I thought my own mid-life marriage (one of us the product of a terminated long-term marriage and the other a never-married partner aged 45-52) was a rarity. But when two close 50+ female friends of mine recently became engaged and the same phenomenon occurred, I began to wonder if this was becoming a trend.
A USA TODAY analysis of Census records of Americans ages 45-55 shows that the percentage of those who said they had never been married in 2006 had doubled since 1990, and the percentage of those who were currently married had dropped by 9%.
My friends and I are among a small but growing group of older adults involved in marriages where one or both partners are marrying for the first time after age 45. Awhile back, older singles would have been known as the “spinsters” or “confirmed “bachelors.” But perhaps longer life spans now mean that there is still plenty of life ahead. Pair that up with the Boomer’s “perennially young” attitude and a greater number of aging singles in the population, it seems more likely that those who want to marry actually will.
It’s not easy getting a handle on this segment of the singles population, since no entity seems to track first marriages at specific ages. The closest count is the median age at first marriage, which in 2006 (the latest year for which data are available) was at its highest point: men at 27.5 and women at 25.5, according to the U.S. Census.
A tally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention taken over a 20-year period, 1970 to 1990, shows that in 1990, only 0.4% of women and 0.6% of men married for the first time at ages 45 to 49.
According to the most recent data from the federal Survey of Income and Program Participation, which includes marriage, 13% of those who wed in 2003 were 45 and older and that number is increasing as we speak.
Internet dating has, of course, enabled many of the later-life first marriages. It’s only in recent years that some sites have started monitoring that demographic. According to USA Today, among them is Yahoo Personals, based in Santa Clara, Calif., which reports a 33% increase from January 2006 to November 2007 among users ages 45 and over who say they have never been married.
As I mentioned in my earlier article, dating websites have been reinventing themselves since online dating took off in the mid-1990s. They’ve begun emphasizing a more scientific approach, which often includes compatibility and personality testing.
Why have these individuals never taken a walk down that flower-strewn aisle? The biggest reason cited is that they would rather go to the grave unmarried than marry the wrong person. In fact, marrying the wrong person is cited as their number one fear — by a margin of 10 to 1.
When I think about why my friends and I did not let that stand in our way, only one common thread among us pops into my head. That is that none of us lost hope or faith in the institution of marriage itself.
Funny thing. None of us found our life mates through internet dating. One couple met in a classy local restaurant/bar surrounded by good friends, the other at an ethnic festival, and as for myself, he was the brother of a good friend whom I had never gotten to know beyond the usual pleasantries when we would bump into one another over a 20 year period when I was married. It was not until I left my ex that I was invited to the same social event he was attending and found that he had been interested for a very long time and, being a gentleman, never let on.
All of us lived with our future mates for a while first, one person in each couple had grown or nearly grown children, and although we would have had no problem with living together in perpetuity, we somehow decided that proclaiming our commitment and love for one another publicly and/or religiously was the way to seal the deal.
I have to admit that it makes me feel great when stories like this give the single people in my life hope that it can still happen for them.
The key in all three of our cases, however, is that we all got out there and circulated with people we knew.
Networking, in my mind, is just as important in our personal lives as it in the business world. And although there are never any guarantees in life, marrying in your 40s and 50s make it more likely that you will have (1) better judgement in a potential mate (2) fewer of the hang-ups you did when dating in your 20s and 30s and a LOT more life experience in common (3) usually grown or nearly-out-the-door children if one of you was married before, and (4) a gratifying feeling that you have just teamed up with someone who understands that growing old together just may be the most beautiful thing of all.