Americans are getting married later than ever before, but waiting to settle down can still be nerve-wracking. Will you ever find the right person? Will you be able to have kids? Cosmopolitan.com asked four couples to share the pros and cons of waiting for love.
Melanie, 55, and David, 50, from New York: "I put my career first."
Melanie: The first time we met was in 1990 when he was dating a friend of mine in the wine business, Sophia. His family had a winery in the Hudson Valley. We both love wine, and we used to all hang out together, and then David and Sophia broke up.
I'd run into him once or twice while he was doing different jobs or at events and we'd say, "Hey, how are you? Good to see you." I always thought he was incredibly adorable and handsome, but he was already occupied with some other romance.
I would always fall madly in love with the wrong guy. Then September 11 happened and I had turned 40 that year. I was walking around with my dog, and realized that was my only family and I just felt so alone. I realized, as someone said, you're not making yourself available to men. So I made my changes so I could be open. I rearranged my criteria of what I was looking for. I was looking for a very successful man who loved to travel and loved to eat oysters and drink wine—because I loved to do those. But the guys I was meeting were too intimidated by my lifestyle to want to settle down with me. They wanted to party with me, but not marry me. I wanted more than anything to settle down and have a home and a loved one. I did not want to see my life disappear in a flash and marriage was always important to me.
And then in 2003, Sophia threw this enormous dinner party. She gathered all her ex-boyfriends and announced she was in love with a woman. I ran into David and we exchanged numbers and said, "Let's catch up over a glass of wine." We started getting together and it kind of blossomed from there.
David was great and we connected in so many ways. It was the first time I'd dated anyone who valued marriage. And then he told me he didn't believe in cheating. I'd been constantly cheated on, and for once in my life I didn't have any doubts about his fidelity. There just seemed to be a mutual trust. David told me right away that he was not an ambitious person and that he never expected to make a lot of money, which was hard for me because I'm very ambitious. But he worked very hard to make sure life was easier for me in general.
In 2006, he proposed at The James Beard Awards, which I founded and ran for 16 years. I was 48; he was 43, and we had never been married before. It'll be eight years on March 2015.
Kelly, 43, and Jeff, 45, from Los Angeles: "You have to take some chances if you want love in your life."
Kelly: I never settled down previously because I was waiting for the right person. But if I'm really honest, I didn't have lasting relationships either. I think I was afraid, no, terrified, of real commitment, that I would make a mistake and end up with the wrong person. I always thought it was because I wasn't meeting "the one," but I think it's more than that. I didn't know what "the one" meant outside of what characteristics he should have and what he should look like. I would list each one's faults or why it wouldn't work before giving any relationship a real chance. I didn't understand that you can't check off a bunch of boxes of what you want in a partner to guarantee lasting happiness. He is often not what you imagine. You have to take some chances if you want love in your life.
Jeff: I rushed into my first marriage. And I regret how I caved in to a certain amount of pressure back then.
Kelly: We met when I was 37, and married when I was 39. I had reconnected with a friend I'd gone to elementary school with over Facebook, and discovered we were both now living in LA. She invited me to her party to meet her husband and child, and to be honest, I didn't want to go. I didn't want my single status to be the first thing my old friend knew about me. So instead, I went to my ex-boyfriend's party. It was awful. Who wants to spend New Year's with their ex? After a drink and gathering courage I headed to my old friend's house, ready to flaunt my "fabulous" single status à la Sex and the City. By the time I got there my future husband was on his way out the door. But then he saw me and decided to stay a little longer, and we chatted for another two hours. I almost missed him!
Jeff: I'd been recently dumped by a girlfriend. It was late, I was tired and had begun saying my good-byes when this really cute girl in a sexy dress walked in. A couple other guys there had already pushed their way to her when I found myself with my jacket off sitting down to say something. Honestly, I'd already decided to take some time off from the dating world, so I had nothing to lose. In fact having so little invested in meeting someone made it that much easier for me to just chat. No expectations, no romantic notions. Just some small talk on New Year's with an attractive girl.
Kelly: He was so different from anyone I'd dated. He was engaging, smart, funny, warm—the whole package. I had never been married before, but my husband had been. He has an ex-wife and two kids.
Jeff: In the beginning, I wasn't thinking about this being serious, so the topic of, "Oh, I have two young daughters" didn't come up for a while. But eventually it did, and I could see the smile come off Kelly's face very quickly. She didn't run, even though I knew she was thinking about it. Kelly wanted a relationship. She wanted roots. We got married 18 months after we met. And it felt right—really right! She embraced me and, in time, my daughters—though not without some real fear and the occasional "what the hell am I doing here." It was way, way more than she signed up for at first. And it was that bravery, combined with how much she took responsibility for her own life, that drew me so much closer to her.
Kelly: It was daunting at first, but I decided I liked being with him so much I would overlook the problems—at least until I met someone who fit my "checklist." But in the end, I only wanted to be with him. He was my ideal, I just didn't recognize it. I think I was relaxed and open enough around him, and he was patient enough to call me on my bullshit. We didn't hide. We had nothing to lose, so we went for it. And it was magical.
Michelle, 38, and Steven, 46, from New York: "I do fear the risks of pregnancy now that I'm older, but I'm still happy that I didn't rush into getting married when I was younger."
Michelle: I was in three serious relationships before I met Steven. Looking back, I was very insecure with who I was. I knew what I wanted to do with my career and did it well, but personally I struggled a lot.
Steven: I felt like my earlier relationships were all temporary. It was mostly due to immaturity and not wanting to take on a serious relationship.
Michelle: My mom is Ecuadorian so, as a Latina, if you're not married in your early 20s, they get worried there's something wrong with you. Then Steven and I met randomly at Destino's restaurant when I was 35 and he was 43. I eyeballed him, he literally performed the moves from Beyoncé's "All The Single Ladies," and here we are now.
Steven: This relationship just felt right from the start. It was an easy flow to it that it was effortless. No drama, no interference of overlapping social circles that would interfere with our relationship.
Michelle: I'm glad we met later in life because I'm more grounded, confident, and have learned from my past now. I had the opportunity to grow in my career and have fun with my closest friends. I do fear the risks of pregnancy now that I'm older, but I'm still happy that I didn't rush into getting married when I was younger.
Steven: You know who you are and you have your convictions. You are more certain about your decisions. But I worry about the fact that you're not going to have as many years together as you would have if you got married younger.
Dan, 52, and Tina, 49, from Baltimore: "You come into it with a more realistic attitude. As much as you might love somebody, there's still a lot you gotta tolerate."
Dan: I started dating late in life because I had weight problems. I used to weigh about 239 pounds, and when you're fat, it can be hard to make connections with people. Over the two years after college, I got down to 183, but losing the weight that was actually the easy part. Integrating myself into society was more of a challenge. I got into the dating world probably four or five years later.
Tina: I also had a long mental illness which isolated me, especially in my 30s. It was a severe type of bipolar disorder so for me, even going out was difficult during that time. Once that was under control, I was taking care of my dad first and then my mom. I was my dad's primary caregiver for years and barely left the house because of that. I got "Why are you still single?!" from a lot of people. They'd be like, "Oh, you're good-looking and very nice. What's wrong with you?" I was like, "Why do you care?" People just don't get it. I don't get it.
Dan: The first person I ever went out with, I ended up dating for about two years. Looking back, I was more in love with life than anything else. Up until that time, I really didn't have a life, and now suddenly I was traveling and doing things, and I didn't want to lose that. I actually proposed to that woman, but I think I kind of knew she would say no, and she did. Looking back, I'm very glad she did.
I tried everything; dating services, personal ads back in the '90s. I even started writing a column about being single with a friend of mine. In a three-year period, I'd gone on about 60 to 100 blind dates. I've always had a lot of friends, but my mother passed away in 2001, and when you get older you start to think, "Who's going to be there at the end?"
Tina: When I was 44, my therapist dragged me kicking and screaming onto Match.com. She felt I would benefit from a relationship, that I was ready, that it would be good for me to date. I didn't like it because it didn't seem romantic. I actually wrote a profile that I thought would put people off a bit. It was super nerdy about how I loved books and Disney, and I thought, No one will ever go for that. I did take a nice picture though.
I loved Dan's picture but my biggest priority was a smart guy. He had a very well-written profile, funny, and his writing sounded like mine. I didn't realize that I'd already been reading his singles column and admiring his writing before that. I didn't tie it together until he told me. I remember when we met he was really funny and chivalrous. What really got me was we were talking after the show and he looked down and said, "Oh, you're absolutely adorable." I'd dated a guy for a whole year who'd never complemented me like that. Dan made a date every week, he called me back right away. It wasn't overdone, but he communicated. He was there.
Dan: She was totally in her own category. She didn't fit in any of the boxes of the women I'd dated before. When you've been burned as much as I was, you want to be with someone you feel safe with. I could be myself with her, I didn't have to perform or try so hard. Now we just celebrated our five-year anniversary and got married in June.
Tina: Later in life, you know yourself better, and you've probably been through treatment if you needed it. You come into it with a more realistic attitude. As much as you might love somebody, there's still a lot you gotta tolerate. We didn't have the baggage of past marriages or kids either. At one time I would've liked to have kids, but with the illness that runs in my family, it was probably best not to have kids anyway. In a way, it was better for me because I would've been agonizing over whether kids were a good idea or not, it took that away. I love kids, but I'll just find another outlet. The sad thing is that a lot of times your parents have either passed away or they're much older, and you don't have the chance to have that relationship with their family. Like I never met Dan's mom.
Dan: I don't think people should get married before 30. You're just not a fully formed person yet. You have to really know who you are before you get involved with another person.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.