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On Friday, I turned 24 (that’s why they really closed the campus that day). The Monday right before that, the first day of the semester, marked the beginning of my sixth year at Weber State University (and not even for a lucrative degree). And, though I am married, I don’t have any kids yet, nor am I expecting. I’m officially starting to feel Utah-old.
I know this is unfounded. I know that, in most other states, I’d be considered too young to even be contemplating marriage, let alone children and buying a house. But I don’t live in those states. I live here, where not only half my high-school graduating class is married, but a good number of them have at least one kid. Some of them already have three. If not a booming family already, then they have powerhouse degrees that will actually make their family money. In fact, when I was in high school, a lot of my peers were working hard to get their associate’s degrees by the time they finished high school.
So really, by the time you’re my age, you should have your associate’s, your bachelor’s (in something lucrative), a spouse, a good job, maybe a house and at least one kid (with another one on the way). Oh, and you’ve found time to go on a mission while you were doing all that too.
Is this unrealistic? You bet. But don’t worry, no one’s really going to judge or worry about you if you’re in your mid-to-late 20s and not quite in that place yet. But they might at least say something to you if you’re that old and don’t have any of that checked off yet. Especially if you’re still not married. I mean, it’s not too late or anything, but it’s time to start thinking about lowering your standards, apparently.
All right, I’m exaggerating a little about our cultural expectations. Unmarried people really don’t start attracting sympathy here until they’re 25-27, but even that would still be ridiculous by other states’ standards. I have unmarried friends who are around 27 and being made to feel over the hill by everyone around them, even though they have degrees and have accomplished a lot in their careers. So really, the Utah age barometer is focused more on marriage and family than on school and career, especially for young women.
If we accept that the optimum age for childbearing is 26 (though there is debate over that; I’ve read other articles insisting 35 is the best age), then I guess it’s understandable, but what’s sad is that, the more people conform to the cultural timeline, the harder it becomes for the people who have different priorities. For instance, the strong, successful young women I know who have their degrees and great careers might be just now, at 27 or 28, thinking about starting families. And more power to them, I say; their future families will thank them for it someday. But if all the men around them got married young, and if marriage is important to these women and they don’t want to settle, then they’re pretty much limited to men younger than they are (which isn’t a problem at all, except that some people make it a problem) or who have been married before, which would be an issue for some people. So they more or less get penalized for not strictly conforming.
What we also need to realize, though, is that young marriage/parenthood is not always based on conformity. It’s easy to get critical of the “Utah mindset,” but I think the majority of young married couples I know really were just doing what they wanted to and knew was best for them. I don’t think “conforming” or beating the clock was on their minds at all. I got married a little younger than I’d planned to (at 22, and my husband was only 20) because I met the right person and it felt right to get married then. I still know it was the right thing for us, and I think that is probably the case for many young couples here, if not most. We all know young couples who, in their rush to get married before or at the same time as all their friends, made a terrible mistake that only led to heartache, but I would hope and guess that those couples are in the minority. I do think it’s unfair that the people who want to hold off on it get inadvertently penalized with a dating pool much smaller than it should be at their age, but I guess that comes with the territory.
I do hate Utah weather, though. If nothing else, move for that reason.