Marriage Trends and My Mother

Tom Purcell
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Posted: May 09, 2016 1:34 PM
Marriage Trends and My Mother

My mother is in an enviable place in life as she nears the beginning of her eighth decade. She's lost her filter, and that doesn't bode well for me, her only son.

"You have six months to get married or else," she said to me recently.

I can't fault her for her concern. Single men can be knuckleheads. We don't take care of ourselves as we should. We don't live as long (though some of my married friends tell me marriage only makes life seem longer).

The fact is, marriage is good. Married people have lower rates of depression. Married men earn more - partly because they need to but mostly because they desire to - and married couples are much less likely to experience poverty.

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that married people are generally happier than single people. It found that the "happiness bonus" from marriage is greatest during middle age, when people, struggling to pay college tuitions and save for retirement, benefit most from the support of a lifelong partner.

My mother knows this. Thus, the regular phone calls.

"You have five months, one week, four days, two hours and 27 minutes to get married!"

"But, Ma," I try to explain, "the world has changed. It's not like the old days when people married just out of high school or college. A Pew study found that the share of never-married Americans has risen dramatically in the past five decades. It found that 1-in-5 Americans aged 25 and older have never been married, compared with just 1 in 10 in 1960."

"You have four months, two weeks, six days, 12 hours and 48 minutes to get married!"

"But, Ma," I say, "more and more people are marrying and starting families in their 40s and 50s. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I still have some time. Tony Randall had his first kid to a young woman when he was 78. Novelist Saul Bellow sired his fourth child at the age of 84. Author George Plimpton had twins at 68. Sure, all three are dead, but I think I made my point."

"You have three months, one week, five days, 18 hours and 12 minutes to get married!"

"But, Ma," I say, "it's not that I don't want to marry. I always wanted to have a marriage like you have with my dad. I had my opportunities over the years, but couldn't do it when I was younger. I made some bonehead decisions, no doubt. I can't imagine how different my life will be when you and dad are no longer in it, and I know as I go into the last third of my life, that I'd be incredibly blessed to have a wife to share my life with. But then again I'm awfully set in my ways and maybe marriage just isn't in the cards for me."

"You have two months, two weeks, six days, seven hours and 18 minutes to get married!"

"But, Ma," I say, "part of the challenge is to find a woman who is as honest, caring and compassionate as you. You taught me what really matters in life: family, laughter, honesty, beauty. Surely, you don't want me to marry just anyone - I could have done that a dozen times. Don't you want me to hold out until I find a woman who is as sweet and fun and funny as you?"

"Nice try, but you have one month, three weeks, two days and 11 minutes to get married!"