Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Getty Images
Returning home to Birmingham, Alabama, after grad school last year, Satina Richardson was determined to "work on her personal life," and by that she really meant "find a husband." Obsessed with wearing that white dress within one year's time, Satina began her very own "Operation: Matrimony." Since there were no hot prospects on her horizon, the then 29-year-old opted to date a jerk she'd long been avoiding '- just for the sake of dating someone. Not surprisingly, the relationship was a disaster from day one, yet she still hung in there waiting for him to propose. And did he? Yep. He proposed to the woman he'd been seeing behind Satina's back.
Why did a smart woman like Satina do something as stupid as wasting time with someone so wrong for her? Well, while her philosophy may seem old-fashioned, what she did is more common than you'd think. And who knows? It might even sound familiar to you (ahem). Regardless, there are five particularly noteworthy motives behind marriage mania '- and some very important do's and don'ts.
1. Need-a-Man Syndrome
Mary Jo Fay, author of When Your Perfect Partner Goes Perfectly Wrong (HelpFromSurvivors.com), consults with many middle-aged women who have found themselves in difficult relationships. "Many married because they felt they needed a man. They were so desperate to be taken care of that they jumped directly from their parents' home into marriage '- or from one relationship to another." Fay adds, "If neediness is your driving force, you should stop and remember that your parents may have taken great care of you, but being parented by their partner leaves many women in an unhealthy situation."
2. Life Scripts
Many women set very specific, age-based timetables to achieve certain goals as to how they think their lives should run. Research conducted by Dr. James Houran, chief psychologist for the online relationship service True.com, shows that overall, women are as fearful of commitment as men, but that "life scripts," subconscious or not, apply a different kind of pressure.
When she was a child, Nicole Marquez set a deadline to meet her mate. "I wanted to be married at 19, which then moved up to 25, and I wanted kids by 21, which got pushed back to 28." The Arizona public relations account coordinator is now 26, and there is still no ring on her finger. But with a successful career and a strong network of friends, she's doing great! With some maturity and perspective, Nicole has made the decision that she'd rather not get married at all than rush into the wrong relationship '- and she's acknowledged that she has less control over her path than she originally thought.
3. Tick Tock
The biological clock still factors into why many young women want to race down the aisle. Fixated on having her first child by age 30, 23-year-old Sarah Branch, an art director in Seattle, simultaneously signed up with five different online personals sites. With over three million people engaging in Internet dating each month, 75 percent of which are seeking a permanent relationship, Sarah has a lot of company. While she hasn't found love yet, her goal is to meet at least 10 men a month. "Lots of times it's a chore to drag myself to the date. Truthfully, I'd rather be with a friend or alone than hook up with another stranger. But then the image of baby booties pops into my mind, and I'm out the door."
4. Community and Family
Relationship expert April Masini (AskApril.com) points out, "Societal pressure to conform and to marry is real. Many conservative people feel it and create dating deadlines [for themselves] to adhere to that conformity."
These days Sandra Montenegro calls Miami, Florida, home. However, the 33-year-old single account executive actually hails from Columbia, Brazil, where the pressure to find a husband is so painfully intense that, after the "ancient" age of 30, being divorced is considered better than never having been married at all. Sandra says, "People sort of think there's something wrong with you if you are still single." Even though she's lived in the United States for 13 years, her family is still pushing her to become someone's Mrs. But Sandra has yet to melt under the must-marry heat. "I guess I've got a strong will," she says.
Masini says, "Financial pressure to marry someone who will take care of them still exists for some women." The dating pro adds, "This can be something they've always felt, or something they've come to feel as their careers may or may not have worked out the way they expected."
Patty Henderson, a 38-year-old single mother in New York City, married for money at a young age, and she quickly became the stuff statistics are made of. Divorce is highest for women between the ages of 25 and 29 '- and a new study reports that nearly a quarter of newlyweds consider filing for divorce within the first two years of marriage. Patty now works double-duty to support her child. "My ex, who comes from a rich family, stopped paying child support years ago." Studying at night to get her college degree, she insists, "I am raising my daughter to make sure she can always take care of herself. And when she marries, to make sure she does it for love."
Dating Deadline Do's and Don'ts
Realize You've Got the Right Idea
Dr. Houran says, "Dating deadlines can be positive, depending on what's motivating them." It's okay to set a deadline that pushes you to work toward your goals, as long as you aren't '- pardon the pun '- married to completing your goal by an inflexible date.
Know What You Want
Masini says, "There is no shortcut for doing your homework. How do you want to live your life? With whom? Where? It's only after you know the answers to these questions that you can stop wasting your time dating the wrong men and succeed at your goal."
Respect Your Guy's Goals, Too
If you're with a Mr. Right who ultimately wants marriage but doesn't want to be forced to the altar, relax. Eleven months ago Nicole met the one. But he's not in a hurry to set a date, and now neither is she. "It'll happen when we're ready, and we're having too much fun to worry about that yet anyway." Dating coach Suzanne Blake (SuzanneBlake.com) cautions, "It usually takes between nine months and a year-and-a-half for couples to build the type of intimacy and trust that is necessary for this life-changing decision." She adds, "Many women want to push up the deadline out of the fear that if they don't seal the deal, it won't happen." The truth is, it might not happen if you push too hard. Relationships develop organically '- on their own timetable.
Let Your "Deadlines" Run Your Life
Remember Satina Richardson hurling herself into the arms of Disaster Dan? That's a decision she never would have made had she not created that ironclad deadline. She says, "In retrospect, I was lucky he proposed to someone else. I'm much happier without him and have opted to enjoy my life instead of pressuring myself to get married in a certain timeframe. This is much better."
Beat Yourself Up
Say your deadline has passed and you're still single. Or, like Satina, say you're sticking with the wrong guy while praying that he'll turn out to be decent person deep down. Or, maybe you dated a nice guy who just wasn't the right one, and now you're upset at how much time you wasted. The fact is that these experiences aren't time wasters, they're learning tools. "It's called growth!" says Masini. She adds, "For some women there is no substitute for real life experience '- and mistakes '- when it comes to figuring out the kind of man they need. Pick yourself up and make a change for the better '- no matter where you are in your life."
Forget to Count Your Blessings
Nicole is thrilled, not sorry, that her initial deadline to marry by 19 and morph into mommyhood by 21 was derailed. "I thank my lucky stars things did not turn out that way because I now know there are a lot of fun, educational things I would have missed out on had I taken my original route. I also might have been stuck in a very unhappy relationship."
The Moral Is...
Believe "What's Meant to Be Will Be"
Author Mary Jo Fay explains, "Women who feel that they are fine human beings without a man, but would enjoy sharing their life with a man, have proven to have the strongest, healthiest and most satisfying relationships." And these women don't have firm deadlines. Sandra, whose family back in Columbia is desperate for her to marry, would like to meet someone, but she's in no hurry. "I left a relationship in the past that was going nowhere '- he never wanted kids. And I have no regrets. I'm proactive in the sense that I go to happy hours and parties." She says, "My belief is that, as long as you are open to meeting people, that special someone will arrive when you least expect him. Naturally. Just like it should be."