Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 17, Issue 50
Picture imperfect: The journey of a wedding in the second half of life
By BRENNA SWANSTON
When Anna Ferguson-Sparks reached her late 20s without getting married, her mom told her she’d to have to start looking for a husband among men coming off of divorces.
“That was not a very nice thing to say,” Anna said over the phone, laughing.
But that was the attitude she—and many women—grew up with: The longer you wait to get married, the narrower your options are—and the less your wedding matters.
“It was kind of drilled into me that if you were getting married in your late 30s or 40s, nobody was going to care,” she said.
For Anna, it happened at age 38. She met James in November 2011, following a string of “destined-for-failure” relationships. He was one of 10 kids, formerly Mormon, and lukewarm about the whole marriage-and-kids idea.
After a year, James and Anna had decided they were in it for the long haul. Anna had uprooted her Los Angeles life to be with James in Solvang, and the way she saw it: “You’ve taken me away from my old life, so you better marry me. I’m going to be pissed if I have to get up and move again.”
So they made it official.
“I didn’t want to just be single, burnt out, floating my whole life,” Anna said of her and James’ engagement. “It was more like a business decision. It’s not like he proposed to me. There were no rings involved.”
They didn’t tell anyone.
On Nov. 2, 2012, the couple made a pit stop in Las Vegas on their way back from visiting James’ family in Idaho. They found a church on the strip and got married, just like that—Anna in a cheetah-print dress and black heels, and James in jeans and a blue collared button-down.
They waited days to break the news to friends and family.
“It was good that we did it,” Anna said of their marriage. But, she added, she sometimes regrets not “having that big celebration, having our family and friends there to celebrate.”
“It almost feels like we aren’t really married, for real,” Anna said. “But we are.”
The aging average bride
Anna and James aren’t alone in their story. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the probability of a 35-year-old woman being in her first marriage declined sharply around the turn of the century, highlighting a disconnect between recent generations of women regarding views on marriage.
Where in 1995 a woman at age 35 was 84 percent likely to be in her first marriage, in 2006-2010, that probability had dropped to 78 percent. For women at age 40, however, the probability of being married for the first time didn’t change much between 1995 and 2006-2010.
“These findings suggest that between 1995 and 2006-2010, women married for the first time at older ages,” a 2012 report from Health and Human Services stated. “However, this delay was not apparent by age 40.”
The report said those statistics show that while people tend to be postponing their first marriages, they are not abandoning the idea of marriage altogether.
Since an older bride has become more “normal” in recent decades, it explains why Anna’s mother might have wrinkled her nose at the idea of a later-in-life marriage, whereas for Anna the timing only seemed practical.
The art of vow renewal
For three years, Casa Dumetz in Los Alamos hosted a pop-up wedding chapel, where a pair of ordained ministers would perform weddings, vow renewals, and even friendship ceremonies on Valentine’s Day. Anna and James had been married for only a year and some change when they watched their married friends renew their vows at Casa Dumetz and decided to jump in and do the same.
“It was just a very cute, very lighthearted thing,” Anna said.
Sonja Magdevski, who owns Casa Dumetz, said the pop-up chapel inspired dozens of ceremonies, including two weddings and an engagement. But the most popular was the vow renewal, where married couples took the chance to publicly recommit to each other.
“It was just that kind of no-stress, intimate experience, where you didn’t have a whole lot of planning,” Magdevski said. “You just kind of show up, which is the whole meaning of a relationship and love: You have to show up, and you have to profess your commitment.”
Most of the couples that came through were on the older side, she said—she estimated at least 35 years old. Magdevski said married couples often renew their vows around that age for the same reason some people wait that long to get married in the first place: You know yourself better by that point, so the commitment is extra meaningful.
“At that age in your life, you just have a better understanding of who you are, and you’re more secure in your relationship—or not,” she said. “You’re a more confident person, the older you get.”
She said in an ideal marriage, the couple recommits to each other every day. But because life isn’t perfect, that doesn’t always happen—and that’s where vow renewal ceremonies come in handy.
“Life is complicated,” Magdevski said. “Relationships are complicated. I think the beauty of a vow renewal is just a reminder to your partner, just to say, ‘If I could do this all over again, I would do it today.’ It’s a beautiful testament to a marriage and a relationship.”
The late-started family
Even if Anna and James’ marriage story fits right in with national statistics, Anna said she often feels like a “fish out of water” when she looks around the Central Coast.
In Anna’s previous big-city life—first in New York, and then Los Angeles—women tended to prioritize their careers, so it was normal to see older brides and mothers.
But around here, that’s not always the case—especially when it comes to having kids.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the average age of women at their first birth is 26.3, and 40.2 percent of first-time moms were unmarried. And when Anna had her daughter, she was 40—well above that average age.
“There are not many women my age who have first-time little ones,” Anna said. “I’m not like the other moms. Even in the mommy groups, I have nothing in common with these people. A lot of the women don’t work, and I really identify with my work, so it’s really hard for me to relate to the other moms in my area.”
And the struggles began in pregnancy, which Anna called an “emotional rollercoaster.” Initially, she was pregnant with twins, but lost one of them at nine weeks. When her doctor sent for blood work on the surviving baby, it came back positive for Down syndrome.
From that point forward, Anna had an ultrasound every month.
“Because we weren’t sure what was going on, every time we went for an ultrasound I would sit on the office floor and cry,” she said. The news seemed consistently negative—the baby was too small, or it wasn’t growing enough, or the doctor was unsure Anna would make it through the pregnancy.
Anna and James waited 4 1/2 months to tell their immediate family they were expecting a baby. They didn’t tell most other people until after their daughter was born.
“It was a horrible, bittersweet experience,” Anna said. “I was totally robbed of all the joy of being pregnant, couldn’t enjoy it, couldn’t have a shower, nothing. And here we were, waiting until the last minute to see if this baby would even be OK—if she would even make it.”
The baby was OK. She made it.
On Jan. 11, 2015, Anna and James welcomed their daughter, and she showed no signs of Down syndrome. She turned 2 this year.
“Some people were hurt because we didn’t tell them, and we had to explain, we had to keep explaining the story,” Anna said. “It was a really horrible experience. But she’s here and she’s good, and that’s that.”
Still, Anna said she struggles to relate to other first-time moms, because most of them are so much younger than she is.
“It’s very isolating,” she said. “I would love nothing more than to find a group of women in my age range who only have one kid, who are first-time mothers.”
But, like marriage, she still thinks people should hold off on having children until later in life.
“You need to know who you are, have a good life going, to set a good example for your children,” Anna said. “I think it’s important to have a career before you go and do everything else.”
Value at any age
Magdevski said that the meaning of committing to another person—whether through marriage or the renewal of marriage vows—doesn’t diminish with age. The right timing is different for everyone, she said, depending on the couple and the complexities of their relationship.
But because younger people tend to be more influenced by their families than older people, sometimes the reason behind younger marriages is different, she said.
“Marriage traditionally was kind of a union of families for privilege, and that’s what happens today: People get married around the world not so much for love but for access, companionship, whatever it is,” Magdevski said. “The younger you are when you get married, there’s a little bit more of that expression.”
As people get older and become more independent, commitments tend to become more love-centered. Magdevski said that because older couples are usually financially independent, as well, those ceremonies are often smaller—but that doesn’t make the marriage a smaller deal.
“I definitely don’t think it’s any less meaningful to get married older, because the meaning is between the husband and wife,” she said. “I think if you want to celebrate, you should celebrate however you want to celebrate.”
When you’re older, your pool of friends changes and your focus changes, meaning a big party might not sound that exciting anymore, Magdevski said.
But as for Anna, she said she wishes she’d gone bigger with her wedding, and not bought in to the idea that people wouldn’t come just because she was older.
“I have regrets about it,” she said. “I feel like I kind of got cheated out of that day that was mine.”
Magdevski agreed: “You can still throw a big-ass party if you want,” she said. “It’s never too late for that, to celebrate love, regardless of age.
“People always want to celebrate love, and it holds that redeeming quality of faith and life and beauty,” she added. “That’s what we all search for—whether we’re able to achieve it or not is a whole different animal, but it kind of renews our hope to celebrate love.”
Contact Staff Writer Brenna Swanston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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