Couples regret marrying too late in life

By Pham Nga   May 2, 2023 | 06:00 am PT
At age 31, Thanh Mai realized she was no longer young and needed to start considering marriage and having children seriously.

Nine years ago, Mai broke up with her first love after a 5-year relationship. After that, she developed a resistance to dating, and solely focused on working, letting many opportunities to find a good boyfriend pass by.

"After turning 30, I felt my health deteriorating," the now 37-year-old Mai said.

She became increasingly impatient as time passed by. Being a professional in the social sciences, she acknowledged that a woman should give birth between the ages of 20 and 35.

Mai started to take the calls of suitors whom she’d ignored before. It didn't take her long to realize that men her age often "had something wrong" or were divorced.

"The older I am, the easier it is for me to understand someone. I spotted problems in everyone, and those that didn’t have any problems also seemed unreliable to me. All the good men I knew were already married," she said.

Mai used to live in emptiness and loneliness as she didn’t have any potential marriage partner. Photo courtesy of Mai

Mai used to live in emptiness and loneliness as she didn’t have any potential marriage partner. Photo courtesy of Mai

Duc Anh, 40, heard about his friend's kid getting into university while he was holding his own infant child in the hospital.

"My friends’ lives are all about to settle. Meanwhile, I am in the early stage of marriage," the bank employee said.

He got married at the age of 37, with a woman two years younger than him. They had two children in three years because they don’t want to be too old when their children grow up.

Unfortunately, their children are often ill these days. Anh’s wife's health has also gotten worse. He frequently has to take leave from work to care for his whole family, and even his own health is far from perfect.

"I should have thought about getting married earlier," Anh said.

Late-life marriage is not a rare phenomenon anymore. According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam, the average age of first-time spouses in Vietnam has been increasing over the past decades. On average, in 2020, Vietnamese males got married at age 27.9, up from 24.4 in 1989. In large metropolitan areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, the average age of first-time husbands is almost 30.

Purposefully planning to get married later in life and not finding any suitable partner are the two most popular reasons cited by single people in Vietnam. Unmarried adults now make up 10.1% of the population, compared to 6.2% in 2004.

Other reasons cited by the urban unmarried population are the high cost of living and the "intense pressure" of living in big cities.

Duc Anh is the oldest of four siblings whose father passed away when they were all still children. So ever since, Anh has taken it upon himself to help his mother and family financially.

"Only after my younger siblings got married did I feel financially stable and ready to get married. I don’t want

my children to have a poor background like I did," he explained.

Dr. Tran Tuyet Anh, Head of the Department of Family at the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, said that late-life marriage has been trending in other countries around the world, not just Vietnam. This brings several advantages, as people are more mature, financially stable, knowledgeable, and less prone to external conditions when they start their married lives.

"However, biologically speaking, people, especially women, aged 35 and over can easily encounter physical and mental issues. Popular observations in this age group are that they have higher chances of giving birth to disabled children or experiencing birth difficulties," she noted.

Other disadvantages, as psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam cited Psychological Development Theory, include the feeling of loneliness, emptiness, and anxiety. Many lose motivation as well, because children are often people's motivation in later life, according to Dr. Tam.

Mai understands the feeling of solitude and emptiness experienced by single people better than most people. Being an introverted person who enjoys taking care of her family, there are times when she cooks herself a big meal only to leave it untouched later.

"I wished I had someone eating with me," she said.

She also feels guilty because her father, who’s already turned 80, worries about her staying single.

"I prioritized myself when I was young, but now, as I'm getting old myself, I tend to think from my parents' point of view and see how selfish I am," Mai admitted.

Nguyen Thi Hanh, 55, doesn't regret spending her youth pursuing her career. But she regrets not getting married sooner and giving birth so late. As a successful and good-looking woman with many suitors, Hanh never thought she would still be unmarried at age 40.

"My mother told me she wouldn’t be able to rest in peace if I didn’t get married," she said.

Hanh’s love for her mother and her ever-stronger instinct to become a wife encouraged her to get married. However, there were no suitable husband candidates in her family and social circles. She ultimately married a divorced man 12 years older than her.

The middle-aged couple miscarried three times during their first five years of marriage. Their doctor even suggested that they should adopt a child instead. But they didn't give up. Then, in their sixth year after marriage, their IVF finally and miraculously succeeded.

Generation gaps and crises

Hanh’s son is now nine years old. He now helps his parents with small chores. But the couple never stops worrying about the generation gap between them and their son. Instead of going on trips and enjoying their lives, the nearly retired couple is taking care of their son, reading books about puberty, hoping to raise their son into an upstanding man.

Meanwhile, Duc Anh is spending most of his energy caring for his elderly mother, his unwell wife, and his young children at the same time. "Sometimes I feel really exhausted," he said.

People like Anh have to put up with "great pressure," according to Assoc. Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, president of the Social Life Research Institute. "Having to support others while needing someone to rely on themselves puts many people in crisis," he said.

Social scientists also say that Vietnam’s aging population, which is burdening the nation’s social welfare system, can also be traced to late-life marriage. Because so many who marry late in life are resistant to giving birth or have trouble doing so, researchers attribute the country’s decreasing birthrate to this phenomenon as well. Experts have predicted that by 2035, an average of four people of working age will be supporting three people of non-working age.

Psychologist and marriage expert Tran Kim Thanh has advised middle aged people who haven’t managed to find a partner to lower their standards, lower their egos, and prioritize values like being considerate and knowledgeable in the search for a partner.

"Sometimes we need to change ourselves to match with someone else, instead of requiring them to meet all of our standards," she suggested.

She added that nobody can ever measure the amount of money needed for a happy marriage. "I observed many feeling more motivated to earn money after having kids," she noted.

At age 37, Mai has finally found a man suitable for her. She expects to spend the next three years focusing on giving birth and taking care of her family. "People say husbands and wives are destined. However, I believe destiny is in our hands," she said.

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