Is Marriage at 40 a Lateral Move?
If I had started writing a “single at heart” column in the 1950s, I would have had almost no natural audience. Hardly anyone stayed single through their 30s, much less for life, and there was little discussion of the joys of singlehood.
All that has steadily changed, decade by decade, and now year by year. The age at which people first marry – among those who do marry – continues to climb. More and more people stay single for life, and by choice.
Something new has hit the marital scene. Newlyweds who are in their 40s or 50s – and who are marrying for the first time – are no longer unheard of.
What happens when you are master of your own life for decades, and then you marry? I like answering questions with reams of data, but I also see the value of individual life stories. Over at Salon.com, Tim Gihring told his story of marrying at 40.
Titled I was a ‘male spinster’, the essay challenges some myths and swallows others whole. For example, Gihring does not like “the old trope that bachelors in their 40s are immature playboys who will never settle down, the floating scum of the dating pool.” But he repeats uncritically claims such as the one about how marriage is likely to lengthen his lifespan. (I critiqued the relevant studies in Singled Out; paper is here and ebook is here.)
To me, the best parts of the essay were Gihring’s discussions and analyses of his personal experiences of marrying at 40. Some highlights:
I have a wife I love. But unlike people who marry at 22 or even 32, with some part of their adult experience still unformed, I have never thought that Lucy completes me. Or even that I’m happier than before. With no one to do it for me, I had already jury-rigged a life: a career, a circle of friends, a library card that I had every reason to believe would sustain me to the end — and happily so. Marriage at 40 is a lateral move.
I’m reminded of this whenever Lucy and I fight, because our fights are not the fast-moving thunderstorms of youth but the daily drizzle of realizing you did all of this before on your own, from cooking to cleaning to driving cross-country, and never once criticized yourself. You never held up an ostensibly washed dish to yourself and said, “Do you see what I see?” You never asked yourself to roll up the windows, turn down the music, and watch the merging traffic until you sat there, tense in the silent car, thinking, “I knew road trips and you’re no road trip.”
[Note: Thanks to Elliott Lewis, who wrote a guest post for this blog, and the Spinster Studies Facebook page for the heads-up about this essay.]
Wedding photo available from Shutterstock
DePaulo, B. (2012). Is Marriage at 40 a Lateral Move?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 14, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2012/12/is-marriage-at-40-a-lateral-move/