Jeff and I recently watched an old favorite movie: When Harry Met Sally. I was struck yet again by a dynamic that happens when Sally finds herself alone at age 30, after having broken up with her live-in boyfriend of five years. Her friends push her to start dating again and get married quickly, lest all the good guys be gone. Sally asks: But what if it doesn’t last? Her friend looks across the table, and says, intensely, “At least you could say you were married.”
Based on the many people I’ve interviewed, variations of this dynamic are being experienced by most adults who are single and a bit older. Maybe they have never been married; maybe they are single again and hoping for things to work out better the second time. But I hear many older-single adults talk about loneliness, a desire to be in a lifetime relationship with someone who will love them unconditionally. They wonder whether of all the people they are meeting on Hinge or at the singles group, they should just “pick someone” and settle down.
I would argue that there is nothing wrong with choosing to get married and making it work. After all, millions of arranged marriages have done just fine throughout human history. But I would also encourage the older single to consider another perspective as well: that some marital benefits do come with waiting.
I know that is easy for me to say as a married person. So I decided to inquire of those who indeed had spent years feeling that Mr. or Mrs. Right was running late. Since it is easy to see only the downsides of getting married later in life, here is what I heard about the benefits of doing so, from folks who went that direction.
You’ll know yourself well.
This is far more important than you may realize. When you get married with a chunk of living already under your belt, you’ll know yourself well and have far more wisdom. When you know yourself, you know what you most need in a partner, and what just doesn’t matter as much. In other words, you have a greater ability to choose someone who’s a suitable complement to your values and personality, instead of the Mr. or Mrs. Wrong who seems so enticing. After all, when you’re a bit older, there’s no point in dating just to date. When you have more wisdom, you can steer toward those with the character qualities that make for a happy marriage.
You also know what you have to offer – both your strengths and your weaknesses. You’re (hopefully) wise enough to stop the posturing and posing that comes from youth and insecurity. Without that pretense, you can be more genuine with your partner. They’ll know the real you. Hopefully, your partner will be the same. And you’ll know what’s really important to both of you as you plan your future together.
“Better late than never” isn’t true
Remember what I said about discerning the character qualities needed for a good marriage partner? One of the top pieces of advice I heard from “single-again” adults is that it is far better to remain single than to jump into a marriage that you or your partner aren’t prepared to commit to for a lifetime, for better or for worse. As one person said, “We say ‘better late than never’ but ‘never’ would have been better than marrying the wrong person.” Another told me, “I don’t think that singles realize how torturous it is to be married to someone who you feel doesn’t love you. If you aren’t sure both of you are committing to truly make it work, don’t do it.”
There is no perfect marriage or perfect person – your spouse will be married to a very imperfect person, too, right? But I heard over and over again how important it was to not blow past warning signs out of a deep desire to get married.
You’ll have a greater appreciation for your spouse and your time together.
When you marry young, you have a lifetime ahead of you as a couple. So it’s easy to forget that time, and life, are finite. When you get married later and don’t have quite as much time ahead of you, you savor every moment more deeply. It’s easier to keep minor annoyances and disagreements in perspective – to not get riled up so quickly; to let moments of conflict go. With an eye on the big picture, you’ll want to enjoy the time you have together.
So you’ll prioritize spending time with your mate, which itself is a key factor in creating healthy and happy marriages. As we discovered in our research for my book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, it turns out that highly happy couples don’t just spend time together because they’re happy, a big part of the reason they’re so happy is that they are spending time together!
You’ll benefit from the fact that marrying later in life is a predictor of a lasting marriage.
Far from being a disadvantage, marrying a bit later in life is one of the top five characteristics of marriages that last, as we shared in The Good News About Marriage. Now, of course, many “young” marriages are wonderful and last a lifetime. But those who marry at older ages are simply statistically more likely to stay married for a lifetime than those who marry young. (Researchers theorize this is because young couples don’t yet know themselves well and aren’t as prepared for the lifetime “for better or for worse-ness” of the commitment.)
If you wait a bit, you know that your marriage is far more likely to last a lifetime. It may sound funny, but that can give you confidence to approach conflicts and difficulties with the attitude that your marriage will get through this. And that sense of hope becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
But be prepared for this challenge . . .
Marrying later in life does present a particular challenge: both of you will be more set in your ways than younger marrieds. Because you’ve been on your own for a while, each of you will have your own ways of doing things that no one has questioned or interfered with. Your routine, your schedule, your organizational style – they’ve all been up to you. So when you settle into life with your new spouse, expect some friction as you work to find ways of doing things that satisfy you both. There will be a need to mutually adapt and change, when your spouse wants to chill at home on Friday nights when you’ve always been out on the town, or when your spouse needs to take their morning shower at the exact time you’ve always taken yours. Be open, be flexible, and find win-win options so you can establish your routines and lifestyle as a couple in ways that honor you both.
Gratitude for this new season of life
There is great power in gratitude. And when most older singles get married, I consistently hear a sense of gratitude for this person in their life. So embrace that. Be grateful that you have waited for the person with the right character qualities, and who is just as eager to work things out for a lifetime and let that smooth over the inevitable rough edges.
So ring out the bells, rejoice with friends and family, and enter into your later-in-life marriage with hope and promise. Being newlyweds will give you a renewed spirit and a fresh attitude. Adjust your timeline for life goals as needed, embrace a blended family if that’s what you’re creating, let go of old hurts and disappointments. Turn the page to an exciting new chapter. And enjoy the blessings of married life!
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Send us a speaking inquiry request today!
Please note: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn a small amount from qualifying purchases through these affiliate links. This doesn’t cost you anything, and helps us continue bringing you great content!
More from Shaunti’s Blog:
- A Devotional Story Update and Tribute
- Two Steps to Improving Your Emotional Health This Thanksgiving
- National Adoption Month and How to Love Adoptive Families Well
- A Challenge for Churches, Friends, and Women in the Workplace
- Do you need to let go of control in your marriage?
- The Benefits Of Not Getting Married Just To Get Married