My wife and I just celebrated our two-month wedding anniversary. (Reenactment: “Hey, it's our two-month anniversary.” “Really? Did we beat Kim Kardashian?” “No.”) I'm 25 and she's 24. While we're a few years younger than the median age for first marriages in the United States (the averages are at historic highs: 29 for men, and 27 for women), ours are normal ages to wed in many parts of the country.
But we live in New York City.
In my Brooklyn neighborhood, I see plenty of young mothers and fathers struggling to haul strollers up and down subway steps, but few wedding bands on anyone who looks like they're between the ages of 18 and 30. My workplace, a TV production company in Manhattan, is typical for New York City; only people with flourishing careers in their 30s and beyond are married. I get a variety of reactions when I mention “my wife.” Some eyes widen, as if I just confessed to being in a cult. Some brows raise, as if to say, “I thought this guy was a total screw up, but, hey, he’s married.” My former boss and I got engaged within weeks of each other. I was 24. She was 40.
My wife and I got married when we did, because, in the words of Harry Burns, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” That’s not to say we rushed. We had been dating for four years, and had a long engagement. Eventually, the only reason to wait came from the societal pressure to put your career first, and to be a certain age. But that didn’t justify holding our relationship back. We decided to commit to the most important part of our lives — each other — first, and face the challenges of young adulthood together, bonded by trust and support, as we pursued our dreams in New York.
According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans were married in 1960, as opposed to 51% of American adults today, and under 40% of adult New Yorkers. Recent census figures peg the median age at first marriage in the state of New York at 30.4 for men and 29.2 for women, but according to New York Magazine, New York City residents wait, on average, until they're between the ages of 30 and 34 to marry.
While magazines are preoccupied with explanations like extended adolescence, economic pressures, and shifting cultural attitudes, the more immediate question for me is, "What impact will living in New York have on our marriage?"
If we lived in a small town, we might put a down payment on a house or have a dishwasher, but here we share a tiny one-bedroom apartment, which forces us to be nice to each other. We don't have a car, so we walk, bike, and take the subway. New York City's thousands of restaurants never leave us short on choices for dates, and we never want for paper goods or poop bags for our cocker spaniel (delis here never fail to give you your soda with a straw, a bag, and about 20 napkins).
Living in Manhattan costs about 4.5 times the national average, and the city offers Gastbyesque allures that can tempt couples’ attention away from what’s important in a relationship. Fortunately, we can’t afford them. While New York City’s shimmer might distract other couples, and cause them to wait until they’re older and on financial bedrock to tie the knot, oddly, by forcing us to cut down on luxuries, the Big Apple helped us focus on the priceless essentials of our joint life: communication, compromise, spiritual development, and watching lots of Netflix.
The wedding didn't automatically transform us into “married people.” We haven’t been on double dates, or done any gardening (though we’ve eyed a plot), and we still spend most of our time with our single friends. That said, I have found myself using phrases that I've only heard my parents say, and I’ve gained at least three pounds. I’ve also found myself in the middle of more errands, activities, and visits to Anthropologie and IKEA than I would have chosen as a bachelor — and happy about it, as I'm always next to the person I most want to do anything with. And that's worth cherishing, at any age.