The Boy and I recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary, and our dinner out was pretty great – look for the restaurant review post next week. But as someone who got married and pregnant in quick succession after having the one serious boyfriend for a chunk of time that followed a long long stretch of being single and trying to date – I have some ideas about marriage and the things that happen. Obviously they’re not going to work for or be relevant to everyone, but I feel like for anyone in a situation similar to mine – they’ll be important to hear.
- Don’t feel pressured to get married so young. Meaning, if you don’t get married in your 20s, it doesn’t mean your a failure. A big part of the reason our parents generation and before got married that young was because there was generally little else for “respectable” women to do. Most women didn’t hold a full time job outside the home, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that women made up more than 1/3 of the degrees conferred at universities (see table 23). Women in general were getting married early, having children, and staying home to manage the household. That still happens now, but it’s not unusual, and is even becoming normal for women to go to college, get a job, perhaps get an advance degree, climb the job ladder and then finally “settle down” once she reaches her 30s and is more comfortable in her status at work. In fact – it’s a “millenial trend“. So if you are a person in your 30s who is not married yet (like I was!), you are not unusual. You are part of a larger societal trend.
- Don’t worry (too much) about babies. At least, not in the “Have I missed the boat?” kind of way if you are still in your 30s. First off, the statistics that you always hear about the decline in women’s fertility after age 35 – do you know where those statistics come from? French birth records from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. WE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE VACCINES BACK THEN. This was a time when women were trying to have as many babies as quickly as possible because chances are that 1 or more of them would die in infancy, or that they themselves would die in childbirth if they weren’t hearty enough. That’s so much less of an issue now. We have things like, regular medical care prior to pregnancy, prenatal care for those who are pregnant, testing, germ theory, antibiotics, modern medicine – I could just go on and on. The point is that while yes, it’s slightly more difficult to get pregnant the older you get, but you don’t suddenly dry up with no chance to ever have a baby. And here’s a fact: even with young women, only 1 in 5 who are having unprotected sex will get pregnant each month. That’s 20%, so dropping from 20% to 5% at around age 45…that’s 1% each year, which is not terrible.
- Take advantage of being unencumbered. I’m glad I did a lot of traveling in my 20s. I’m glad that the Boy and I did a lot of traveling before we had the baby. While I don’t plan on stopping traveling and having adventures now that there’s a little one who will be occasionally in tow (obviously), there are places that I would want to go that wouldn’t be as much fun right now with a baby. We wouldn’t have been able to take her to the Galapagos with us. And while we loved having the entire family on this trip, the things we would have been able to do without kids around are staggering. I don’t know if you noticed that we were very time limited as far as dinner because of the baby, but pretty much we needed to be back at the hotel or wherever by 7:30 or 8 at the latest to put her down to sleep in order to guarantee the fullest night of rest. I know in the past that there were times I didn’t go out to dinner until that time. And yes, we were able to go out for drinks that one night, but the sheer number of things you can do when you don’t have to look after little ones of any size (and I’m including the big girls here, because even 10 year old legs get tired and cranky and bored after a few activities during a day). Doing anything – let alone traveling – will never be as easy as it was before children.
- Relationships are hard. I know, I know – the sky is blue, the sun is bright. I’m not breaking any new ground with this observation, but it bears repeating. While the relationship itself may not change dramatically immediately following the wedding, things become entrenched. It’s easy for a relationship to feel light and fluffy when you’re living apart and dating, or in the honeymoon period after moving in together. But when the relationship becomes more about managing your day to day lives together (do we have enough toilet paper? what events are on the schedule for this weekend?) and less about what fun activities you’ll do or restaurants you’ll visit together, it can become a chore. And it can feel like carving out couple time is harder. Add in a child, and it turns out that 2/3 of couples have their satisfaction in the relationship drop during that time, which is also not surprising. Because it turns out that when you’re sleep deprived, and having to care for another human being that you can get snappish in the middle of the night, and resentful of things that are left undone (even if you haven’t asked for them to be done in the first place). And while recent studies questioned whether it’s causal, it turns out that happier couples are better communicators, and better communicators tend to have happier marriages. Which I think leads to the lesson that being in good communication with your partner is not a bad thing if you want to be satisfied in your relationship.
- Have a life outside of your partner. If your husband or wife is your entire world, it makes your life very fragile. Having friends other than your partner, and interests outside your relationship make you a more interesting, well rounded person. Obviously none of these things or relationships should be secret from your partner, because that way lies problems, but your entire sense of happiness should not come from the current state of your relationship. That ability to have a life beyond yourself can feel harder if you don’t work outside the home, or if you are living in a new/unfamiliar place. But making the effort is worth it. I know the scope of what I do is now reduced from what it was before, but I still have my book club, I’m involved in church, and I go to baseball games…when I can. All these are things that I find refreshing and make me even more excited to see the Boy (and the kids) when I return, refreshed from doing my own thing.
I’m sure there’s more I could say, but when I hear about people who are either frustrated at not being in a relationship, or are in one but want to be married, or who are desperate to have kids, or WHATEVER…these are the things I want to tell them. Fortunately, the younger generation seems to be getting the idea that marriage is not to be entered into lightly and that it’s serious business. So much so that in addition to getting married later in life, millenials are also divorcing at a much lower rate compared to other generations.
So for those of you readers who are married, what would you say is important for people to know before or just after getting married? What are the lessons you have learned in your relationships? I’m obviously not the final arbiter of truth on how things should be in a marriage, so would be interested to hear what others have to say!
PS – those rings above? The Boy and I don’t wear them. His is too small for his fingers, and mine is too large. We’ll get them resized eventually, but it goes to show that you don’t need to be wearing a ring to be in a worthwhile relationship.