I came across this spot-on article today. Do you know what it's like when you've been thinking something for a long time, and then you read somebody else's very accurate summary of exactly what you meant to say? Well, that's what I felt as I was reading. I wish each and every one of my single friends could read what this man writes.
There can be, and are, many arguments to justify the trend of late singleness. "We are all individuals and cannot be shaped into one mold"; "early marriage is not for everybody"; "we need to mature as individuals"; "G-d has a special plan for each and every one of us" - all of which is true, but still there is no denying that people today are getting married far later than 25 years ago, or that extended singleness comes with a heavy price.
One tendency I noticed people have is to wait until everything falls into place. Until we get the job of our dreams, or we are done with our exams, or life is less busy. This isn't only true about meeting people or getting married, by the way. Things are much the same with having a child or starting a big important project. We tend to delay until circumstances are "perfect"... and then (hopefully) one day we realize that time is slipping by and we plunge in and do what must be done... in still-imperfect circumstances. So what have we gained by waiting?
My husband and I got married just four months after our first date. We were planning a wedding as I was struggling to complete my hospital internship. Was it a perfect time? No. But we could have continued seeing each other for a year and it still wouldn't be a perfect time, because no doubt something else would come up to make life busy and stressful.
Did I get the perfect husband? Did he get the perfect wife? Did we even know each other very well before getting married? No; not in the sense we got to know each other later, living through ups and downs, having children, moving from house to house, facing periods of unemployment... we could have dated for years and it still wouldn't be like getting to know each other in the course of marriage, after commitment had been made. Of course there are some red flags you can see while you are dating a person, but in my opinion the excessively prolonged dating period which is now so common, or the custom of living together before marriage, are no guarantee of happiness or divorce-proof a subsequent marriage. Quite the contrary - such practices only reinforce fear of commitment and set us up for failure.
Not long ago I've read an article by one quite well-known rabbi (unfortunately, his name eludes me right now), directed at young men. He wrote that, though there have of course been very great and holy men who had married late, his general advice is to lower our financial expectations and get married young. Why? According to him, "youth has both excitement and confidence, which are good for starting and building a marriage. A young man is more likely to approve of a young woman he meets, without focusing on blemishes [both physical and spiritual]. He is less likely to fear failure, or to wonder whether he is mistaken in his choice. As people grow old, all of this becomes more difficult."
What does he mean? As we get older, we become more set in our ways, more critical, more skeptical, more cautious and less flexible. When a man gets older, he is more likely to marry an older woman as well. By this time, he has his own baggage and she has hers. Our fears and doubts are not overcome as we age, because nobody can promise us everything will work out well, no matter how well-prepared we are. In addition, the pool of singles has somewhat thinned out by a certain time, which creates further difficulty.
What about this nagging "am I making the right choice?" - well, if you are reasonably compatible, and reasonably attracted to one another (you don't necessarily need butterflies in your stomach, but of course it won't do if you are physically repulsed), it is perfectly alright to proceed in good faith. There are many, many stories of good marriages which started very prosaically as good friendships; and also stories of great love that was gone very soon despite the two lovers feeling certain, at one point, that they were soul mates.
You can be wise, you can be cautious, you can be prepared. But ultimately, getting married means taking a plunge. Of course, once you are married, it doesn't mean that your fate is sealed. You have a very large measure of control over whether your marriage will be a good one or not. But that is probably a subject for some other day.