Sisterhood Blog

There Is No 'Right Time' for Marriage

By Sarah Kricheff

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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.


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Comments
Dan Thu. Feb 18, 2010

When I was 25 I asked a friend who was a doctor what the best age was to have children, she said, "Biologically speaking, probably about 18." But, obviously we live in a world where children and life-paths are about more complex things than biological optimization. From generation to generation we learn, add to the sum of knowledge and pass what we can on to the next generation. If we are merely stamps that replicate in turn how we were stamped by our parents, what kind of progress is that?

Debra Nussbaum Cohen Thu. Feb 18, 2010

hi Sarah - the headline on my blog post (not written by me) was more declarative than I hope I sounded in the post itself.....I certainly was not trying to say that there is a "wrong time" for marriage - any time that you are ready and find the right partner is the right time! And good fortune definitely has something to do with it.... I was trying to say that I hope my children feel that they are ready earlier than many of my friends have been, so that if they want to have children they will not be as likely to encounter the difficulties that come with age...and that, as I think Dan was saying in the comment above, that if I can pass on the knowledge I have gleaned from my life experience to my children, one piece of it would be that focusing on finding a mate and starting a family is something best not to defer until too much "later." But of course who knows what will be for my children? These are all very individual decisions......thanks for your response. And I hope you have a great time at your sister's wedding! (Who knows, her groom may have some cute, slightly older friends....)

Elana Thu. Feb 18, 2010

Let's not forget what's going on at the other end of the spectrum. In the Orthodox community, even the "modern orthodox" world, marriage at 19 and 20 is not at all uncommon. Couples marrying knowing that they have no foreseeable way to support themselves is also a growing trend. As is divorce after a year or two, or people living in situations of long-term unhappiness, stuck in marriages that started too early and put too much pressure and left the participants stunted in their emotional and personal growth. Babies having babies....

I feel like the traditional Jewish pressure to get married -- what you've clearly been feeling for quite some time -- has more negative impact than positive. I think overall, parents should just let their kids be. We should be free to just live, and go where life takes us.

Claire Thu. Feb 18, 2010

Parents putting too much pressure on their sons and daughters to get married is wrong because it can lead to people marrying the wrong person because they rushed into getting married and then they get divorced or can lead to them feeling they are a failure. My uncle had a lot of pressure put on him to get married and ended up marrying the wrong women, his heart was not in it and they got divorced and he does not see his daughter from the marriage.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen Thu. Feb 18, 2010

what an interesting discussion. I expect to be careful not to pressure my kids when they're in their 20s (or 30s....) to feel that they need to get married.... they will be ready when they are ready, and if they are ready and not finding a right partner (I don't believe in "the" right partner) then I wouldn't want to make them feel bad by bringing the matter up......what I was trying in my original post to express (which many people seemed to miss, so perhaps I was not as clear as I wanted to be) is that while my children are young, and when the topic comes up, that just as I communicate that they should strive to be anything and accomplish everything they want to, I also communicate that I hope they'll be able to get married and have families, if that's what they want......these are values I'm communicating to children too young to contemplate actual marriage, not pressure......I think of (healthy) marriage as a positive value, just like I see education and working and doing good in the world, and I think it's something that we liberal Jews ought not be afraid of naming. That's a whole different thing from the pressure to marry at 18 or 20, which Elana mentioned.

Motic Fri. Feb 19, 2010

In Orthodox circles the younger sibling can get married first, but there is a tradition to ask for the elder sibling's blessing. Someone asked the late Steipler Gaon, Rav Kanievsky of B'nei B'raq, why, if we all have a bashert, do some never find that person? He replied that sometimes we meet our bashert but turn him/her down. Regarding the age for marriage, although Pirkei Avos says a boy should get married at 18 and go to work at 20, most Roshei Yeshivah accept 23 to 25 as the normal age for boys to marry 'in our times'. We may be physically mature earlier, but emotionally we seem to mature later. Many Roshei Yeshivah have also advised to scrap the idea of men marrying younger women, leaving 'older' women on the shelf. My own daughter got married at 19 and had three sons in five years. When the youngest boy was 11 she began a degree in psychology and now has a very successful career. Each person has to decide what's best.

Silvia Fri. Feb 19, 2010

I got married at 37 and I couldn't have picked a better age or stage of life to do so. After living around the world, having experienced a couple of good and a few horrific relationships, having truly experienced life in all its beautiful and dark shades on my own and having gained some maturity, I truly came to value having a mensch as a companion and a stable and more or less predictable life. What I value today as a partner is not necessarily what I would have looked for in my 20s.

Had I gotten married at 25 or younger I would be going through a mid life crisis, aching to do all that I managed to do in my real life.

There is NO recipe for a successful age for marriage (if one marries at all).

Hila Ratzabi Fri. Feb 19, 2010

And sometimes your beshert isn't Jewish. I've written on this topic here at the Forward, and while it pushes some people's buttons, I do think it's a valid option to consider when it's statistically impossible that every (heterosexual) Jewish person has a beshert of the opposite sex waiting to be found within the Jewish community. I think this notion of beshert dovetails with the general pressure that is placed on all women to get married and procreate, a pressure that is magnified for Jewish women in particular. I think if you are a woman who happens to want marriage and children (not all do), then dating outside the Jewish box is something to consider. There are many wonderful people who aren't Jewish who are willing to join in creating Jewish families. I like the following article on the topic: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/10929/let-s-shatter-the-taboos-on-marrying-non-jewish-men/

Hila Ratzabi Fri. Feb 19, 2010

And sometimes your beshert isn't Jewish. I've written on this topic here at the Forward, and while it pushes some people's buttons, I do think it's a valid option to consider when it's statistically impossible that every (heterosexual) Jewish person has a beshert of the opposite sex waiting to be found within the Jewish community. I think this notion of beshert dovetails with the general pressure that is placed on all women to get married and procreate, a pressure that is magnified for Jewish women in particular. I think if you are a woman who happens to want marriage and children (not all do), then dating outside the Jewish box is something to consider. There are many wonderful people who aren't Jewish who are willing to join in creating Jewish families. I like the following article on the topic: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/10929/let-s-shatter-the-taboos-on-marrying-non-jewish-men/




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