Too Set in His Ways?

I was visiting the Boundless Line blog the other day, and a post from Tom Jeffries caught my eye:

I remember several years ago having a conversation with a single coworker about the available bachelors we both knew. She was in her mid- to late-20s at the time, and I mentioned a never-married guy who was probably pushing 40. While this young woman was eager to meet that special someone, she still seemed hesitant. Pressed further, she said it wasn’t the age difference that concerned her, it was the fact that this man — nice as he was — had spent more than half his life as a single adult.

“Most men that age,” she said, “are too set in their ways.”

She wasn’t opposed to dating somewhat older men, she said, but experience had taught her that many longtime bachelors have developed habits they are reluctant or even unwilling to alter. Simply put, when you’ve lived on your own for some 20 years, you’re bound to settle into a routine or two or 27.

The story had a happy ending: the man eventually married, so Tom was not out to overly generalize or depress singles in their thirties and forties.  No matter how old you are, it is quite possible to change with the right attitude.  And I assume much the same could be said about the other gender.

The reason it caught my eye, though, is because my experience lines up with the woman’s.  I’ve seen the same thing in many of my friends, and I’ve noticed it to a certain extent in my own young marriage.

So I sauntered over to the comments section.  Boundless Line readers are an eclectic bunch and are not bashful about voiciferously disagreeing with the contributors.  I was simply curious: would the commenters, many of whom would hardly call themselves deep traditional conservatives, say they had the same experience?  While the reaction was far from monolithic, a surprising number did actually notice the trend.  Here are some examples:

from Dannie:

It would depend on the person. I dated a guy pushing forty while I was pushing 30 and yes I did find that this particular man was very set in his ways and it was going to be a ‘his way or the highway’ so we didn’t end up moving further along in the relationship.

However, I’ve found that some other men aren’t that way and have married when the time came by (unfortunately not with me :P)

from Tami:

I concur with Julie. Many of the longtime bachelors I know are extremely picky and idealistic – there’s always something “wrong” with each woman they know or meet.

Not that we should have to date or marry someone just because we’re both single; we’re not all matches — but the pickiness is a pattern I’ve observed as well. (And of course there’s something “wrong” with every woman! We’re human too… by *definition* there’s something wrong with each one of us!)

from Jeremiah:

This phenomenon certainly holds true for me. I’m 32 and have been living by myself (no roommates) for the last 7 years or so. I have always thought of myself as someone that enjoyed being around people and used to be very adaptable to change. In college, I lived in a fraternity house and had to learn to be very tolerant of other people’s messes, quirky habits, and occasional moodiness. It was the best time of my life!

Several years ago, I got into a relationship with a woman and was shocked at how much of that tolerance I had lost over the many years of singleness. In the back of my mind, I found myself being subtle annoyed when she did things differently – the way she loaded the dishwasher to the stuff she liked on TV. At first, dating was a treat. However, by the end, even carving time out of my schedule to drive to pick her up, or spending money out of my budget to pay for dates, or staying up “past my bedtime” (LOL), became a point of contention. In retrospect, I wish I had recognized how set in my ways I had become and worked to change that. 32 is too young to be prematurely old! :)

Sara:

I think of the two older singles that I know best (one in her early forties, the other in his fifties), and both are very set in their ways. The woman would likely be willing to change a bit, but not completely. The man, on the other hand, has no desire to get married, and his main reason is based on the fact that he isn’t ready to change at this stage in the game. He loves his life, he enjoys the freedom of being single, and he doesn’t think the cons of adjusting to a relationship would outweigh the benefits.

Emily:

I am a single 30-something gal that desires marriage. Great! But I sometimes feel very set in my ways and sometimes think singleness is the easier route. Marriage seems scary to me at times. At least in my singleness, there is some predictability. But the price is loneliness. I’ve heard of people that got married later in life and their response was “Why did I wait so long?”

 

While this wasn’t everyone, the number of voices like this was hard to miss.

 

Now, again, it’s silly to prejudge *simply* because someone’s older.  That is, just because someone is older doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is automatically set in his/her ways.  There just seems to be a trend, that’s all, so I think it’s worthwhile to point out this phenomenon.  As I’ve noted before, this is one of the hidden costs to explicitly delaying marriage.

Can you escape the trend of being “set in your ways” if you are a single in your late 20’s and early 30’s?  Well, of course!  That doesn’t happen by accident, though.   My guess is that if you are one of the folks intentionally putting it off until later (late 20’s/30’s), the adjustment will hit you hard, for that very attitude of intentionally putting off marriage is the culprit for many a hard-to-break single tendencies.  On the other hand, if you haven’t married yet but are explicitly preparing for it and pursuing it, you *might* have a considerably easier time even if you marry late.  These folks could be more aware of the need to adjust and could be more open to embracing the challenge and sacrifice.  That’s just my hunch, though.

Convention today tells us to delay marriage longer and longer (average age of first marriage has hiked up quite a bit in the last 30 years), and most people, including many in the Church, are content in going along with the convention.   Many, for example, harp on the notion that marrying at a young age puts you at a higher risk for divorce (what they often don’t realize, however, is that this applies mainly to those who marry at 19 or lower.  Once you get into the 21/22 and up range, the risk trails off significantly).  Very few have paused to think about the possible long-term ramifications, both for individuals (as this post gets into) and for society as a whole.

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