When my mother was 23, the age I am now, she had been married for three years and had a child already. It was 1984.
In so very many ways, I am grateful for the shift in our culture that has pushed back the average age of marriage to about 27 for women (and about 30 for men). It means that more women are focusing on their careers and have learned to prioritize family life for later, when they have strong careers and can more efficiently balance work and family.
It means that more women are able to choose for themselves how to build their lives: that marriage isn’t the “end goal.”
But then again, despite all efforts to combat the trend, there still persists in our culture, among men and women, the tendency to judge. And that tendency is apparent when a woman gets engaged under a certain age.
Perhaps because culture has evolved to such a point, it’s weird to some when a woman gets married under the age of 25 or sometimes, much earlier. It seems that culture has evolved to let a woman establish a career before marriage, but not enough to let her get married before having an established career.
It leads to a lot of raised eyebrows, a lot of undue judgment, a lot of annoying, ill-advised questions. So take it from me, if you know a woman who’s engaged before the age of 25, do her, yourself, and all women a favor by not asking her these offensive questions.
“Why are you getting married?”
When a woman under 25 gets engaged, the tendency is there to assume there’s some kind of ulterior motive. She’s marrying for money, or she’s misguided, or she’s rushing into something she doesn’t understand.
When my sister got engaged, a cousin of ours was nothing sort of shocked that my sister, who had been dating her now-husband since she was 19, had decided to take this step. Her answer? “I’m ready.” Often, the answer is as simple as that.
Marriage doesn’t have to come at the perfect time, when both partners have high-powered careers and are immediately ready to have kids. Sometimes, you’re just ready to take that leap together, ready to make it official and start to build a life together. No one has to understand it but the bride and her partner, and to ask this question at all is rude.
“Why now? What’s the rush?”
In the same vein, this question assumes that there’s an appropriate age to get married, just like in the past. Except now, that appropriate age is much later. Why is it okay to tell a woman she’s supposed to get married later? Isn’t that the same as telling a 21-year-old that she’s an old maid, like we’re still in Victorian times?
“Are you pregnant?”
As if the only reason to get married young is because you’ve been knocked up. Pass!
“But what about your career?”
I like this question, because those who ask it think they’re being progressive, when really, they’re just parroting the same sexism that still permeates our culture. If you think about it, no one asks a man what will happen to his career if he gets married. He just goes on with his life, and in some careers, it’s even an advantage for a man to be married.
Some people — still — assume that a woman who gets married will immediately give up her career to be a housewife and have kids, because obviously her place is in the home. If she does give up her career, rest assured that it’s her choice, and that no one should shame her for it. But assuming that a woman can’t be married and have a career is inherently sexist.
“Are you planning to have kids right away?”
I would say, “Mind your own business,” but you get the picture.
“Is it a religious thing?”
I hope I don’t have to explain why it’s wrong to judge someone based on their religious beliefs. Many religious denominations have cultures in which people just normally get married young, for whatever reasons. It’s their choice, and it’s not anyone else’s place to tell them they should be doing something else, any more than it’s their place to tell someone how to live their lives.
“But I thought you were planning to travel/volunteer/do this job?”
Again, this question just assumes that a woman throws away her career, her passions, her goals, and her life plan because she’s getting married. When and if I get married, at whatever age, I’m going to travel the world and do everything I planned to do, with a husband and brood in tow if I must!