Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Marrying Late

Today I heard that the novelist Barbara Cartland believed that the best way to arrange social life was for girls to marry at seventeen, and then there would be no trouble. I have a great respect for Barbara Cartland, for she is one of the best selling writers of chick lit ever. However, she was also born in 1901 and, as we delicately put it at my house, came from money. Today marrying off girls at 17, even girls who come from money to men with even more money, seems to me a recipe for complete disaster.

My mother was encouraged to get her Bachelor of Arts degree because it would be "something useful to fall back on if you don't get married, dear." It has become traditional to sneer at this observation so often repeated by women of my grandmother's generation to women of my mother's. But it made a lot of sense to women who--let us remember--had never had the chance to go to university.

Mum married a good catch and never needed anything to fall back on. But what I know, and Grandma didn't, is that the more education a woman has, the better her children are likely to do at school. So, from my self-absorbed point of view, Mum's B.A. came in very handy after all.

From Mum's own point of view, of course, there was more to her university degree than something to put on a resume and a beneficial influence upon her children. There was the fun of studying something challenging for four years, and there was the general social polish and opportunities university provides. There was, shall we say, a good dollop of personal development to be had.

Graduate study and careers add to personal development, and careers add to bank accounts. There is nothing like getting a nice pay cheque with a biggish number on it, as I hope most of you know. I wouldn't mind getting a lottery cheque and I do love a birthday cheque, but there is something about a pay cheque that makes my Scots-Canadian/Irish-German-American soul sigh with satisfaction.

So it is not a huge surprise that many women now spend long years in training or graduate school and seek high-paying positions instead of grabbing a pink-collar job after high school or a less obviously pink-collar job after college. (A Canadian civil service job, I have concluded, is secretly rather pink.) The net gains are enormous personal development and, sometimes, good salaries. Some women Ph.D.s make as much or more as the girl who went to beauty school at 16 and now owns her own chain of salons.

The sacrifices, of course, can be huge. One sacrifice of hardworking women in careers or prolonged training or school is that of time spend at parties. You can't go to evening parties if evenings are taken up with research, papers or briefs. And so you can't meet men. Another sacrifice is professionalism at the office. If you're worried about being seen as professional at the office, you can't date your co-workers. I once temped as a receptionist in an office full of single women. And who went out with the most eligible bachelor in the office, a policy analyst with great hair and a snazzy car? Little me. Receptionists get dates. (If I could spin this truth into 200 pages, I'd have a bestselling book.) Finally, the higher up the career-and-money path women go, the harder they have to look to find a husband who is of higher or equal career-and-money status. The men of higher or equal career-and-money status are usually either married or dating the receptionist.

When I announced to my family that I was going to do a Ph.D. in the USA, a programme about which I still have actual nightmares (e.g. last night), my sister-with-the-kid asked, "How long will this take?"

"Five or six years," I said.

She looked appalled.

"But when will you have babies?" she asked.

My heart sank to my socks. Reader, I could have killed her. And in a way, she was right. There was not much opportunity to have babies in the Ph.D. My programme was full of the usual suspects: men who married at 22, men in religious life, priests, a couple of nuns, men with long-term girlfriends, a few men with SSA, and a lot of single women. And as the programme and I weren't getting along, it seemed insane to be sacrificing so many of the last of my fertile years to it.

So where does all this leave the ambitious woman of today? Well, for me it comes down to Providence. It's the only answer that works for me, so I don't have an alternative one for atheist gals, save "get a job as a temp receptionist in an IT or law firm on your vacation." If God wants you to marry someone, He will just have to stick that man before your face. That's what I told Him, and that's what He eventually did. And why? Because He wanted to.

That's me, exchanging small talk with a sheep on my wedding day. As usual, I offer myself as an example of a woman who married late and thinks the guy she married was worth the very long wait. I wouldn't mention this except that some readers, when I got married, said it gave them hope. I like giving hope, and I love stories about women who have babies after 40 because they give me hope.


Amy said...

I have two aunts who had babies the year they turned 40. Those babies were definitely surprises, but have been amazing blessings to their parents.

Alephine said...

"get a job as a temp receptionist in an IT or law firm on your vacation."
Or go to medical school; lots of doctors marry other doctors.

My great-grandmother had one of my great-uncles at 47.

leonine said...

"men who married at 22, men in religious life, priests, a couple of nuns, men with long-term girlfriends, a few men with SSA, and a lot of single women."


Although at mine, it's mostly men in the first category. There are very few women in my graduate school, and only a handful are married.

But how does that relate to singleness? On one level, of course, it applies completely: few marriageable men around, hard to meet the ones that are, ergo: single.

But if one is "called" to one's graduate program, does it therefore follow that one is a Serious Single? Ought those of us who think we might want to have kids some day abandon the career for kids that may or may not come? That seems a gamble to me... and, actually, I gambled the other way. As a single woman with neither career nor spouse nor kids, it seemed wiser to me to choose the career, to take the concrete opportunity, than to pass up that opportunity for nameless husbands and children that might or might not come along. I suppose, at some level, I resent having to make that choice, but I think I made the best, most prayerful/thoughtful decision I could have. So what then? Ought I to change my status from Searching to Serious?

leonine said...

Oh, and I was asked not that long ago why I wasn't married, and I laughed and said I had graduate degrees instead. I meant it as a joke, but maybe it's true...

Sorry if these thoughts have been a little incoherent. It was one of those 13-hours-in-the-library days. Bleh.

Anonymous said...

When I decided to try to get a doctorate in history, I knew that I might be putting paid to my chances of marriage.

At the same time, I knew that my chance of marriage in the world outside the Ivory Tower wasn't that great either, because although said to be attractive, I was too eccentric to appeal to most of the men who crossed my path there, unless I wanted strictly short-term encounters. So I figured that in academia I might at any rate find a man who liked the same things as I did, and that if I failed to do so, at least I was preparing myself for work that I would like, if I had to live my life without husband or children.

I suspect that many women who choose the scholarly life think along the same lines as I did. Meanwhile, from a Catholic perspective, there's not much point in grabbing the first marriageable man who is willing to have children with you, if you think you can't build a lasting marriage with him. Better to go to graduate school, if that's your calling, and hope for the best.


Alisha said...

"If God wants you to marry someone, He will just have to stick that man before your face."

I think that this should be the only advice given to anyone who is particularly anxious to get married, aside from the advice to pray often.

Seraphic said...

LEONINE, don't give up something concrete for a phantasm. I followed my academic dreems until felled by illness, and I still found the Perfect Man for me. Leaving graduate school just because there are no eligible men in it is a bad idea. I would, however, recommend getting out of the library more, if you can swing that.

I would have loved, when I was Seraphic Single, to change my mental state from Searching to Serious, but actually just trying to be Seraphic was hard enough. My advice is to just be open to any possibility. If you fall in love with the idea of always being Single, go with that. If you fall in love with someone who seems to dig you, go with that. If you fall in love with a local community of Benedictines, go with that. But don't do anything or join anything unless you're in love with it. It sounds to me that it's your academic work that you love right now, so stick to it.

Seraphic said...

Er, dreams, not dreems. I think my Inner Child snuck in there.

Agellius said...

My wife and I got married when she was 37 and I was 26. She had our first child at 38 and the second at 41. Both are strong and healthy (now age 13 and 16). My only regret is that biology kicked in and we were not able to have more!

Alisha said...

Leo and Clio - it's so awesome to hear how well thought out and wise your decisions are...honestly, I really admire that and learn from it.

Mary said...

Oh, just to give you some hope for the babies. My mother had only two-my brother at 41 and me at 44. I'll not say that we were the greatest of children, but she loved us..as did daddy...he was 44 and 48, respectively. Enjoy, if the Lord gives you the later babies. God will give you the grace you need.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you'll read this, as this is an old post, but my mother gave birth to my little brother when she was 45 (got pregnant right away when she tried it, entirely natural). My aunt, who's also 45, gave birth to my little niece last month, she married my mother's brother, so she's not related. As far as I know, this was also natural. They have three other children, aged 15, 8 and 4. Just to let you know: it happens, a lot!