"If we're both single when we're 40, let's marry each other." "Ok."
May 20, 2006 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Two friends agreeing to marry each other if they are single by a certain age: does this really happen in real life?

The premise to "Ally McBeal" hinges on this concept, and there was a gag in the "Preteena" comics about this. But does this happen in real life? Is it common?

Do you know of anyone who made a promise with a friend to marry each other if they're still single by a certain age (say, 30 or 40)? Have you made such a promise? Has it ever worked?

It seems to happen between two best friends, who'd probably be the perfect couple except for a lack of romantic attraction. But why else would anyone want to do so?

(Are there any other pop culture references to this also?)
posted by divabat to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking if people have done this having seen it elsewhere in pop culture, or if we know of anyone who has come up with the idea independently.

I know of people who have (insincerely) promised this but no one who has actually gone through with it. But I'm 26, so the latter is probably to be expected. Also, perhaps obviously, I'm too young to know anyone who didn't get the idea from mass culture.
posted by BackwardsCity at 5:53 AM on May 20, 2006

I think they did this on Friends.
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:58 AM on May 20, 2006

I absolutely have made this deal. If my friend Dave and I hit 55 and are both still alone, we're hooking up. You can start buying the gifts now.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2006

Another pop-culture reference: I'm pretty sure I recall this being referenced in the beginning of movie My Best Friend's Wedding. I didn't stick around to see the end, so don't know how it played out.
posted by harmless at 6:10 AM on May 20, 2006

Are you asking if people have done this having seen it elsewhere in pop culture, or if we know of anyone who has come up with the idea independently.

Both, though am more interested in the latter.

CunningLinguist: why did you choose to make such a deal?
posted by divabat at 6:25 AM on May 20, 2006

Fear of dying alone?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:34 AM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Perhaps related, I have two friends that were coworkers and decided to team up and prowl bars trying to find mates for each other. I first met the guy when he was asking me if I thought she was cute or something. After about a year of doing this, they got married.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:36 AM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been hypothetically engaged to a friend of mine for about eight years now. We joke about it and our friends joke about it, but no one seriously expects it to happen. I mean, please.
posted by orange swan at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2006

I was just asked to do this three weeks ago.

'Twas an odd mix of flattery and insult. I didn't make the deal.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2006

Yep, 20 years ago a friend and I made that sort of promise, with a twist. If neither of us are married/attached to someone else when both of us are 'ancient' - we'll hang out in rocking chairs on the porch together. What we've agreed to do together while rocking is not for mention on a public forum.
posted by LadyBonita at 6:58 AM on May 20, 2006

After about a year of doing this, they got married.

Because they realized it was True Wuv or because the bar scene is so hideous they gave up?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:03 AM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine said this to me once, and I reacted rather vehemently that I'd rather be alone than be her fallback if she couldn't find anything better. I had a crush on the girl at the time, which I then explained to her, and told her she was screwing with my head by saying things like that to me. She agreed, we're still friends, but she said it still hurt her feelings a bit. Silly idea/trope.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:13 AM on May 20, 2006

Because they realized it was True Wuv or because the bar scene is so hideous they gave up?

I've wondered this myself. I imagine some corny movie moment in slow motion when they turn towards each other, their eyes lock, music swells...

They were both at a fairly rarefied income level, so there were good solid practical reasons. They had a child pretty much right away.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:16 AM on May 20, 2006

As a side note, when you meet a girl you like and you start seeing each other for a while, and she happens to mention a couple of months down the line that she's made this deal with one of her male friends, it can really piss on your fire.

Just sayin.
posted by chrissyboy at 7:23 AM on May 20, 2006

I know people who have done it, won't know if they're serious until they get to be that old.
posted by tiamat at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2006

Wow, I wouldn't have imagined people would actually do this (though it's a fine premise for a romantic comedy). Why would you want to marry someone in X number of years if you wouldn't want to marry them now?
posted by languagehat at 7:38 AM on May 20, 2006

I know a few people who have made this deal with friends but none that have actually gone through with it, if only because they haven't reached the age threshold yet. I do believe that most of these pacts are made in jest.
posted by phoenixc at 7:44 AM on May 20, 2006

Why would you want to marry someone in X number of years if you wouldn't want to marry them now?

I think the thought process, rightly or wrongly, probably goes something like this:
(1) I like this person, but I wouldn't want to have sex with them.
(2) Old people don't care about/don't have sex.
(3) I'll marry this person when I'm old.
posted by BackwardsCity at 7:47 AM on May 20, 2006

This is the premise of If Lucy Fell, only it's a suicide cum marriage pact. I was under the impression that was the first time it came up.

However, my partner informs me that this was the deal Isak Dinesen made in Out of Africa, which is non-fiction published in 1937. The deal doesn't work out for Dinesen, though, because her friend is a philanderer and just wants her money. He ends up giving her syphilis. In the movie version, though, she briefly finds post-/extra-marital true love with Robert Redford. So that's okay.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 AM on May 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

The two main characters on "JAG" did something similar (I think it was a five year deal). I don't know anyone who has done anything similar in real life.
posted by lhauser at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2006

I have a friend who knew a girl who was a little, shall we say, over the edge. She also had a massive and ongoing crush on him, which was never reciprocated. While drinking heavily together one evening she made this very proposal to him. Thinking it was a joke, he accepted (I believe the set age was 35). She wrote out a small agreement on a sheet of paper and they both signed it.

My friend thought it was just a funny joke until the next week, when she happily approached him to give him his laminated copy of the card he had signed. I believe he no longer speaks with her.
posted by baphomet at 8:09 AM on May 20, 2006

When Harry Met Sally is somewhat tangentially related.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:09 AM on May 20, 2006

My daughter made this pact with her first boyfriend. They decided it when she was 15 and he was 17. She's now 20 and says they're still planning on going through with it when they're 30 and 32 if neither is committed. They're BFF and both want a family and kids.

We'll see.
posted by iconomy at 8:32 AM on May 20, 2006

My aunt made this pact with a high school friend. But she got married about seven years later (to someone else).
posted by acoutu at 9:02 AM on May 20, 2006

MY fiance made this pact with a friend in high school. I have ruined their plans. Muahahahaa! :)
posted by chiababe at 9:57 AM on May 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think most people make this sort of pact as a joke. Another pop culture reference, though: I think Frank and Murphy made that kind of pact on Murphy Brown.

(I'm not that old, honest!)
posted by chrominance at 10:00 AM on May 20, 2006

I have made this deal with someone not-entirely-in-jest, but we actually don't even talk anymore so I guess it's moot. He's a gay guy, I'm a straight chick. The reasoning was that we loved each other, we got along fantastically, we wanted kids - so we figured that if we neither of us had found our spouse by X time and we weren't going to perhaps ever, why shouldn't we get hitched and spend the rest of our days raising our kids together, loving each other, and enjoying each other's company? (Probably no sex) :)
posted by tristeza at 10:16 AM on May 20, 2006

Two of my best friends have this deal—if not married to others by 40, they're going to get together and live out a platonic marriage. We're 22 now...so we'll just have to see what happens.
posted by limeonaire at 10:40 AM on May 20, 2006

If you inspected these real-life scenarios closely I bet you'd find that one of the two people involved (probably the one proposing the "deal") has more feelings for the other person than was made known.

It strikes me as sort of a passive-agressive way for someone with deeper feelings to mask their true intent. Also, the other person's response can give you a fairly accurate indication of just how much (or how little) they really feel about you.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:32 AM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

A Salon piece on the phenomenon. There was a Friends episode on this topic, but I can't find it -- it was a sub-plot, not a major plotline, so it is hard to google.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:07 PM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Two of my friends made just such a pact years and years ago, somewhat in jest, I think. The funny thing? Somewhere around the time the pact was due to kick in, the guy decided he really did want to marry the gal, and pursued her in that spirit for a few months, and they got married at the end of that year. Currently expecting their first child.

I'm not sure I can say why they made the pact earlier but didn't actually just decide to get married. They'd earlier dated twice for a few months at a time, and remained very good friends between and after those episodes. My observation was that when they were both younger they had a set of negatively complimentary (but mutually reinforced) habits that resulted in their breaking apart each time. With time to grow up, develop personally, and grow somewhat out of those, they seem to have managed to get beyond that. So, in this case, "I'd marry you later" was actually legit...
posted by weston at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I promised my best friend I would do this about 3 years ago while we both 22. We picked 30 years old, I think.

Anyway, since then she has dumped her boyfriend and started dating me and in the next couple months her and I will be married.

So I guess it does happen in real life. I'm marrying her for love though, and we're doing it at 25 and not 30.
posted by sideshow at 12:42 PM on May 20, 2006

I made this pact with a friend when I was 21 and he was 23 - we figured we'd get married when he turned 30. He turned 30 last year, but he lives with his girlfriend in a different country, and I've got a boyfriend, so it's not going to happen!
posted by echo0720 at 2:30 PM on May 20, 2006

In Friends it goes something like this:

JOEY: Hey Phoebe, if we're still single when we're forty, you wanna make a pact?


JOEY: So if we're not married by then, we'll marry each other.

PHOEBE: Oh! I was going to say "kill ourselves", but your way's good too!
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:44 PM on May 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is something that you say before you imagine marriage, but after you realize that you want more than just sex or doomed relationships. By the time "the age" arrives, both of your lives have changed and it's moot and you smile fondly at the memory of making such a pact.
posted by desuetude at 3:12 PM on May 20, 2006

I made such a pact with a friend my freshman year in college, and 30 was the age we set. We were really good friends of the opposite gender with no real romantic interest in each other.

I turn 30 in less than a month. This year she got married and I got engaged. I saw her just a few weeks ago, and we joked about our pact.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 4:05 PM on May 20, 2006

AgePerceptionFilter. Being within six months of 30 now myself, I find it amusing that 30 is such a popular age on this thread for apparently being considered unmarketable to others.

(...which, if such pacts are being made at 17 and 20, probably seems like a long way off, but time sure has flown between then and now. If I were forced to go through with a promise like this tomorrow, I'd wish I had negotiated for a more realistic deadline like, say, around retirement.)
posted by mykescipark at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2006

They decided it when she was 15 and he was 17. She's now 20 and says they're still planning on going through with it when they're 30 and 32 if neither is committed.

*heh heh* Man, that seems SO far away when you're 20, doesn't it?
posted by smallerdemon at 8:21 PM on May 20, 2006

I'm fairly certain a friend(female) of mine and I(male) once made that deal, but it was quite a while ago and I can't remember exactly what age. Late 30s I think. I should probably check to see if we're still on for that. I'd be okay with it still.
posted by ElfWord at 8:45 PM on May 20, 2006

Haha. I had a couple of female friends say this to me when we were growing up. It was meant in nothing but the nicest way, but it's pretty hard to sugar coat something like "You're better than dying alone".
posted by effugas at 9:25 PM on May 20, 2006

I agree with I_Love_Bananas. To expand on this a little, I have only seen this "agreement" proposed by a guy to a girl in a relationship (they all agreed). It may seem like a potentially good way to express interest in the other party once both are single. In my admittedly anecdotally small sample, however, it seems a little too passive aggressive for the guy to ever be seen as a potential mate. But who knows? There are tons of variables here; love and desperation work in mysterious ways.
posted by hooves at 9:38 PM on May 20, 2006

PopCulture bit: The agreement was also referenced by the Michael J. Fox in Spin City - except for comedy purposes, he'd made the same pact with three different women.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 4:12 PM on May 21, 2006

Badlydubbedboy, are you sure it wasn't that Michael J Fox was supposed to meet all three women on top of the Empire State Building? The episode tied in with a promise he made to his Family Ties girlfriend (and real-life wife).
posted by acoutu at 9:03 PM on May 21, 2006

A friend of mine has an arrangement like this, though I'm not sure how totally serious it is. Remind me to let you know what happens at the beginning of 2009.
posted by biffa at 3:02 AM on May 22, 2006

Another vote for tristeza's situation - gay guy, straight girl. We were in college and age 30 seemed like a lifetime away. We're both over 30 now - I'm married to someone else and he's still playing the field.
posted by chrisubus at 7:59 AM on May 22, 2006

I made this deal with a friend of mine when I was 16 and he was 13. We decided that when I was 64 and he was 61 that we would at least see what were up to in our lives and maybe try something out (I don't think we mentioned marriage.)
I am married now, and I haven't talked to him in years.
posted by nekton at 1:45 PM on May 22, 2006

Well so much for that experiment, my friend with the arrangement just got engaged to someone else.
posted by biffa at 5:55 AM on June 9, 2006

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