When to Get Married, Revisited

The author, 2008, with daughters and dog, lost in the ICW


Last night I was at the year-end meeting of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Gurney’s Inn. We reviewed last year’s budget, approved next year’s budget, got a presentation on what we, as business owners, can look forward to from Obama Care. After the meeting was adjourned there was a buffet and chit-chat at the bar. On my way out I ended up in a longish conversation with the couple who own and run Air and Speed surf shop here in town.

It started innocently enough with the (almost) always safe business-social question, “How’s your daughter?”

“Well I have two now, the eldest is 13 and almost as tall as I am now and the younger is 7.” and then sometime after that I said, reflecting on how much I enjoy being a father “I feel like I lost 5 years.” by which I meant I was as “ready” as I was ever going to be by about 25-27, and the years after that will simply be deducted off the back end. Fiver fewer years with my grandchildren.

This turned into a 45 minute gab-fest wherein I learned that Mr. and Mrs. Air and Speed were married young, over her father’s strenuous objection and had the first of their four children when they barely had a pot to piss in.  Now their children are grown, and like so many other young adults there is some anxiety that their children are caught chasing what Eve Tushnet called “the endlessly retreating horizon of economic stability“.  (I also learned that like myself and my wife, they had a sailboat they packed their young children onto and went  adventuring, so of course I admire them all the more!)

Today twitter told me it’s PEG’s third wedding anniversary. I’ve made previous mention of my admiration for PEG’s determination to make a go and the marriage and kids thing early. Whatever the pitfalls might be, I think their are also benefits, now and in the future both, and I hope he, his wife, and their children reap them in abundance!

The tweet announcing PEG’s third linked to a post he made 2009, arguing in favor of early marriage, at least for himself. In the comments I found the below from Tony Comstock. In light of last night’s conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Air and Speed, and in celebration of PEG’s anniversary, I resurrect it here as a post by your truly:

My wife and I married at 29 and 31 respectively. We had our first child when I was 33, and our second when I was 39. Before meeting my wife I dated three other women whom I could have imagined myself married to: Laurie, my high school sweet heart; Sandra, a Dutch MBA student at the U of O I met on a rafting trip; and Laura, one of two pretty blonde girls who were at the take out of a kayaking trip, I did a mental coin flip and asked her instead of the other girl.

The reasons I did not marry any of these three women are manifold, including differing career paths with differing geographic requirements, differing sexual needs and expectations, luck, whimsy, and a host of other things big and small. Unless the decision is made in that first early rush of new love, there are always reasons not to get married, and my experience is that new levels of intimacy also reveal new facets of incompatibility.

Although I did not recognized it at the time the benefit of hindsight, I recognized that social pressure against early marriage, felt by one or both of us, was a non-trivial factor in my not marrying Laurie, Sandra, or Laura. Again, with the benefit of hindsight I believe that if I had married any one of these women that I would not have been more or less happily married; I believe I would have been differently happily and unhappily married.

Now a detour.

My films are self-distributed. No one ever said to me “Wow, these films are amazing, and we’d like to distribute them,” or at least no one ever said that until after we had already started doing it ourselves.

I’ve never been hired for a “real” job.

I didn’t get into a competitive graduate program, or go to a selective college.

In fact, as best as I can remember the only time I’ve ever been “tapped” was in the fourth grade when I was selected for a seventies-style experimental classroom sort of like the one that Bart Simpson got lost in when he switched tests with Millhouse. That didn’t work out well for Bart, and it didn’t work out well for me either.

From that perspective what I have noticed is that generally speaking people are more enthusiastic about undertakings that involve some sort of selection process; if you can simply decide to do this or that, other people will generally not be as impressed with this or that as they are with something you had to convince some sort of selection process to allow you to do.

For example, you will get a lot more approbation if you tell people that Tartan is distributing your films than if you tell people they are self-distributed; people will be more impressed if you blog at TheAtlantic.com than at TheAmericanScene.com; people will be more inclined to crack the spine of a novel publish by Random House than one that is self-published. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing either.

But what I remember from being in my teens and twenties is that I looked at marriage and having children though a similar lens. As a young man, marriage and having children looked like something that “anybody” could do, and because they were something that “anybody” could do, they also seemed like they were something that people who couldn’t do anything else would choose, like self-publishing a book because no “real” publisher is interested. I was head over heels in love with Laurie, and to this day I recall my mother saying to me “You two are so good to each other.” But it never would have occurred to me to ask her to marry me, because that would have seemed an expression of both very low and very mixed up priorities. And even if I had asked her, she never would have said “yes” for the very the same reasons.


A few months after the birth of our first child, after we had settled into being new parents, I was on the couch with my wife, cradling my daughter in my arms and I looked up at Peggy and said, “If I had known how much I was going to like this, I would have knocked up my high school girlfriend.” I know, that sounds glib, but I meant it and mean it with absolute sincerity. There’s no speculating on how my life might have been different, my life took so many twists and turns between 18 and 33 it’s impossible to imagine how that would have been changed if I had been a father and a husband, and I’m quite happy with how things turned out. But in my gut, I know that my life would not have been poorer. Undoubtably it would have been different, but I’m quite sure it would not have been poorer.


I don’t envy Pascal. I can fairly well hear the tone of voice and see the looks on the faces of people who think he and his bride-to-be are making a mistake, selling themselves short, doing what’s easy instead of what the are capable of. On another thread there was some discussion of how/if students can be taught to act in their own self-interest without being threatened with a penalty if they do not. No less valuable a skill, I think, is learning to act in one’s own self-interest, even if there is a penalty for doing so.

Also today, and sort of related to the “tapped” thing Tony Comstock had a Kickstarter proposal rejected. You all can imagine the reasons why. Damn those gatekeepers! Just as you find your way around one, another one pops up blocking your path!

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36 thoughts on “When to Get Married, Revisited

  1. And you linked to the opposite articles that everyone else was linking to this week.

    I thought you would link to TNR’s cover piece on how having kids too late will upend American society.

    I am 32, single, just starting out on my career, and no marriage or family prospects anywhere in site. These things can change very quickly of course but I would be shocked if I was a dad at 33-34 (my parents were those ages at my birth and I was my mom’s first kid). Many of my classmates from high school and college are married, well into their careers, property-owning, and many have kids. I also have friends who have a two month old and live in a tiny two bedroom flat in Queens and now are doing the find a real job waltz. I have a friend with a four month old and is also starting his own business.

    I hope everyone comes out alright in the end. What is interesting is that Millenials seems to be getting married much younger than my late Gen X set. Purely anecdotal evidence though.


    • There was a fellow I kayaked with in Oregon, Rich. He wasn’t the best kayaker in our group, but he was most definitely a man, while the rest of us were still boys. Out of high school he got a job at a press-shop and I remember going to his house for an evening of drinking beer and watching kayak videos; three or four bedroom, two baths, well taken care of. It was his, he owned it, he lived their with his wife and two young children. He was 25 and I was 22.


      • I think those days are gone.

        I grew up in a suburb where almost every parent had a college education or higher. We were all told to get college educations or higher. Deferred gratification was the lesson. Maybe someone like your friend looks like they are doing well at 25 but it is better to be in grad school at 25 and do really well at 45, 55, 60, etc.

        There is no moral judgment here. Different strokes for different folks. This is just what many people in my generation (or at least my generation and socio-economic status) were taught while growing up.


    • You’ve got a catch-22, with “advice” like that.
      Marriage prospects end at about age 22 or so (25 at the latest).

      What I mean by that is…
      1) many of the people who were predisposed to marry already have by that point. A lot of people find chemistry in college — and by the time they’re out, they get married.

      2) once you’re out of college, your circle of “people I meet on a regular basis” dwindles drastically. You don’t have nearly as many opportunities to “hook up” with people. You’re insane if you date someone from work, for instance.

      3) Once you’re out of college, people start getting picky — on both sides. Women, in the main, don’t look as hot as they used to (sorry, guys, but I have to talk reality here, not “wishful thinking”). And Men? Well, you get evaluated by “how much of a success” you are. And being a garbageman doesn’t cut it (or a preschool teacher). You either get classed in “has prospects,” “wow, a CEO/manager/person worth a lot” or you don’t.

      4) Selection bias — since a lot of the reasonable people have gotten married, you’re dealing with either the misfits who couldn’t find a mate, or the people who got divorced (and probably have kids. because if you were that incompatible, it was probably lust that got you together in the first place). How many folks at age 30 are looking for a significant other who also has kids??

      5) The dating scene starts to get kinda… crowded… with folks not looking for long term relationships.


      • Well I feel somewhat offended. Thanks for damning me to a life of being a lonely bachelor. Do you want to send me some applications for Internet brides from Russia?

        Considering I did not get my first kiss and did not have sex until I was out of college and it took a few more years after that to start dating reguarly…let’s just say I am a late bloomer.

        “1) many of the people who were predisposed to marry already have by that point. A lot of people find chemistry in college — and by the time they’re out, they get married.”

        I don’t think this is true. I know some people who married their college sweethearts or at least I think I do. Most people in my circles seem to massively regret at least one of their college dating choices and chalk it up to hormones, the need for experimentation and discovery, and know admit to doing each other a lot of pain. I know more people who met their spouses in grad school. One of my professors at law school said I was not the type of person to meet their spouse at the school. Take that for what you will, I have no idea what she meant.

        Number 2 is true and there is some truth to 3-5 but I think a lot of it can be traced to the on-line dating problem. On-line dating gives the illusion or the possibility of countless options especially in large cities. Hence there is always the feeling of “I can do better” or so I heard and not wanting to invest energy in merely a good date. I.e. a date has to be amazing off the bat or it goes nowhere. This leads to a lot of loneliness.

        My mom did not get married until she was 33. Plenty of people do get married later in life.


        • And some people who get married early in life have successful and healthy marriages.

          I met my husband when I was 16 and he was 21. We’ve lived together since I was 17, three months shy of 18, and were married at 20/25, and had our fist child at 26/31. Statistics indicate this should be a failed marriage. But some folk live out on the sides of the bell, else it would be a flat line and not a ringing bell of differences.

          And here’s wishing you a long, loving relationship. Know hope, ye who live on the legs of the bell.


          • I wasn’t saying that there is anything wrong with getting married young. I was just more pissed at Kim for implying strongly if it does not happen by 23, it is probably not going to happen.


            • I strongly suspect that the original goal of “wait until you’re older” was a good deal of matchmaking on the part of the parents, with the hope that you’d fall in love with “someone suitable.”

              Or maybe that’s just my family?


              • It was more of this order:

                1. Study hard

                2. Get into a good college/university (Ivy or Equivalent)

                3. Study hard

                4. Work a bit or go to a good grad school (grad school needed to happen eventually). 20s are for exploring and having some fun/wild oats as well.

                5. Get establishedess in your career

                6. Now you can get married and have kids instead of having kids when you are in grad school and living in a three floor walk-up in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn or Jersey City.


                • This is a very bad idea.
                  I have outlined some of the reasons above — it does dramatically cut the dating pool.
                  It also increases the odds of birth defects.

                  And to top it all off, everyone else who met someone earlier and decided to ignore this advice has already gotten married.


                  • I’m kinda in agreement with Kim as to what is ideal. I think it’s unfortunate that we spend our college years not looking for a more permanent mate and then look for a permanent mate in less ideal circumstances.

                    On the other hand, I also agree with New Dealer about things not always working out as in the ideal world. I spent most of my college years in a monogamous relationship with the wrong person. And even if I hadn’t – and including my college time after that ended – most of my dating prospects would have been in the young-and-fun mindset. (And I married up in any event.)

                    This is one of the things that the Mormons handle really, really well IMO.


                    • Perhaps this is my absolute secular-liberalism speaking. Perhaps it also me being defensive because undergrad me could not get a date if my life depended on it. I think Kim’s point doesn’t really apply to the world anymore. It seems almost quaint. Without appealing to any traditionalist values (or at least religious ones) can you explain to me why the Mormons do it the right way? Or am I just being too much the New York-San Francisco urban, professional liberal here? Keep in mind I was raised as secular as secular can be while still having a Bar Mitzvah and going to once-monthly Hebrew school until 12th grade. I did not grow up in an area where people attended religious services on a regular basis except the one family across the street that was Orthodox (Jewish, not Greek or Russian.)

                      My mom was an early Feminist. She went to college in the mid-60s and said she was always shocked and baffled by the women who openly said they were looking for their “MRS” degree. She also seemed baffled that the women would fall for the guys who would talk big about being able to provide the biggest suburban house. She thought how could any 20 year old guy say that with a straight face?

                      College students are still kids. They might be legal adults but to my eyes they are still young and learning their way through the world. There is nothing wrong with people having some time to explore. Most people enter college without knowing what their future careers will be and leave in the same state. Doesn’t research show that marriages last longer when the couples marry later and are more settled in their careers and done with 20-something strum und drang?


        • Most people who “massively regret” one of their college dating choices, weren’t actually planning on marrying that someone, I suspect. ;-P

          If I sound bitter, I suspect it might be because I know someone who did get married (before she finished high school), and got subsequently divorced (with a kid), and is unlikely to ever get married [a combination of “lack of time” and “who marries someone who already has a kid??”]

          While one is in grad school, one is generally able to do enough dating (with undergrads or graduate students…) That was mostly what I was thinking with bouncing it up to 25.

          In this world, it is very rare for people to marry actual soulmates (and it may very well be that certain personality types do not actually lend themselves well to the concept…).


  2. BTW, I and I suspect many people with similar backgrounds were firmly trained by my parents not to have kids until we were well settled into our careers.


  3. Fantastic post, David. I think this would be an even better site if we wrote more about social issues as we experience them rather than as aspects of policy and politics. I should heed my own thoughts here.


  4. If I’d have gotten married and become a father before I was 25 I’d assuredly be divorced, and would have been a lousy father to boot. There are times it bothers me that my youngest won’t be out of college until I’m almost 60, but when I look at who I was back then and think about the alternatives, I have no doubt I made the right choice.

    Besides, I’ve only ever dated one person I ever thought, or think today, that I could have a happy marriage with. Just a few days ago we celebrated 23 years of being together–just over half her life, and next year we’ll hit half of mine. Definitely I made the right choice.


  5. I’m 29, married a little over a year, and baby #1 is due in April. Zazzy is a few months younger than I, having just celebrated her 29th. We met right when she was finishing college and I had been out a year. We did distance for two years, lived “together” in DC for two years (7 months of which she was deployed to Kuwait), got engaged while there, moved to NY, got married, bought a house, and now baby is on the way. It roughly feels like we timed things well. We are only the second couple amongst our friends to get pregnant, which sometimes makes me feel like we’re too early. Then I realize I’ll be almost 30 when baby #1 arrives, which makes me feel like we’re too late. All in all, I think we’re well situated. Ideally, I think we would have had baby #1 a bit later, but we had no idea how long we’d be TTC and it happened almost immediately so we take that for the good fortune it is. If all goes according to plan, we could be 52 with the kids out of the house and the house paid off. That seems like not a bad gig. At times, I wish we had done more before “settling down”, but I’m not the “do more” type. I’ve always been a long-term planner. And my plan/hope is that we’ll be better situated to “do more” in our mid-50’s than we are now. It will be easier to take a long trip to Italy or Egypt or India when parenthood is in the rearview mirror, the house is paid off, and we’re further along in our careers than it would to do it in our mid 20’s, and the trip will almost certainly be more enjoyable.

    At least that’s what I tell myself while the single tear rolls down my cheek from reading my friends’ emails about Scotch tastings…


  6. So many beautiful tributes to love and family.

    But the post, placed amongst so many backward, might be misconstrued. Perhaps it’s safer do delve into manly love, deep and romantic, that way? I hope not.


  7. One of my friends tells the story about how his gramma told him “Don’t get married if you can help it.”

    “You got married, Gramma.”

    “Yeah, well, I couldn’t help it.”


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