The American Age Bias


You’re 38 and never married? Why not? What’s wrong with you?

Can we talk about the age bias we have going on in the dating world? There seems to be an ideal age that one, theoretically, gets hitched in this life. While not official, that window seems to be 27-32. I don’t hear very many folks exclaim that someone is “too young” or ” a bit past due” when they announce nuptials in that age range. But woe betide the 24 year old who decides to marry or the 36 year old who never has married… then you hear comments like the following:

  • If you don’t use that baby maker, you’re gonna lose it.
  • He has commitment issues if he’s that old and never married!
  • How could a girl like you still be single at 35?
  • You’re way too young to consider settling down, you have so much left to accomplish!
  • He must be made of money for her to consider marrying someone so much older.
  • You don’t even know who you are yet! Why get married now?
  • Grandma has given up on being alive to see you married.
  • Maybe you’re just too picky…

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve all heard or said your own variations on the theme. Heck, I think I have as well. But when one of my friends made a comment like that the other day about a single guy we both know in his early 40′s, it really struck me sideways how unfair it was. I mean, we know some of his history and he’s got his reasons for never getting married and just because his reasons aren’t our own, does that make them any less valid? After all, to my grandmother, I’m just being too picky and need to find a guy that I get along with ok, but my thought is — why settle for ok? I think my reasons are pretty valid, but I don’t think she agrees.

Is there really such a thing as too young or too old? I mean, we all meet the old couples who fell in love at 17 and got married before he headed off to war and are still together 50 years later. Or the woman who resigned herself to life without marriage only to find the man of her dreams at 46 and is so glad she never settled. No matter the success stories, there seems to be an assumption that we have “ok to be single” expiration dates.

I suppose that’s valid for the having children part of things, but is it fair otherwise? Is a 44 year old never married single just hopeless? Is it truly inconceivable for a 23 year old to marry successfully?

Taking a look at assumptions makes one wonder if we should be letting these invalid singles live? Since they are such a hazard to other people, perhaps we should round them all up and send them to an island where they can’t hurt anyone!

Assumptions about the over 40 year old never married male:

  •  set in his ways
  • commitment-phobic heart breaker
  • selfish
  • sliding towards the extremes on the messy/clean scale

Assumptions about the over 40 year old never married female:

  • dried up stick
  • single for a reason and not just a season
  • probable cat lady who plans to take up doily making in the near future
  • somehow and someway — has a “crazy” factor

Assumptions about the under 25 single guy:

  • dangerous to pin down before he’s had a chance to have an early “mid” life crisis
  • not established enough in life and career to make a good mate
  • immature when it comes to dealing with women and relating to them
  • needs to sow a few more “wild oats” before settling down

Assumptions about the under 25 single girl:

  • she just wants to move from daddy’s house to being taken care of by another man
  • more likely to cheat since she just doesn’t have enough bad experience to know how good she really has it
  • immature about expectations and a bit of a drama queen

We all know people who have fit into these stereotypes, but I know a LOT of men and women who don’t. It seems that the more I get to know someone, the less likely I am to put them in one of these categories. In fact, I usually come to agree with my older than average single friend or younger than average married friend’s decision to remain single or settle down young. Which makes me wonder why we are so quick to whisper or question the decision a relative stranger makes about marriage. I mean really… how well did you know the 40+ single person you “felt sorry for” at the last wedding?

So, why the pressure to conform to an average in a nation of people who celebrate individuality?