I bristled when I read Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s recent Sisterhood post suggesting that 25 is the right age for marriage. The fact that I’m 34 and unmarried and very much wanting to be on the path to marriage and children contributed to my feelings of discomfort, of course. But another development in my life has got me thinking about age and marriage. My sister, five years my junior, recently got engaged, and she will be married this fall. When I first heard the news I’ll admit I felt a bit uneasy. Other people might classify my reaction as a mini-meltdown, but who’s keeping track?
Don’t get me wrong: I am filled with overwhelming joy and love at the prospect of my sister taking this next step in her life. The problem here isn’t her; the problem is me. Isn’t it odd and even unnatural, I have found myself thinking more than once, that the youngest is getting married first? (A few relatives and friends have also been, um, kind enough to bring this question to my attention.)
In Biblical times, the eldest daughter in a family was to be married off before her younger sisters could enter matrimony. Many are familiar with the story of Jacob: He was madly in love with Rachel and worked seven years for her hand in marriage, but was tricked by her father, Laban, and ended up marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, first. (Of course Jacob also ended up marrying Rachel, in exchange for additional seven years of work.)
When I was in my 20s and gallivanting around town and not worrying about marriage or having kids, did I upset the natural order of things? Has my roundabout path taken me too far off course? In rational moments, I know that the answer to these questions is a resounding no. We are not living in Biblical times — case in point, my parents don’t think of me as a commodity. And I don’t regret the rich and varied life experiences I have had so far.
The fear of not being able to have children because of my age is very real to me, but I also know that I have to be patient. Marriage cannot be forced. It seems to me that in the 21st century, there is no such thing as the right age for marriage; there is only the right timing. No matter how badly a person wants to be married and wants to have children, finding a compatible partner and mate for life is very much dependent on luck, fate, and most of all, love.