How does the courtship of Kate Middleton and Prince William stack up against the advice of 40-something women for 20-something women regarding the road to marriage?
1) Don't Get Married Until You're 30.
I've interviewed over 150 women so far as I collect advice from 40-something women for 20-something women. One thing they all say is this: "Don't get married before you're 30." Prince William and Kate Middleton will be 29 when they get married in 2011, so they're close enough. Interestingly, many of the women recommending delayed marriage got married young. The average age of first marriage today for a female is 26, up from 22 in 1980, when the oldest 40-somethings of today were entering their 20s. So it's a case of case of "don't do what we did." Why?
Although few regret marrying their spouse, they feel that they missed "the Mary Tyler Moore days," as one woman called them, the years of being single, establishing oneself in a career and discovering themselves. A big part of the motivation to give this advice is a desire for their daughters and young women today to be free from the pressure they felt to get married, and for them to truly own their independence. As one woman put it:
What I would tell my daughters is be selfish. Get your own education. Get your own career and your own money. Don't make getting a husband and marriage a primary life goal. When they ask, "who do you think I'm going to marry?" I say, "Who says you have to get married?" You know it's not the only route. I always reference my sister. She is 36, she's in a relationship but she's not married. She has no plans to get married. I want my daughters to realize they don't need a man to be fulfilled. It's great if you meet someone and fall in love, but put yourself first.
Of course not being married doesn't mean you can't have a relationship.
2) Don't Be in a Rush.
Kate Middleton earned the nickname "Waity Katie" from the media for dating Prince William for eight years without any plans for marriage. But waiting is not such a bad thing when you're in your 20s. Many of the 40-something women I talked to who are still happily coupled actually met their mate in their early 20s but didn't rush into marriage. Looking back, they consider this a key to the longevity of their relationship. From the mouths of real women:
If you want to get married...wait. If you fall in love when you're 22, you don't have to get married when you're 23. I would have to say getting married later is better. You can date, you can work and you can travel. If you get married at 23 you have no experiences to build on. (40-something, Cleveland, Ohio)
For these women the waiting wasn't a push-and-pull of negotiating the proposal. They knew they wanted to be together but enjoyed their 20s apart and together. They valued the freedom to explore their own interests and bring that experience back to their relationship.
Give yourself some freedom to have independent lives. We dated since we were 18 but didn't marry until 30. It just sort of worked out that way. I suspect that had we been in each other's face all the time, it would've worked out differently. We didn't entirely revolve around each other. You have to cultivate independent lives and outside interests. It keeps each of you interesting and that makes it more fun to be together. If you don't have a social life, an intellectual life or some kind of activity that isn't all about your significant other, it's really hard to feel that you have a sense of identity. (40-something, Los Angeles, Calif.)
So don't wait. Live and love. They are not mutually exclusive.
3) Be Independent: Develop Your Own Interests, Not Just Your Partners' Interests.
Kate is described as "cool and decisive and never scared of telling William he's wrong if she thinks he is." Her sense of independence is part of their attraction.
While she hasn't found a high-powered career, she didn't take a traditional wait-and-see job and seems to have her own interests outside their shared love of sports and travel. Hopefuly she can continue to explore her interest in the arts and photography as she settles into her role as a princess-to-be. But importantly, she doesn't defer to Prince William, so check one for having her own opinion. A true partnership requires respect and friendship. Valuing your spouse's point of view and wanting to talk about things is a necessity for a lifetime of being with another person. If you don't respect the person's opinion, you don't want to talk to them.
It will now be interesting to see how Kate and Prince William weather the courtship in the public eye. Their case obviously is quite different from that of the normal 20-something couple entering into a marriage. But they seem to have started out on the right foot, according to 40-something hindsight.
A lot of 20-something women today do wait to get married, but they still have questions about how to transition to coupledom. They want advice on everything from when to start sending wedding gifts together to how to maintain their independence and be supportive partners. I'm collecting advice on this at my blog at www.4020vision.com. Please come visit to add your two cents' worth.