Chances are that you, just like me, live in a big city and you see the tendency of people to settle down later and later in life (if at all). Is it ever too late for that? One would be tempted to say “no” but I do think it gets more and more difficult with age.
Not long before I met my husband, a friend of mine who was in her thirties and who listened to me complaining about men told me I was being unrealistic. She said that at 28 I should only be counting on the so-called second market, meaning guys who have already been married and possibly have kids. I actually did follow her advise for a bit in my choice of who to swipe right and went for the daddies. They would send me too many picture of their kids about whom I always said they were pretty because, well, what do you say? This short experiment taught me quickly that I don’t really want to take on a whole family and I became unapologetic about children being my deal breaker. The older guys, however, seemed more mature, usually secure in their jobs (rather than living with their moms and lying about having their own companies) and interested in younger women (surprise, surprise). For a bit there I thought I found my niche.
I went on quite a few dates with first market gentlemen in the age bracket of 35-40 and chatted with a few even above the 40 mark. The trick was there was always something they said on the first date, which made me understand why they haven’t settled down. A lot of them had serious vibes of a commitment phoebes, telling me about how there’s something wrong with women in general (like for instance, their dislike for nice guys) or how monogamy is a bad concept. Some mentioned their mom way too much (one even said he hasn’t met the woman being as good as his mom yet). Others were fine with a relationship but not with living with someone. Yet another group was still hang up on their last long relationship and was clearly not over it, regardless of whether it finished a year or 10 years ago. Last group were people who just lacked social skills/women skills. The group I haven’t encountered during this round were constant travelers but I know they exist. Most of these men weren’t actually interested in a serious relationship. This made me wonder: have these guys missed their time to enter a serious relation and lost flexibility to the point that wouldn’t risk their lifestyle even to accommodate someone very special? Also, there’s a reason why they’re not everyone’s favorite group to date and why their dating market value drops with age.
The truth is that we do get more and more stuck in our ways as we get older. Many people get their own place rather than stay with flat mates in their mid to late twenties. They prefer independence but they could still could mould themselves easily to live happily with a partner, even if that was their first exprience of this sort. It does seem, though that there’s an age when such flexibility as the one required to learn to live with someone happily disappears. Just think about it. If you live on your own you can be as messy or clean as you want to. You don’t have to let anyone know what time you’ll be home or move your schedule around to suit your partner. Even living with flat mates is a different dynamic and gives us way more independence than a serious relationship. Now imagine having such independence for 5, 10, even 15 years. One gets used to it and with age it becomes more and more difficult to see that the perks of a happy relationship are bigger than the ultimate freedom. Especially men are likely to skip settling down altogether, in my opinion, due to the preferential upbringing that still teaches them that as men they can do pretty much whatever they want.
Reaserch seems to support me in my thinking. This article in Time analyses a study according to which the perfect age to get married and not end up divorced is between 28-32. Makes sense to me: not too late to lose flexibility and not too early not to know what you want. I don’t think that people above (or below) the mark should despair, it’s just a study, after all. It’s more an indication that perhaps there’s something to my thinking. I know some people (mostly men) above the mentioned mark, for instance, who have already given up on love because they feel dating is too much effort and they don’t want to compromise their lifestyle for anyone. You can also see a similar tendency among people who are married or in a stable partnership and want to have kids. They also keep pushing the boundaries of when to have kids because they like their lives and are used to them. After years of building a life you want in terms of education and professional sacrifices, it’s difficult to decide to change it just like that for something which may or may not make it better. You know why there are no similar stats for “lasting parenthood” as they are for the best age for a lasting marriage? Because you can never divorce your children. I think when we’re younger we’re more willing to try new things, knowing we may fail. It’s just easier to pick oneself up.
Last but not least, some people have serious relationship issues that prevent them from having their happily ever after. They may be trying to to fix the issues they had as children in the relationship. For instance, if someone has an unappreciative mother and keeps dating people with similar traits hoping they’ll eventually appreciate them. Patterns are difficult to break and sometimes require help from someone objective, you pay a lot of money to, to help you break them. Science agrees, however, that due to our flexibility disappearing, such issues are easier to work on in our twenties than in our thirties or later. Of course, not settling down isn’t the only risk. An even bigger one is attempting to settle down with a wrong person. You can learn more about it in an excellent Ted talk “Why 30 isn’t the new 20”:
To sum up, I don’t think it’s ever too late to settle down but I think the older you get, the more difficult it is to do so. It’s also probably much easier if you had some previous experience with serious relationship than if you don’t. The flexibility disappearing with age, men being used to having their way and last but not least, the lowering dating market value connected to age make settling down above 35 a challenge.