How “23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23″ Undermines Its Own Message

If you’ve been online in the last few days, it is likely that you’ve seen the article “23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23.”

Beneath a few layers of faulty premises, some loose logic, and that angst and angry sarcasm we’ve come to expect from Gen-Y, the article sends a good message: don’t get married until you’re ready for marriage.

However, as I implied above, the article is rife with questionable implications, one’s that undermine the article’s intended message. Two glaringly inaccurate points stick out: 1) that “more and more” people are getting married before hitting 23 years of age and 2) that marrying older will lead to lower divorce rates.

History proves otherwise:

1. People marry older now than ever before.

The article begins with the observation that there is a growing prominence of people getting “engaged and/or married under the age of 23.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since a dip in the 1950s, the median age for first time newlyweds (male and female) has increased at an alarming rate (MS-2). Estimated Median Age at First Marriage

Currently, the average age that an American female marries for the first time is 26.9. The average American male marries at 28.9. In 1980, those figures were 22 for women, and 24.7 for men. Already, we see that the author of “23 Things…” seems to be fighting a battle that has been over for years. The tide has already turned, people are marrying older now than they ever have before.

Why write such an angry article decrying a phenomenon that is disappearing on its own?

Which leads me to the second glaringly false implication of the article: that a population that marries older will divorce less. A quick sweep of historical marriage statistics proves otherwise.

2. Marrying older has not improved marriage longevity.

According to the implicit logic of “23 Things…,” as the marriage age rises, the frequency of divorce falls. Well, given that people are marrying older now than at any time in recorded history, we should be seeing lower divorce rates as a result. Such is not the case.

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As the graph above indicates, in the same time period that the first-time marriage age has skyrocketed, so has the divorce rate. People marry older and less often now than ever before–and divorce more as well.

It may be true, as the author insists, that the Kardashians are ruining marriage. It is certainly true that marrying recklessly and without serious introspective thought is dangerous. But the author makes the unfortunate mistake of tying such recklessness to a particular age. We don’t need to be marrying later, we need to be maturing earlier.

This is why the author’s suggested to-do list, however satirical, ultimately undermines the intended message–that is, to wait for marriage until you are ready. Marriage does not require one to be 23, it requires maturity. Yet the author’s list is full of things that could only prolong the immaturity, and selfishness so toxic to marriage.  The list seems to suggest that one should prolong their childhood for the sake of marriage. In reality, one will never be ready for marriage until his/her childhood ends. The author’s suggestions of making out with strangers, and eating jars of nutella, while appealing, may have more to do with the frequency of divorce than age ever has.

The fact of the matter is that turning 23 does not make you an adult, nor does it make you ready for marriage (Kim K. was 31 when she married, and divorced Kris Humphries after all). Likewise, being 22 does not make you unprepared for marriage. Age is simply not a good measure of maturity.

Instead of waiting to turn 23 to get married, wait until you are mature. How do you know if you are mature? Well, if you are still making out with strangers (“Thing to do” #3), dating two people at the same time (“Thing to do” #11), and being selfish (“Thing to do” # 22), you have some work to do.

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52 comments

  1. I feel like people are over analyzing her article. I get your point and appreciate it, but still people like to pluck meaning out of places where there is none. Her blog post was simply meant to send a message to young people to not limit themselves. Which is something that happens much too often with young love. It’s a good message, but unfortunately so much of the public has to delve in and rip apart every single word she wrote because they feel like they need to defend their own personal life choices. Sad. When she was just trying to shed some light on youth and offer her perspective on life! Anyways, thanks for this post! Enjoyed reading it. Good points.

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    1. And the rest of the adult world is letting her know that she personally has a lot of growing up to do, while we aren’t limited from doing a single, non-terrible thing on her list, other than stringing people along or risking Hep C.

      You’re a lot more limited on your worldly pursuits as a single person with one income. When you’ve got two people, working together to take the world by storm, you bring a hurricane and it is amazing.

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    2. I agree here too. I’m in a committed relationship, past “making out with strangers,” but I appreciate her message more than someone trying to tear it apart… For what? Her point was to inspire her peers to do something with their lives! Your point is… Well, I’m not sure.

      I believe the point of “23 before 23″ isn’t to claim that the age of 23 is a cut off. It’s catchy. It’s creative. It’s an idea, not a statement of fact.

      I appreciate your data, but her general idea is still strong. Don’t get married just because it’s something to do. I guess every reader will take what they want: either something positive or something negative. Shame that we need to tear down our fellow bloggers instead of being constructive.

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      1. Her tone was too condescending. I liked the idea at first, but as I read more of it, I couldn’t help but think that she sounded too sarcastic, and that she wanted to prove something to herself because she’s actually that insecure! She could have made her point without putting all her other peers down and judging them unfairly (for example, just because you’re married doesn’t mean you are boring and are simply wanting to hide behind someone else for the rest of your life).

        So in reality, she actually did the tearing down first: she bashed all her FB friends on WordPress to make herself feel better.

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        1. You’re right. She was too sarcastic, and a little disrespectful. i completely agree with this article. maturity is key here, not your chronological age. i liked the fact that the author of this article looked at data to make a point. making out with strangers, hang out naked in front of a window (on purpose?), disappoint your parents (again, on purpose?)… i mean, come on!

          maybe i’m reading too much into this. maybe it’s meant to be read and forgotten. she does have some good points after all, i’ll give her credit for that.

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      2. I agree that the the Original author’s overall point may have been “don’t just get married to get married” but I DISagree that she was trying to inspire her peers to do something with their lives. I’ve worked with a ton of college students in varying degrees of maturity, and this girl, in my opinion, would fall in the category of very immature. You don’t have to live selfishly as a single person. I think this rebuttal article nicely points out that maturity is more important than marital status. There are many young people out there who want to change the world, live big and do great things, who are inspiring others to be great citizens, learn and grown and be dynamic adults. I don’t see this girl as one of them. She’s planning on spending the next several years of her life having pointless relationships, upsetting her parents, eating a whole jar of nutella, changing her religion and hurting 2 boyfriends at once?? That’s really not inspiring.

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    3. That’s a really good point. That poor girl has been under a lot of useless, and often cruel, scrutiny in the last few days. I really do think she intended to send a positive message, one that young people ought to hear. Unfortunately, the way she conveyed it ended up offending some people. And her questionable claims ended up obscuring her true message. I only meant to clarify that message for those who were offended by the post but didn’t quite know how to deal with it. I’d like to think that my analysis was neither useless nor cruel, but I can see how people might view it that way.

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    4. You sound like an upbeat girl and that’s awesome. Two of my young adults are very upbeat and don’t like to look at things “critically” in an analytical manner b/c it feels negative to them. However, I warn them that everyone has an agenda and when reading anything, there is always a worldview being stated. When my kids hear a certain opinion over and over and it becomes “popular,” it also becomes true to them even if it’s not factual. That is what’s really sad. The only point you made that I couldn’t understand and which didn’t seem very upbeat was your judgement on why the public analyzed her message; obviously you can’t judge their motivation. (I’m guessing some people were nasty and so you’re trying to stand up for the writer; that is admirable but consider not being unkind in turn.)

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    5. Not sure how you convinced yourself that she was “just trying to shed some light on youth and offer her perspective on life,” but that clearly isn’t the case.

      “Some days I wake up and stare at my ceiling thinking: ‘I’m single as fuck.’ But then I realize that those friends are going to get knocked up and fat soon sssoooo”
      She’s clearly bringing down those who want marriage and children to make herself feel better about single. If she were simply trying to offer a unique perspective (not that there’s anything unique about a woman not getting married by 23, as this article points out), she could do it without insulting others. I never want to have children, and I don’t really understand why anyone would, but I still respect that it’s an individual decision. The author of the original article shows no respect for the fact that clearly, most 23-year-olds are significantly more mature than her, and might be ready for things she is not.

      I never wanted to get married and had never had a very serious relationship until I fell in love with my best friend at age 21. Regardless of your age, if getting married means giving up your dreams and no longer exploring the world, you’re not with the right person. For me, getting married will mean having my best friend next to me while I do these things.

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    6. It’s true that some people rip apart articles for no reason, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening with that article. Everyone isn’t ripping apart every word she said, she ripped apart everyone who chose a relationship lifestyle that was different than hers. She didn’t say “these are my suggestions,” or “some people are ready to get married young,”… she went out of her way to be isolating to a whole, huge group of people (and unjustifiably, based on the above article). She did not advertise what she was saying as her own personal belief– she implied that anyone who gets married young MUST be making a mistake. So if she’s getting burned, it’s probably just people who are advocating the freedom of choice, and pointing out to her that not every 23-year-old has the same type of relationship that she imagines. Many of them said it in a very hostile, aggressive way (which is awful, and stoops right back down to her level!) but I believe many of their points are valid. I hope she learns something about acceptance and tolerance!

      On an unrelated note, you seem like a great person with great insight! Best wishes :)

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  2. While I agree that people should wait until they are mature enough to get married, rather than a magic age, your analysis of marriage and divorce statistics is ridiculous. Granted, it’s less ridiculous than the original article spouting ‘it’s a trend to start getting married younger!’, no dear author, you’re just at the age when the youngest of your peers are starting to get married, so it seems like it’s everywhere, but ridiculous nevertheless. Data on divorce rates from the 1950s is completely incomparable to data today. You’re ignoring the multitude of other possible causes for both of the rise in divorce rates and age of first marriage, notably the invention of birth control. If anything the data you provide suggests the opposite relationship, notice the sharp increase in first marriage age coincides with a sharp decrease in divorces between 2005 and 2011? Which you completely ignored, despite the fact the graph was titled The Rise and FALL of Marriage and Divorce Rates. Regardless, the information you present is mostly irrelevant and not sufficient to make any claims on the relationship between the age someone today gets married and the likelihood of them divorcing. History does not prove otherwise. The irony of you criticizing her for her loose logic and faulty premises.

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    1. You’ve brought up a lot of good points here. But I’m not sure that we actually disagree. If I understand you correctly, you don’t agree that the increase in the first-marriage age has increased the divorce rate. I completely agree, and I’m sorry if my post implied otherwise. If I can refer you to my post, all I said about the data was that 1. people marry older now than ever before and that 2. it has not led to a lower divorce rate. Both of those conclusions are undeniable. People marry older (on average) than they did in the 50s, and the divorce rate is much higher. The author of 23 Things if people married older, they would divorce less, yet there is nothing in the historical data that corroborates that. However, this does not mean that marrying older causes a higher divorce rate. The age rise certainly has not led to lower divorce rates, but to point this out does not suggest that it has caused higher divorce rates. The fact that divorce rates and the first-marriage age have risen simultaneously does not necessarily mean that one caused the other, or vice versa. It is far more likely that both of these trends are symptoms of other factors, as you pointed out.

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      1. Okay. Statistics 101 here. Maybe this will help us understand each other better (apologies if this seems patronizing, I don’t mean to imply you don’t know anything about statistics, but just so we are using the same terminology and logic). I’ll start with two hypotheses: A null hypothesis (the older you get married does not make you less likely to get divorced) and an alternative hypothesis (the older you get married does make you less likely to get divorced). Our aim is never to prove or disprove the alternative hypothesis, but to disprove the null hypothesis with some degree of confidence. The information you present on the increase in average age of first marriage and the increase in divorce rates since the 1950s fails to disprove the null hypothesis, but that does not necessarily mean that the alternative hypothesis is disproved. Obviously all data is imperfect, but average age of first marriage and total number of divorces over several decades raises significant concerns if our purpose is to look at whether or not someone getting married today is less likely to get divorced if they wait to get married until their older. There are many other factors that likely contributed to both the increase in age of first marriage and more importantly the increase in divorce. Because of the presence of these factors you can’t say anything about what we would expect to see if the alternative hypothesis is true, because there are so many other things messing up the data. In addition, taking average age of first marriage each year ignores population differences which is very important since attitudes towards marriage and divorce in America vary greatly. The alternative hypothesis very well could be true, but it is being overshadowed by the other factors. My point isn’t that her claim that getting married young makes you more likely to get divorced is correct, but that your evidence to contradict it is not sufficient.

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        1. Thanks for getting back to me! And thanks for the stats lesson! Well said. Although I’m not sure it was necessary. I have degrees in both Economics and Math. Statistical Research analysis is my profession. Econometrics has dominated the better part of the last 5 years of my life.

          Back to the article, like I said before, I never claimed to fail to reject the null, or reject the alternative hypothesis (which, like you said, wouldn’t be the goal anyway). I never claimed to contradict her assertion, only to use tangible data to suggest that her claim was unfounded (not necessarily wrong). I said that the rise in the first marriage age has not led to lower divorce rates. To say so much is undeniable. The average age of marriage is higher, and divorce rates are not lower (they are much higher in fact). Without running a regression, and compiling a lot more data (as you said), I could not determine the nature of the relationship between marriage age and divorce. However, it is entirely acceptable to point to surface data and make the conclusions that the data allows. The data I presented is not sufficient to conclude that younger marriage age doesn’t cause higher divorce rates, or vice versa. But it is sufficient to conclude that older average marriage ages has not led to lower divorce rates.

          I cede your point that I should not have said that we would expect to see lower divorce rates. I should have said that ceteris paribus, we would expect to see lower divorce rates.

          Now that you’ve peaked my interest, I might just try to compile the necessary data and run a regression to see if there is a negative correlation between divorce and age.

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  3. I have returned to that original post numerous times to read the comments alone. Wow, people are angry. I like your response, since it feels more like reason and less like shrieking. It’s a silly FP post and should be taken in that vein, because no rule applies to everyone. People are reading it as an indictment of their life choices. I found it hard to get riled up, because even my 9 year old knows better than to eat a whole jar of anything.
    I look forward to seeing more of your posts. Happy new year!

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    1. It’s true. The whole thing is pretty silly. And that poor girl definitely does not deserve the scrutiny and anger she’s receiving. I’m glad you liked the post! Thanks for stopping by. Happy New Year!

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  4. I completely agree, what an excellent article. This young woman’s opinion just sounded condescending and not like helpful or friendly advice at all. This logical piece brings a LOT more sense to the table on this subject. Hopefully, with maturity she will understand that everyone is different.

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  5. The original post is the ramblings of a self centered college grad. You know what? When you are single, you can be selfish. But there comes a time even someone doesn’t want to be alone and wants to enjoy life with someone. Nothing wrong with getting married young (if you are ready mentally and emotionally) and having someone to share those travels and experiences with.
    I was married at 22. We had a 2 year engagement while we wrapped up schooling and made plans for our perfect wedding. We had been together since 17, we knew what we wanted in life and that we didn’t see any reason to delay it. We got pregnant the very first time 9 months after getting married. Now here I am at 28 (29 in April) and I have two beautiful boys I get to enjoy daily and two angels to see in heaven. I can’t imagine delaying having them and going through what we have later on. Wouldn’t have changed anything. Do we vacation? No. But we didn’t before we had kids. Do we party it up? Once in a while. But I’d by far rather be home with my beautiful family and enjoy the latest antics of my 4 year old and watch the amazing milestones my 8 month old is passing.
    I don’t feel I’m missing anything because I got married and had children so young. We are doing what feels right for us. We’ve talked about this since we were 17.
    So if you aren’t ready for marriage, don’t get married. Make your own list and do it. Come to marriage later, when you are ready and have the right person. But don’t go painting marriage at an early age as a bad thing. I’ll still be young enough when my kids are moved out to go travel and enjoy my husband and do things, just the two of us. I’ll have energy to chase my grand kids, should I be that blessed.
    My mom was a young mom. Her mom was a young mom. My father’s mom was a young mom. I see it making perfect sense…IF YOU ARE READY. If you aren’t, grow a pair and own it. Stop making young marriage seem like such a failing.

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  6. I wrote an in depth response to the 23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23 and the response from The Result of a Close Minded 23 Year. My response takes a step back and does not approach these blogs from personal preference. It is meant to encourage young women to do what you think best fits you. My Response offers a no bias towards married or single women but it encourages woman to follow the right path for their personal choice.

    Please read it here: http://hannahkrisheq.blogspot.com/2014/01/dont-tell-me-what-to-do.html

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  7. I really liked your response, which was analytical rather than judgmental. In all honesty, as a woman who married at 21 I did feel that the original blog post was pretty offensive, and very judgmental. Perhaps, the author of the original 23 things post should have considered her tone before posting it online.

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    1. Thank you! I agree. And one of the primary reasons I did a little research and wrote this response was that I know so many people who married at 20, 21, 22 years of age and have been happily married for a long time since.

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  8. I really enjoy another person responding to that article with a different perspective. Everyone’s coming at it with different angles. Actually, of all the responses I’ve read so far, I’d loved to hear your response to what I posted in response to #23things. My focus was on the Millennials and our wanderlust vices. So if you have a minute, I would love to hear your thoughts: courtneyfricke.com/1/post/2014/01/23-things-worth-doing-in-your-early-20s-a-response.html

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  9. Hi there! I really like your post and it’s nice to get the view point of another sex LOL!
    Whether I’m for the view point of the writer or not is not important, but I liked her post. It was sassy and provocative and I guess she was just saying ” live a little”. In fact, I wrote a post on it too.

    Feel free to read and let me know what you think: http://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/10-things-to-do-right-now-instead-of-getting-all-upset-about-that-post-23-things-to-do-instead-of-getting-engaged-before-youre-23/

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