All-time top posts

Do not marry before age 30

[Note for the English version: This post addresses the much-discussed so-called problem of China’s “leftover women,” women age 25 and up and not married!]

Businessweek last week reported that Chinese women are driving up enrollment at business schools across the United States. So much female Chinese talent is going global! I’m excited by the potential for Chinese women to rock our world. Unfortunately, there’s still this problem of a society which defines women by marital status.

Leftover women are the modern urban women most of whom have high education, high income, and high IQ. They are nice-looking, but they are relatively demanding in choosing spouses so that they haven’t found ideal partners for marriage.  – China Ministry of Education, 2007

I got the career of my dreams, I got the man of my dreams, and I got the children of my dreams. I got married at age 38, which by governmental standards makes me a living miracle.

That’s my husband Dave and me on our wedding day. The fact is, in life there is a season for everything, and I got it all because I married late.

“Why aren’t you married yet?”

My parents were terrified that I’d end up a leftover woman. No matter how much I accomplished, our conversations revolved around “the big issue:”

Mom: Hi Joy! My friends in California mailed me some news clips about you.

Me: That’s nice.

Mom: But your father and I were talking. You’re not living with us anymore.

Me:  I haven’t lived with you for 15 years.

Mom: … and you’re not living with a husband.

Me: Because I’m not married.

Mom: So, can you please explain to me again what you’re doing out there in CALIFORNIA?

Me:  Mom! Did you read the news clips? I’m helping millions of people improve their lives.

Mom: But don’t you know that a woman’s job is to be a good wife and mother?

For our mothers and previous generations, it was OK to marry someone without really knowing him. Marriage mostly was for security and lineage. As a result, most of us have no role models finding and establishing a soul-mate relationship.

“Are your standards are too high?”

Do not slack off on your search for Mr. Right. This is the most important search of your life, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the only thing at stake is your future.

Society tells us that since nobody’s perfect, we should lower our standards and settle for what we can get. We are to hurry and get married as insurance that we’ll never find anyone better. But marriage should be more than just an insurance plan. Nothing could be more depressing, or more insidious to our lives, than a society of loveless marriages and extramarital affairs. And as we lower our standards, we enforce this lovelessness on our children all over again.

This does not have to be you.  Whom you marry is life’s most profound decision. The fact is, unless you’re planning to have 15 children, there is no good reason to get married before age 30.

In your 20s, have fun, learn and grow

Most people lead lives plagued by a constant undercurrent of stress and anxiety. You can gain a deep feeling that your life is on track if you learn how to access and connect with the joy within yourself.

If you don’t love yourself and commit to your own happiness, then you’ll constantly change yourself to make other people happy. Until you really know who you are and what you want with complete confidence, do not commit your life to someone else. You can do more for other people when you stay connected to your own dreams.

So, build a life all on your own, and don’t dump it anytime you have a new boyfriend. Good men won’t appreciate it, and bad men will just manipulate you into giving up more and more.

Finding your soul mate requires that you first commit to loving yourself enough to make choices that make you happy. To measure how well you’re doing in loving yourself, simply stop running, and quiet the noise long enough to ask “am I really happy?” If you avoid this question, you’ll never create a good life for yourself.

Being fulfilled as an independent woman is the basis for finding Mr. Right and having a successful life.

In your 20s, learn to become independent

At some point in your journey, you must separate yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually from the influences around you. What does it mean to be “independent”? Implicit in the term are your parents, since they’re the “from whom” you are defining yourself. Your 20s are when you learn to see your parents as individuals and not just your parents. They learn to see you as an individual and not just as their child. This new relationship can allow you and them to establish an even closer of intimacy and friendship.

In your 20s, explore life’s possibilities

Soon, you’ll enter new long-term obligations, and those obligations will circumscribe your life forever. Now is the one time in your entire adult life that you’ll ever get to be a little selfish. Take advantage of this freedom. Explore the wide-open possibilities of your life, and experience everything you want to experience. Your 20s and 30s should be an exciting period of big dreams. Give yourself permission to spend a few years wandering about and figuring out what it is that interests you.

After all, your brain is still changing

Neuroscientists once thought the brain stops after puberty, but they now have found that the part of your brain that comes up with long-range strategy, that answers the question “Who am I and what do I want to do with my life,” actually keeps changing into your 20s and 30s.

That means that you are a different person now in your 20s than you will be in your 30s – and so is your boyfriend. Couples who marry early thus burden their lives with serious extra hurdles. Nobody enters a marriage thinking, “Someday we’ll hate each other,” but that’s precisely the experience of most of China’s born-post-1980 generation. This generation’s divorce rate already is 57%, and the oldest members are only 30!

When you’re 20 and the long-term-thinking area of your brain is still evolving, you look for “Mr. Right Now.”  When you’re 30, you’re better equipped to find a  “Mr. Right” for ever.

Why do you want to get married?

Why do you want to get married? Because your friends are getting married? Because society has bamboozled you to think you should be married by now?  These reasons have nothing to do with the man you’re marrying, and they bode for an unhappy future, a future where you’ll be only half alive. Without room in this relationship for the essential you, you will be lonely forever. And so will he.

So, forget about the fantasy of marriage and let’s get real.

Love is not enough

Love is only the starting point for a successful marriage. That’s because marriage is nothing like dating. Marriage is like a very mundane small business in which you are co-partners and co-employees. This actually can be really really nice, if you hitch yourself to the right partner. For the company to succeed, you and he must agree on the direction of your company and the values by which it will run. You must believe in each other completely and trust in each other’s good judgment. You must figure out how your company will make money and how to spend it. You must identify what tasks must be done and who will do what. Unlike in any other small business, however, you both must commit to being co-owners and co-employees in this company for the rest of your days on Earth.

Take a headhunting approach to finding Mr. Right

Don’t marry the first guy you date. How could you know it’s love when you have nothing to compare it to? Take a headhunting approach to finding your soul mate. For any given search assignment, my firm reviews hundreds of candidates. Once, to find the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, we spoke with over 1,000 people! If you worked as a headhunter in my firm, and I assigned you a search, and you limited your entire universe of candidates to just two or three, I’d fire you.

Do not slack off on your search for Mr. Right. This is the most important search of your life, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the only thing at stake is your future.

When you kick off a new search, Step One is defining your ideal candidate. Do not lower your standards, but do make sure your standards are sound. Ask a guy what he’s looking for in a woman and he’ll say two things: good-looking and nice. Ask a woman what she’s looking for in a guy and she’ll say two hundred things:

•  Rich but generous

•   Knows how to treat a woman well

•   Knows how to order a bottle of wine in a restaurant, and what to do when the wine comes to the table

•   Wears Italian suits but is not gay

… and on and on. Ladies, please. If you were my client, I’d make you sort these qualities into two columns: “Must Have” and “Nice to Have.”  Your “Must Have” column should include only those things that are truly important, like  “makes me a better person when I am with him,” “makes my heart sing,” “shares my values,” “wants what I want in life.” and “financially stable.”  Move everything else over to your “Nice to Have” column.

Next step in your search is to identify, interview and evaluate a multitude of candidates. Falling in and out of love with different people is important to helping you better understand what you don’t want in a relationship as well as what you do want. Aren’t you curious about men? This is your only chance in life to have a range of romantic and sexual experiences, so get out there and have some fun.

Don’t put him in charge of deciding your fate

Sometimes a woman doesn’t even bother to conduct a search. This is the one who tries to force every guy she dates onto the marriage track. Who asks him: “Where do I stand?” Where is this going?” “Do you want to have kids?” By doing this, she’s telling him the relationship is entirely his to dictate. This behavior is really dangerous because she’s completely passive in the decision to marry. This behavior also is demeaning to her, and off-putting to him. She comes across as desperate. A man wants you to be with him because you choose to be, not because you need to be.

Don’t deploy The Ultimatum

After a certain amount of time without a marriage proposal, this woman may start to plot The Ultimatum. It goes like this: “Hi honey. Propose to me within x time (such as three months), or I will leave you!”

I don’t believe in The Ultimatum. When you’re with your soul mate, it should be so completely obvious to you both that wild horses could not keep him from running after you and making absolutely certain that you are his forever. He will be grateful for every day that he has with you. And he will commit to spending the rest of his days caring for you and any children that you have together.

There are great men out there

It’s nonsense, the idea that if you wait to marry, there will be no good men left, particularly given the gender imbalance in China. Any woman who thinks there are no good men out there simply does not know how to relate to men. It’s called empathy. Men and women love differently, and if you learn how to love men the way they need to be loved, you’ll never be lonely. Perhaps I should write a headhunter’s guide to bagging the man of your dreams.

First become Ms. Right

How do you find yourself? Through your career! It’s through work that you discover your passions, and that you develop a greater understanding, love and respect for yourself. Spend your 20s working really really hard finding things you’re passionate about, as I did, and you can have an incredible career. And, ladies, nothing is quite as much fun as achieving.

Men respect women who make their own money, as one Wall Street man memorably reminded a beautiful young gold-digger. And a smashing job puts you in touch with the kind of man you couldn’t access if you were a dummy. The sexiest women are the achievers because they’re the most interesting and exciting.

… and that’s when the good men will appear

As I entered my 20s, I never had any trouble attracting men (Chinese women are very popular in America!), but the make-up of those men evolved over time. When I was in my 20s, I had boyfriends, but overall my love life was somewhat unsatisfying. Boys age 18 worshipped me, man-boys age 50 worshipped me more. Guys my own age seemed a little unfinished, like I was. Too often when someone asked me out, I’d think, “Thanks, but I think I’d rather curl up in my apartment with a good book and a glass of wine.”

As I grew into my 30s, as body parts sagged but spirit soared along with my career, something funny happened in my love life. I started attracting a narrower band of men, of much higher caliber. The man-boys disappeared and I was left with successful, self-assured real men. Dating became fun.

Married friends invited me over for dinner just to hear about my latest dating adventures. My first date with beloved Dave occurred on a Sunday night, while on the preceding Saturday night, I had another first date with another highly-eligible Dave. My friends thought I was the “bee’s knees” for having a “Saturday Dave” and a “Sunday Dave” both lined up in a single weekend.

Monday morning when they called for the after-action report, I informed them that going forward there would be only one Dave. My secretary, for years having juggled my busy work and social schedule, was surprised to hear that perhaps I’d even met my Every Day Dave.

i love being an older parent

Our love since has resulted in two baby girls, born when I was 39 and 41. On being an older parent, the world-renown parenting expert Dr. Vicki Panaccione eloquently sums up my own feelings :

Younger parents still have lots of life experiences to live, and can actually end up resenting the restrictions and responsibilities placed on them by virtue of having a child. Older parents tend to be more ready to settle down and focus their attention on the enjoyment of being parents and not feeling they are ‘missing out’ on other experiences.  Their lives tend to be richer, and their experiences with each other, their children and life in general, have deeper meaning and appreciation.

Older parents tend to be more financially stable and secure in their careers, and have completed their education. This tends to mean less conflict regarding how to parcel out time, not having to juggle school, family and job.  They also may be able to retire earlier, or be more flexible in their established work situation, affording them the opportunity to spend more time with their children.

Finally, older parents tend to be in more stable marriages, either because they have been together a long time, or have come together later in life with a clearer understanding of what they had been seeking in a life partner.  They are more apt to have greater ability to communicate with each other, and have learned the importance of compromise and establishing agreement.  In child rearing, this is particularly important.  Stable relationships provide greater stability for children.  And, relationships developing later in life tend to be more passionate…and passionate partners make better parents!

The rush to marry too young is what’s leftover from a previous era

All you educated, talented, passionate young sisters, for those of you going abroad and those of you staying home, YOU are China’s future. If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun. Do not ever let anyone make you feel you are less than a fully legitimate member of society simply because you are free. So, get out there and make all your dreams come true. You too can have it all. And then, ladies, through your shining example, show the rest of society how to really live.

UPDATE:  After its initial publication in May 2011, this blog post went viral around China, and then spawned the smash China best-seller Do not marry before age 30.  If you like this blog post, you will love the book!  It is available in a special English/Chinese bilingual Kindle edition on Amazon.com here.

I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.


do not marry before age 30
The world is shifting radically. Global Rencai is an advice blog on the new rules of the game. Global Rencai is pronounced “global ren-tsai” and means “global talent” in Chinglish. Its author, Joy Chen (陈愉), is a Chinese-American former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles turned global corporate headhunter. To subscribe to the blog, enter your email address at www.globalrencai.com.