“I did things backward. I started my career first, and marriage came much later.” Those are the words of my then 36-year-old mother in a 1966 article in The St. Louis Post Dispatch about her career as a stockbroker. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was born in 1930, my mother got her M.B.A. at Radcliffe, a women’s liberal arts college that functioned as the female coordinate institution for Harvard. She then went on to work in New York City and Washington D.C. before moving home to St. Louis.
During that time, my mother had many “beaus,” as they were called then. Sometimes several at once! Women could do that in those days since they were actually dating, as opposed to having sex with, said men. She had several marriage proposals, too, but turned them down.
At 34, my mother married my father. She had my sister at 36, me at 38, and two miscarriages in between. She kept working throughout her pregnancies and afterward, the way women do today, and didn’t quit until my sister and I were 5 and 3, respectively. She never returned to the workforce after that.
You might assume that since my mother was what feminists would call a “trailblazer” that she would encourage me to follow in her footsteps and make the pursuit of a career my priority. She did not do that. Rather, I grew up hearing three specific messages growing up. One, you cannot ‘have it all’ at once. Two, babies need their mothers. And three, it’s actually easier to have kids first and a career later.
Unfortunately, the advice many women my age (and younger) heard from their mothers was the exact opposite of what my mother told me. They were told to “never depend on a man,” to focus exclusively on career and worry about marriage later—what to do in the meantime when it comes to sex and relationships goes unmentioned—and to become a mother later in life, after their careers have been established. That a woman’s biological clock winds down at the very moment her career hits its peak goes unmentioned as well.
In other words, there are countless loopholes in the narrative modern women have absorbed, which is why they’re way overdue for a new one. One that takes into account the realities of life, rather than some utopian version of what life should be but isn’t. One that accepts that some things in life, such as biology and human nature and the overwhelming needs of children, don’t change.
To that end, here are 4 reasons for women to once again make marriage their #1 goal:
- It’s a thousand times easier to find a marriageable man in your twenties than it is in your thirties. As unpopular as it may be to admit, women (as a rule) still prefer to marry across or up the dominance hierarchy, while men are happy to marry ‘down.’ That means women in their 30s are at a severe disadvantage when looking for a husband. (Indeed, my father was divorced with four kids when he and my mother married, and these circumstances would haunt them the rest of their married life.) Women in their early twenties are blessed with a smorgasbord of marriageable men; this will not be case ten years down the line. There’s just no good reason for women to reject marriage for the purpose of pursuing a career. Getting married no longer means having a gaggle of children when that is not what you want. That’s the reason women in the past had to choose between marriage and career, but this no longer applies. You can choose the size of family you want. If you want to have kids right away, you can; and if you wish to continue working and wait a few years, you can do that, too. But none of this will be an option if you don’t find your person first. There's just no good reason for women to reject marriage for the purpose of pursuing a career. Click To Tweet
- You’ll have the option to stay home. If marriage is the priority, your attention will be focused on finding a good man who is ready, willing, and able to support a family. These men exist. The only reason there are fewer of them today is because women have been encouraged to become their own providers and protectors. And since men tend to cater to what women and society command, many men stopped trying to make something of themselves. Men also mature faster as a result of becoming husbands and fathers, so when women opened the door to a decade’s worth of sex without commitment, men became playboys. Ever notice how mature and dependable your grandfather was at 25 years old when compared to the average 25-year-old man you know today? That’s because in the past, marriage and family was the goal. We’ve lifted that expectation of men, and the result is what we have today. Men also mature faster as a result of becoming husbands and fathers, so when women opened the door to a decade's worth of sex without commitment, men became playboys. Click To Tweet
- Your kids won’t miss out on having grandparents, and you won’t have to mother in a vacuum. One of the reasons motherhood today is so much more taxing than it used to be is that there’s too much distance between grandparents and grandchildren, both in age and in geography. The older women are when they have children, the older grandparents become—which means two things. One, your children won’t know their grandparents very well, which is a tremendous loss that becomes clearer over time. Two, mothers become tired and resentful. Indeed, nothing beats the ability to drop baby off with Grandma and Grandpa—for a few hours or for overnight, so Mom and Dad can get some much needed alone time. These are things that make parenting easier and more enjoyable.
- You’ll have a better idea of what you want to do career wise. How many people do you know who wind up doing something professionally that bears no resemblance to either their college major or their initial job out of school? I’d bet my life savings it’s the majority. So much happens in the ten to fifteen years post-college that, unless you chose a clear and straightforward career path—teacher, doctor, lawyer—you will likely end up changing your mind down the road. Our identities tend to develop over time, which is why the popular idea that people need to “find themselves” and then get married makes no sense. It is in being married that the work is done. That is when we find ourselves. It is in being married that the work is done. That is when we find ourselves. Click To Tweet