Prior to my birth, my parents were married eight years. "The best years of my life," my mother once told me (although I think she was just being nostalgic. I have, after all, read her journals from the time). Still, I always felt like that was the gold standard. Two people meet, fall in love, have many happy years together and then ruin their lives with two screaming rugrats, this leading them to believe that they will never have years again as happy as the ones spent alone. A lovely tale, really.
This June, R and I will celebrate five years of marriage. We made it about half the time they did before we commenced the whole "screaming rugrat" portion of our personal program. And actually, I would say that, while I loved our time alone--we traveled extensively, ate expensive meals, watched umpteen thousand films, drank a bit too much--I am the "happiest I have ever been" now. I love having a daughter together. I love nights like last night when, thanks to the evening light, the three (four) of us can stroll into the park at 6 p.m. and let her swing, ride and practice walking before walking to dinner and ice cream. I cannot imagine waiting another four years for these moments, just because it is the way my parents did it.
The "industry standard" on marriage and childbearing seems to be 2.5 years. Most couples I know either just celebrated or to celebrate their third anniversary soon after their first child arrives/arrived. That seems about right. A bit of time alone, then add someone to the mix. Not counting our marriage, R and I have been together seven years next month. And I think we needed every second of that to get here. The thing is, one really has to love their spouse to want to have children with him.
I know there are exceptions and people who come into marriages with children or people in their mid-30's who want to marry and jump on the kid-having portion of their particular life program. Then there are the couples who have been together 15 years, unmarried, get married and decide to have kids right away. I am not in any way judging any family's way of doing business. To each their own. But I do have a hard time understanding why a couple I recently heard of who met and married within a year are now about to give birth months before their second anniversary.
If that schedule works for them, great. But for me, 2.5 years of knowing someone would not be enough to enter into the commitment that is child bearing. It's funny, to me, having Sam was a much bigger commitment than marriage or buying a house put together. Nothing says I love you like merging your DNA and trying to raise a decent human together. Had I ever contemplated divorce prior to kids, I would have clammed up any thoughts of that after them. These little guys are hard work and ain't no way I am raising them on my own. This is why I am so grateful to the years R and I had to get to know each other prior to childbearing (not to mention the years we spent growing up down the block from each other on the mean streets of Ohio).
There are many other perspectives under the sun, however. Currently, I am reading a great book in which the women perceive marriage as the ultimate commitment, the one that can never be cast asunder while childbearing is just a part of life, typically commenced prior to the 20th birthday. As I said, to each their own. I in no way am casting aspersions against those who choose not to marry. Sometimes I say that had the gay marriage issue been as hot as it is now, R and I would not have married just to spite a system that is excluding people who love each other. Love and marriage and baby can happen in any order people wish, especially if they already know each other well and have been together years.
My question is more with the people who are choosing a very traditional trajectory on fast forward. I guess I never wanted children more than I wanted my husband. It never even really occurred to me to have them until long after we'd said "I do." It was him I loved, children were an afterthought. It seems many other people enter into marriage wanting children desperately and start to try immediately. In some ways that makes me sad for the marriage. If the family is a house, the marriage is the foundation. It is awfully hard to build a foundation when all the focus is on how many bathrooms the place will have and whether they will be made of marble.
It took me five years just to understand some of R's quirks. I cannot imagine moving any faster than we did (and if you ask my parents, we moved too fast at 6 years together and baby). I realize that some are older than we were, but to the younger ones, I have to ask: what's the hurry? Why not stop, travel, smell the flowers in Paris and have children once the foundation is solid?