Last week my parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. They are 52 and 53 years of age which means they got married at 22 and 23. They started dating at 17 and 18. No big deal.
While doing research for the incredible scrapbook that I made for their anniversary (because homemade gifts are still cute when you’re 25 and can accompany them with purchased gifts) I found a ton of newspaper articles on both of them. They each started their own businesses at 23.
Mom started a florist shop and dad owned a clothes shop, the fashion guru that he is. They had me when mom was 27 and shortly afterwards bought a house.
I am currently 25 years old. In order to catch up with my mother, I would have to go back in time and marry my high-school boyfriend – puke – start house-hunting and conceive a child pretty sharpish as mom had me on her 27th birthday (best gift ever).
My boyfriend’s parents were also married and mortgaged very young having started going out at 15. FIFTEEN. How times have changed.
As I set up the gigantic pile of gifts for an anniversary surprise while my “aul pair” were out for dinner, I gazed at what was in front of me. I had compiled a scrapbook entitled “30 Pearls of Wisdom,” comprised of 30 photographs with cute captions to encapsulate some of the many life lessons that they have passed on to my brother and I.
The symbol for a 30th anniversary is pearl, so I was pretty happy with this sentiment. I also had various photo frames, delicious food, champagne, champagne flutes – the works.
The centerpiece was a giant frame featuring candid photos of them dancing at their wedding, presumably taken on some hideous monstrosity of a camera but beautiful in their 1980s smudginess.
As I sat with them a few days later and we collectively marveled at the grandeur of my gifts and the colossal effort I had clearly gone to (tooting my own horn in excess here, I’m aware) my dad whispered, “We were babies. Look at us.” And babies they were.
Getting married at 22 and 23 back then was simply the done thing. You finished school and went to college if you were lucky enough or could afford it – my parents couldn’t, but went down the entrepreneurial route instead so, kudos on that front – and then settled down with a partner and a home and started planning for a family. Nowadays, considering we’re only one generation apart, things are so different.
My parents are young and vivacious and constantly reinventing themselves, their careers and their adventurous life-path as a dynamic duo. They’re impressively, grossly in love and have been a constant par against which I set most of my relationships.
As I managed to get my head around the 30 years of marriage they have behind them, and a further six years of dating before that, I began to realize that setting that as a par or goal in this “day and age” might be over-reaching… It might actually be ridiculous. It might be insane.
I won’t talk about Ashley Madison but I will say Ashley Madison and take it for granted that you all know what I mean. Technology, modernity, monogamy – do they all fit together? Do they add up to longevity, fidelity, forever?
At 25, I am seeing the beginnings of wedding season on the horizon. Engagements of friends’ older siblings or of older friends of my own, the occasional marriage which is talked about at length on the grounds of being such a shock because the couple are so young.
No one is planning a family right now. There are no babies among my friends that were planned. Loved, of course. But planned? Absolutely not.
Of course, this is a symptom of our fast-paced, instant-gratification generation. No one wants to “settle” as the entire concept is so entirely dull.
What about traveling? What about actually living abroad for a few years? What about dating a bunch of people and operating on a process of elimination?
What about Tinder? What about harmlessly chatting to new people and scoping out potential partners, temporary, permanent or otherwise?
What about the fact that new and exciting experiences are always just at our fingertips, so the concept of entering a binding contract of any description suddenly seems like a trap?
However, nothing is permanent anymore. In discussions with my friends about marriage, a reassurance that regularly comes up is “there’s always divorce.” Which there is – no arguing with that.
And even in the vague consideration of marriage, we have a lot of conditions. We don’t want to have kids until we’re hitting some kind of career peak with some solid accomplishments and travel under our belt. We want to have enough money put aside to do it properly.
We don’t want to blow all our hard-earned cash on a fussy wedding, and we’re really only planning on doing it for tax benefits and shared bank accounts.
When my parents had me they were pretty broke. My mom had to leave her business in small-town Waterford to move to Dublin where my dad was starting a new venture and they were renting a small house on a starter-salary.
Baby time? Perfect! When Mom returned to Waterford so that I could be brought up around family and dad would commute (which he did for the following 20 years) she lived in my grandmother’s house.
I was bathed in the kitchen sink because there was no bath. I wore hand-me-downs and ate grown-up dinners that were mashed into baby mush (that may be a slight exaggeration) but I was the happiest little baby.
There is never an ounce of sadness or woe or stress whenever my parents talk of these times. Just pure joy and a solid sense of humor. “There’s no perfect time to get married or to have a baby,” my mom told me. “You’ll always manage to find an excuse or some factor in your life that makes it seem impossible. But you just make it work.”
So where does this leave our generation? Chances of me starting my own business, getting married, buying a house and having a baby by the time I’m 27 are obviously nil. But maybe by 37?
My general feeling is that this generation gap has granted us an extra decade, but my mother’s voice is also echoing around my head.
Maybe there is no perfect time to commit. Maybe you do just have to block out all the noise and follow your gut instinct.
The problem for us is how loud and suffocating all of the noise is. Will we be able to block out the clamour that tells us we’re wrong, we’re settling, we’re too young?
Will we ever make it to 30 years, or are these pearls of wisdom a thing of the past?