What is the perfect age to say I do?
Deirdre Reynolds talks to people who married in their 20s, 30s and 40s to find out
Forget about getting a Bachelor of Arts, now young single women are being urged to find an eligible bachelor instead.
In a letter to the Daily Princetonian, former alumna Susan Patton has just implored female freshers to "find a husband on campus before you graduate".
Under the title 'Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had', mum-of-two-sons Patton rationalised: "For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
"After college, your pool of men will shrink dramatically. A woman looking for a husband in her 30s gives off total desperation."
Hot on the heels of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, which conversely encourages women to push for power in the workplace, the letter has sparked international debate.
In Ireland, the average age for getting married has risen to 32 for women and 34 for men, long after most have graduated.
But could Patton have a point?
"Theoretically, the odds of meeting someone in college are quite high as you're surrounded by like-minded people," says relationship consultant David Kavanagh.
"With neuro-scientific research showing that the human brain isn't fully developed until a person is 25, however, generally getting married under 25 isn't recommended, even though it would have been common 20 years ago.
"That said, I think maturity and age are two very different concepts.
"Age is a factor, but it's not the only factor. Things like money, social status and education are also predictors of marital success."
Here, three Irish graduates reveal why they think they married at the ideal age.
20s: 'Six years on, Jacqui and I are happier than ever'
Hotel Dunloe Castle manager Jason Clifford and wife Jacqui Hennessy, a beautician, from Kerry wed well below the average age here. But when it comes to love, age ain't nothing but a number, argues dad-of-one Jason (31).
"When a colleague introduced me to my wife Jacqui a week before my 21st birthday, I wasn't looking for anything serious – especially as I had just come out of a long-term relationship. As soon as I laid eyes on her, all that changed! From the beginning, I knew she was the one for me, and tried to pop the question three times.
"The first time, I got glandular fever. The second time, we were on holidays in Puerto Rico and Jacqui ended up being hospitalised for dehydration.
"Finally, Jacqui's dad, who's a helicopter pilot, flew us to Sheen Falls [Lodge in Kenmare] for lunch, where I proposed. I was 25 and Jacqui was 28 when we got married.
"At the time, a lot of people said to us: "You're very young to be getting married – are you sure you're doing the right thing?" But we weren't exactly kids either.
"Six years on, Jacqui and I are happier than ever and have an 18-month-old baby boy, Roan. When I go out with my single friends now, it's like: 'Thank God, I'm married!' I would hate to be starting out on the dating scene again."
30s: 'We feel grown-up enough'
"Ronan and I met through mutual friends in a pub in 2005. Within a month, we were like an old married couple, we were just so comfortable with each other. But we were in no rush to get married either.
"Some people have certain milestones that they want to hit: get married by a certain age, have a baby by a certain age. When you've lived together for a few years, marriage doesn't seem like that big of a deal – you've already made that commitment. By the time we got round to tying the knot last year, we knew that our life was going to be together.
"For us, getting married in our twenties – when we were just starting out in our careers – would have been a bit mental. Your twenties is all about going to college, travelling the world and finding out who you are as a person.
"Usually by your thirties, you've had that bit of freedom, so you're ready to settle down. Ronan and I got married at a really nice age. We're grown-up enough not to feel like we're missing out on anything by being married, and young enough to enjoy being newlyweds."
40s: 'When you're older, you know yourself better'
Recruitment Director Siobhan Corcoran from Dublin was 40 when she wed artist Michael Timmins, whom she met online, in 2011 – but says he was worth the wait.
"Mick and I got married almost three years after meeting on a dating website. I suppose it was a bit of a whirlwind. With online dating, you get a lot of time-wasters. But Mick was very direct, and that appealed to me.
"After exchanging a couple of emails, he asked if I'd like to go out for a drink. We hit it off straight away and moved in together six months later. Both of us had been through the whole relationship thing before with other people, so when something felt right, it was obvious.
"One of the things about being that bit older when you meet somebody is that you know yourself better as well. Whereas in the past, I might stupidly leave a relationship because of something innocuous [a person] said, or because I didn't like their shoes, by the time I met Mick, I had gone beyond all those superficial things.
"Most of my friends are either married or in a long-term relationship, so when I met Mick they were delighted! Getting married at 40, I didn't want a big white wedding or to put people to a lot of expense. In the end, we got married surrounded by family and friends at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin, with good food, plenty of booze and great music. I wore a green silk dress by DePaor Designs, with a vintage fur stole and gloves.
"Married life is fantastic. It's like having an anchor. When you've been single for most of your twenties and thirties, planning the rest of your life with someone is really nice."