Real Women Talk About Family Pressures to Get Married

Because life and relationships aren't stressful enough already

Updated 07/19/17

Illustration by Elizabeth Cooney

A lot of us have had a pushy relative pressuring us to get married, and for some of us, it starts young. I remember my grandmother talking about how I should act in order “to find a husband” when I was about eight years old. Stories of aggressive aunts, grandparents, and mothers harassing any woman nearing child-bearing age over Thanksgiving dinner are legendary. If you’re young and unmarried, comments about your withered ovaries and ticking clocks seem to come as easily as “Can you pass the butter?”

For many women (and couples), this is a constant refrain whenever they’re among family. And though it can be an awful experience if you’re single, it can be equally difficult if you’re in a relationship. So, is the family pressure actually changing women’s behavior? Are they actually letting family opinion dictate whether they do—or don’t—get married?

For Some, It’s a Definite Yes

In some cases, all of that pressure definitely leads somewhere. “Yes, like, 100 percent,” says Kate, 29. “It’s not like they forced me, but marriage was on my mind from a young age, and being part of a religious family meant that I wanted to get there as soon as possible. I’d like to think I would have come to the same decisions anyway, but when you grow up with ‘Well, when you find a husband...’ as the response to everything, it definitely sinks in.” For some, marriage is so much the default mode that they find it difficult to imagine another life path.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re pressured into it; it’s just a backdrop that they work against.

For Others, It’s the “When” and the “Where”

What a lot of women found was that, though they thought their families were pretty relaxed, things changed when marriage looked like it was in the cards. “My mom always acted like she assumed I’d get married, but she never forced me,” says Suzannah, 29. “Until I was in a relationship with the man I thought I might marry—and suddenly, she had tons and tons of ideas. She made it clear she wanted a wedding sooner rather than later, then totally took over the reins of planning in a way that I didn’t expect.” And she’s not the only one to run into an overbearing parent when it comes to wedding planning, but here, the big factor that made a difference to her mother was being with the “right kind of man.” For others, it was hitting a certain age that made the difference.

Out of college a few years, and cue the grandchildren conversation. In fact, a lot of women get more grandchildren comments than they do the marriage ones. But for a lot of families, they’re considered synonymous: Baby pressure also means marriage pressure.

Not Everyone Has a Traditional Family

It’s important to remember that not all families pressure their daughters (and sons) to get married. For some, it’s the opposite. “I think the fact that my parents are anti-big-fuss-wedding is something I’ve inherited,” says Helen, 31. “If I had come from a traditional 2.4-kid family that had big, fancy weddings, I don’t know whether things would be different. So, even though I have nothing against marriage, I’m not fussed about getting married even though I’m in a long-term relationship. But, then again, I don’t know any other way; this is what I’m used to.

To be honest, if I wanted a big wedding, I think they’d be annoyed!” And in some cases, it’s even more extreme. “My parents had a horrible divorce and think marriage is a joke, so you can imagine how that goes,” says Zoe, 30. If there’s a nasty divorce behind you, then the idea of marriage is a whole different conversation.

Even though there were a lot of pressures—both for and against getting married—it was encouraging to see that many women didn’t feel too overly affected by them. Because, ultimately, it’s your decision. And while it may not feel great to experience the guilt of a mother going on about how much grandchildren would cure her loneliness or have a divorced father sneer when you tell him you want to tie the knot, it’s not really any of their business. And as traditions fall away and more young women are feeling empowered, they can take the nagging and their family’s opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s their relationship and their decision.

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