, You  know, at your age, you really should be thinking about securing a marble tomb at  the mausoleum.

No! No, crusty aunt and pot-bellied uncle, hysterical mom and romantic myth:  Julie does not need to be thinking about anything you have plotted for her. She  will not be any less of a person if she is married this decade or the next, just  as Volvo Boy will not change in any intrinsic way if he over-extends to buy a  Benz. His car payment will rise, and he’ll be under more stress, driving among  people who mostly ignore the car. The only reason he bought it was to shut you  up. But you won’t, will you? You’ll find something else to pressure him  about.

We’ve got to leave the kids alone. Young Americans exist in a world of  enormous uncertainty, ridiculous pressures built into the basics of life: school  is expensive; no one really knows what’s going to happen with healthcare; wealth  is being driven to the top of the hill; the job market is a bad thing; the  environment is a disaster. When elders pass these problems over to the kids, the  least they can do is give them some space to work out questions of romance and  courtship on their own terms. Yes, it’s wise to put marriage off, if you’re  interested in it, until you’ve got some stability—if that’s good advice, it ends  there. There’s no magic age for marriage, no magic amount of cash or yearly  salary that announces someone’s readiness for the justice of the peace. Teaching  anyone, a woman or man, that they’re incomplete if unmarried is identical to  screaming Marriage sucks from the hilltop. It’s not a lesson of wisdom  but an expression of inadequacy and self-consciousness.

Photo by bravenewtraveler

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