I remember being an impressionable thirteen year-old when my older sister got married. I asked my mother how old my soon-to-be brother-in-law was at the time. "He's 30," she said, "and your sister is 27. That's a good age to get married."
My mother, apparently, was not that far off the national mark. According to a Pew Research Center report (2011) the average marrying age for women is 26.9 and for men it's 29.8. This is a far cry from a hundred years prior, where census data revealed the average age for women to marry was 23 and men 25.8. But then again, we didn't live as long as we do now, and women did not have the same career options.
I conducted my own poll amongst men 21-35 and discovered some interesting truths. On the younger end, many of the men in their early twenties were still "playing the field" but thought that if you found the right person, you could settle down and know that they are the one for you within the year. Justin, age 22, said, "Six months maybe, but I'm not going to worry about that for a long while!" I think them a bit naive, given that few of them were engaged or married, but it was nice to hear.
Men in their mid-twenties were a bit more realistic about what it would mean to get married and thus, requested more time to get to know a person. A of the guys I interviewed in their mid-twenties said it would take them three to six years before they would pop the question. Matthew, 26, said, "Honestly, to be sure she's the one? [It would take] at least several years including living with her." On the flip side of that equation, most of them seemed to already be in that sort of long-term relationship so their viewpoint was specific to the person they were dating.
As my research continued on to men 27-30 the time commitment surprisingly began to arc back toward less, not more time to get to know someone. These men weren't naive - they had serious long-term relationships before. They knew what they wanted in a partner and once they saw it would not feel the need to wait before getting down on one knee. Some of these men were single, some in committed relationships, and some already married. The general consensus across the board seemed to be that waiting 1.5-2 years made sense.
That takes us to men in their early thirties. Surprisingly for me, as a man in his thirties, most of these guys seemed to think that they would wait six months before getting engaged, assuming it involves the right person. Look," Josh, age 31, said, "I finally know what I want in a woman." Perhaps it's the fact that these gents are on the other end of that Pew Research national survey, or that they have seen so many of their friends get married, but these men, whether they were currently single or dating someone, expressed that they would be willing to marry "the one" within six months of meeting her.
Men in their mid-thirties returned to the idea of waiting at least a year, or even two, before committing in this way, which makes me think that men hitting thirty and becoming afraid of being forever alone is a very real thing.
While there is no arbitrary age which you should worry about or look for in a potential mate, it seems that men in their early thirties are more likely to pop the question more quickly than guys in their twenties. What does this mean? It means that if you're in your twenties dating a twentysomething guy and he hasn't proposed after two years of dating, you should take a step back and look at why you're so anxious to get married? Are all your friends tying the knot and perhaps there's a little part of you that wants to as well? It could also mean that this relationship isn't heading in that direction and that's an important conversation. You need to ensure you're both on the same page, even if that means dating for another 2-3 years before getting engaged.
I knew a couple in their early twenties that dated for over seven years before finally tying the knot. They were committed to each other but wanted to focus on career growth and having fun before taking their relationship to the next level. There was no rush for them to get married and they knew it would happen eventually and are still married today.
The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. That might mean he wants to get married ASAP and you don't want to until after you finish grad school. Great. Have that conversation. It might mean you want kids and he doesn't. Less great, but still - have that conversation. The more you communicate to your partner what you want a marriage to look like, the more you will be able to see if this is the person you will marry. Whether a guy is 21 or 35 your boyfriend will appreciate you being open and honest about your vision. And if he is one of the men I polled recently, don't be surprised if he's thinking of getting down on one knee in six to eighteen months!
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