Beth Luchies and Ryan Gnus exchanged wedding vows in August under a driftwood arch on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
“I never thought I would get married,” says Beth, 42, years old, who had a small group of friends that called themselves the spinsters. Ryan, 43, says marriage was never important to him until he met Beth.
More Americans are getting married for the first time in their 40s and 50s, research shows. The rates of first marriages in midlife have increased by 74% for women and 45% for men between 1990 and 2019, according to a study published in June. The study also found that about 10% of people marrying for the first time are ages 40 to 59.
“Marriage delayed doesn’t mean marriage foregone,” says sociologist Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who conducted the study.
Dr. Brown says social media and dating apps allow people to meet others with similar interests, backgrounds and ages. With many people living healthier and more active lives into later years, a 50-year-old can reasonably expect to celebrate a silver anniversary. The pool of available partners is bigger, too, she says, because more singles are their 40s and 50s.
Many people who marry later in life say they weren’t interested in getting married earlier because they were pursuing education and careers or were disillusioned by previous relationships. Having children wasn’t a priority for some, and in cases where it was, parenthood and marriage didn’t have to go hand-in-hand. Others were consumed with caregiving. And the pandemic delayed many wedding plans.
“Marriage was the furthest thing from my mind,” says Heather Hoye, when she met Erskine Mitchell, in 2017 on Facebook, where both followed a local Pittsburgh DJ. She was 39, single, raising two children, working full time at a title-insurance company, while also recovering from a broken long-term relationship.
Two things changed her mind about getting married, and both were related, in part, to age. Mr. Mitchell was divorced and 47. “Our conversations were deeper,” she says. “We weren’t just dating to be dating.”
Another factor was health. Each of them had unexpected medical issues and nursed each other back to health. “Seeing him through those issues and him seeing me through mine was the turning point,” she says.
The couple considered eloping, but Ms. Hoye wanted her dad to walk her down the aisle, which he did, along with her son. Most everything else was untraditional. She wore a black gown with red roses. Instead of lighting a traditional unity candle, the couple made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—peanut butter being a favorite of Mr. Mitchell’s—and took a bite, while the reverend talked about ideal pairings.
Middle-aged first-time brides and grooms say their idea of a perfect wedding evolved.
Growing up, Lori Peters-McCracken envisioned a huge wedding, with two bands and several tables with homemade cookies, a tradition in her Youngstown, Ohio, home. Instead, the first-time bride at 53 and her husband, Ryan McCracken, who was then 41 and divorced, wedded in his family’s home in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, and held their reception at a local winery. She had one large, constantly replenished cookie table, and one attendant—her best friend.
Sharing living space after being alone for so long can be a challenge, says Ms. Peters-McCracken, who says she initially had a hard time letting Ryan pitch in. “I didn’t even know how to ask for help,” she says, something they have worked out since their wedding in 2017.
Some midlife newlyweds, like Parker Yost, simply never found the right match until they were older.
“I met the right person at the right time,” says Mr. Yost, 40, who worked as a chef and mechanic before managing a boat-parts shop, where three years ago he met his now-wife, Kori English. Mr. Yost said he had other relationships in the past, but they didn’t work out for reasons he can’t quite explain, other than they couldn’t relate to each other.
Ms. English, who had a short-lived marriage in her 20s and became a single mom in her late 30s, was different, he says. She went fishing with him at 4 a.m. and was happy to watch the sunrise while he fished. Family was important to both.
The couple married in June.
Gwen Downs, a Raleigh celebrant who married the couple, has officiated several recent ceremonies for first-time newlyweds in their 40s and 50s. In one case, the man was having surgery and wanted his longtime partner to be his legal next of kin in case something happened to him in the hospital.
First-time groom Grady Bowers, 59, of Raleigh, married Holly Garman, in July. He and Ms. Garman, 60, who was divorced and had three children, had been together 17 years and occasionally discussed marriage.
“The only reason we had not done it was that we worried it might mess up a good thing,” says Mr. Bowers. “After a while, that becomes irrational.”
Elisa Chase, international director of the nonprofit Celebrant Foundation and Institute in Montclair, N.J., which teaches and certifies ceremony professionals, says there is often a greater sense of gratitude among midlife first-marriage couples. “They know what it means to have waited for love,” she says.
Beth Luchies and Ryan Gnus, the Vancouver Island couple, met online in their mid 30s. They lived three hours away from each other, but got together on weekends to surf (Beth’s favorite) and sail (Ryan’s favorite). Eventually, she moved to Union Bay, where Mr. Gnus lived.
Ms. Luchies was pregnant with their first child when he proposed in 2017 with a ring he had made from his late mother’s diamond engagement ring. They weren’t in a rush and their lives quickly got busier, with their first child and then a second. Then the pandemic hit.
By the time they married in August, they felt comfortable gathering with family and friends, and all welcomed a chance to celebrate. Their toddler daughter wore a dress made from Beth’s grandmother’s wedding gown. Ryan’s dad was his best man.
After the ceremony, the couple walked down the aisle to John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves,” which ends “There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts Dancin’ in our eyes. In spite of ourselves.”
This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal on October 5, 2022, and written by Clare Ansberry.
- Photos courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
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