Dear Dr. Rachel,
I have noticed many women my age (mid 20s) are obsessed about getting married. It seems they are hyper-focused on this goal so much that they’re missing out on actually being present in their relationship or focusing on taking their time to be with a person who is right for them. I don’t understand their impatience or know what to tell them when they vent to me. How do you suggest I talk with my friends about this, given I can’t relate to their urgency?
The institution of marriage is evolving, however, in the Midwest there is still a norm to get married and have children at a younger age compared to other regions of the country.
You are at a different stage in life than your friends and probably have less traditional views on the timing or necessity of marriage. Your friends confound you on this matter because your interests are focused on living in the here-and-now whereas their interests are future-oriented. I imagine you are also concerned they will settle for Mr./Ms. Right Now versus Mr./Ms. Right.
Your friends are grasping for something. Whether it’s to have the Hollywood fantasy of love that lasts forever, societal permission to start a family, live in accordance with their religious doctrine, feel a sense of security, have lasting companionship, or all of the above. Whatever the reason, you don’t enjoy being a bystander as they distract from savoring the present moment, lack gratitude for their current experience, and foolishly rush into a huge commitment. I doubt their obsession is working in their favor; let’s face it, most people who start dating someone do not find desperation very attractive in a prospective mate.
Recognize what is fueling your friends as a way to help you let go of judgment towards them. In a nutshell, humans have an existential fear of being alone. Not the kind of alone where we’re sitting at a restaurant waiting for our date to arrive and they’re 20 minutes late — although that is bothersome — but the kind that resides in our subconscious and is always focused on primal needs of survival. For some uncoupled individuals, not being settled down and “chosen” by someone becomes equated with being less worthy and makes them questions their sense of belonging (even though they may have other non-romanic sources of love in their life). Our beliefs about how our life is supposed to look and the timeline we’re supposed to stick to can vary greatly; not having a serious partner in one’s 20s can mean freedom for some and trigger anxiety for others.
Let me normalize how you feel. Just because they might be intent on a fast track to marriage does not mean there’s anything wrong with you for not. I’ve definitely seen clients come to therapy to recover from taking the plunge too young before they truly knew themselves. Marriages that start before the age of 29 and end quickly have been called “starter marriages” and have the highest divorce rate for both men and women. This is a solid argument for people taking their sweet time before getting hitched.
We need to respect those who follow their own path with regard to relationships. Traditional or conventional relationships are not for everyone. Recognize your own timing for when, who, how and if you decide to be coupled. Knowing whether marriage is right for you comes from knowing your own self, and most individuals in their mid 20s are still figuring that out.
How can you be in conversation with your friends around these issues? Offer support by listening to them and being a compassionate witness to their yearnings, but beyond that it’s not your responsibility to convince them otherwise. Their drive for marriage at this age is deeply rooted in their childhood and attachment needs. Your job is to be authentic and model a life that is true to your own self, one full of meaning, purpose, and pleasure, and this is absolutely possible whether you are married, single, divorced, polyamorous or some other culturally constructed label in between.
Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at DrRachelAllyn.com. Send questions to Rachel@DrRachelAllyn.com.