Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Marrying Young

It seems like it was only yesterday that the media was abuzz with chatter about Sheryl Sandberg’s new feminist manifesto, Lean In.

Sandberg is obviously a marketing genius. After all, she entitled her book with a word that would be irresistible to women: lean. As in Lean Cuisine.

Sandberg’s book is still topping off the Amazon best seller list, but the center of conversational gravity has now shifted to Susan Patton’s advice to young women at Princeton: marry young.

Apparently, it’s an idea whose time has come. Or better, has come back.

Megan McArdle sums it up well:

That said, while I wouldn't have said it exactly the way she chose, I think Susan Patton is basically right: people 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.  

McArdle emphasizes that the culture, in the person of friends, parents and media scolds warns women off marrying young. It tells them that it’s strange, abnormal and retrograde. It tells them that they will become domestic slaves and miss out on all the fun. It ensures them that they will be more attractive if they are more self-sufficient. It promises that when they are older and wiser they will make a wiser choice of a husband.

No one tells them that ten years of failed relationships and hookups is not going to enhance their judgment. No one tells them that women who choose to defer marriage will spend their college years and twenties protecting themselves from marriage by getting involved with the kinds of men they would never marry. And no one tells them what Patton tells them: when it comes to the dating market, aging is not a woman’s friend.

Also, as I have emphasized, it’s far easier for a couple to build a life together than to merge two independent lives.

The brouhaha over Patton’s advice does not only suggest that it has struck a nerve, but also that it articulates a message that had hitherto been condemned and repressed.

You might think that people who marry young do not necessarily have the happiest marriages, and there is some truth to the observation. On the other hand, we live in a culture where everyone looks down at you if you marry young and where, if you marry before the rest of your cohort,  your single friends, consumed by envy, will never cease to remind you of all the thrills you are missing

For offering young women a real choice, Susan Patton has provoked a conversation and has offered young women a new choice.

She has been excoriated in some segments of the media, but has been praised in many others. Some women who married later, women like Megan McArdle have supported Patton, declaring that they would happily have foregone the agony of extended singledom.

And then there’s the case of Julia Shaw.

Yesterday, the DoubleX blog at Slate published Shaw’s account of her marriage. She married when she was 23. Her husband was 25.

Shaw offers a realistic portrayal of the agony and the ecstasy of her marriage. She does not gloss over the problems, and does not sound as though she is trying to sell something.

Shaw shows the good and the bad of going through bad times and good as young marrieds.

Marrying young deepens the sense of being connected because it allows couples to build a life together. It militates against the common notion that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. When people marry later they have built their fortunes separately and thus have a much more proprietary feeling toward their possessions.

It’s also worth pointing out that the article appeared on the Slate DoubleX blog. This blog has tended to promote writers who have a feminist perspective. Its writers have been happy to support the hooking up culture. With an occasional exception most of its writers hew to the feminist party line.

Thus, it matters that DoubleX has giving pride of place to a life choice that counters the received feminist wisdom and the dominant cultural bias.

Surely, Susan Patton will soon be signing a new book deal. Let's hope that Julia Shaw is too.


Lastango said...

I wonder how professional feminists and their legion enablers are going to strategically spin the issue that Patton is pointing toward. The real-world consequences of delayed marriage and non-marriage are becoming increasingly obvious as the generational cohorts advance and push the statistical means, so outright denial won't work for much longer.

One problem for political feminists will be the lack of men at colleges. If women start to perceive the value of picking up their MRS degree, but there are few men there, will they become concerned about what happened to all the men? That's not a question feminists want young women to ask. Telling young women they shouldn't want husbands and families probably isn't going to work. Telling them the lack of upscale men doesn't matter because the women can be the breadwinners will be a tough sell as the many challenges of role-reversed marriages are becomming well-known.

Here's a bit from a Harvard Business Review piece:

"There is a secret out there - a painful, well-kept secret: At midlife, between a third and a half of all successful career women in the United States do not have children. In fact, 33% of such women (business executives, doctors, lawyers, academics, and the like in the 41-55 age bracket are childless -- and that rises to 42% in corporate America."


"Well-kept secret" indeed. Social engineering meets real-world consequences. There's plenty more of that to come.

Sam L. said...

I met my first love when I was 26. We seemed pretty compatible but somehow I had too many doubts (about myself) to marry her. Met #2 when I was nearly 34 and married her just before turning 35 (yes, the selection pool was pretty shallow both times).

Dennis said...

In a few days my wife and I will be married for 50 years. So we married young, she being 21 and I being 20. She was working in a trust department and I was in the military. As things happen 6 months after the wedding she was pregnant, then six months after the first she was pregnant and if you have not guessed 6 months after the second she was again pregnant. We did eventually figure it out.
She stayed at home and took care of our children. She also had total access to everything we made for there was, and has not been, more than one bank account. She paid the bills, dealt with all things that I could not because I was often TDY, et al. She was the foundation of our marriage, a wife, a lover, an advisor. If anyone was a dependent it was me because I relied upon her to be that strong woman who had our best interests at heart.
When I wound up in SEA duty she got all of the money we had and I lived on the money I made on travel, winnings from gambling, and various other reimbursements. Once the children got into high school she went back to work and as I changed careers she changed careers with both of us becoming, and I dislike this word, experts in our chosen fields.
Because we were young we grew as our children grew, faced challenges and learned to be the people we wanted to be. I shudder to think about going through the "terrible twos," the teenage years and early adulthood when we were twenty years older. We got to spend the years after our children were out doing their own thing almost totally devoted to our careers while a lot of these people are just now thinking of having children.
Because we were young when we married we get to enjoy our grand children and may get to enjoy our great grandchildren. When one is young one is far more adaptable to the exigencies of life, its challenges and can rebound from losses.
I am not suggesting that one get married young just to get married, but if you can find someone who is the right one's career should not get in the way. There is a lot of life to live and a lot of time to climb the mountains of your dreams.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Congratulations Dennis and Mrs. Dennis on your 50th... we are all very happy for you.

Dennis said...


We both thank you for your kind consideration.

My point was, and is, that being married is becoming a team and understanding that words like competition, dependent/independent, et al have no place in a marriage or any enduring relationship. One can almost guarantee that anyone who uses these words are well on the way to sabotaging any relationship they may ever have.
Each person brings strengths and weaknesses to the relationship that provide a synergy for the challenges that are part of living life. Learning to use this attributes effectively aids immensely to meeting all that is going to happen.
The question is which part of one's life is going to be dedicated to children and all that entails? Where does that important responsibility fit? Is it in the formative years where both people in a marriage are much more capable of adapting and handling the stress and strains or should it be in their
"peak" earning years? Should it be at a time in one's life where one is at the peak of health and can keep up with and enjoy one's children or is it when one is starting to lose a step here and there and has developed a pattern of life for themselves? Does one want to truly be part of their children's lives or do they want to pass that responsibility off to a care giver who, no matter how much they try not to, ingrain their ideas in your children?
There are a number of very valid reasons why a woman's ability to procreate has a time certain. Very few can "fool mother nature" and succeed without paying a price. One they most certainly will understand at the end of life. We will almost never wish that we had more time to earn more money, have more "hookups," and have more "stuff."