CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Every love story has a beginning.

“We still celebrate the anniversary of our first date,” Jackie McRea said. “You know, the older your get, the more you forget, so it has been great,” she said while laughing.

Jackie and her husband Bob’s love story begins in high school in 1964.

“She was a freshman, and my mom asked me who I was taking to the prom, and I said, ‘I really don’t know,’ and she said, ‘Well, it’s time to get busy,'” Bob explained. “She said, ‘You know, Jack has a really pretty daughter.’ That was her dad.”

Eventually, Bob would ask her dad for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Jack was 19 then, and Bob just graduated from Wake Forest University.

Their life together was just the beginning.

“We got married on Saturday before my last round of final exams started on Monday,” Bob said.

Today, the couple spends most of their days in their Kings Mountain home, surrounded by photographs of their daughters and grandkids.

Bob and Jackie’s love story is like many of their time; go to school, pick a career, and mainly – get married sooner rather than later.

“That was the way of life back then,” Bob said. “You didn’t think about not getting married or living together or anything like that.”

In the 1960s, the average age to say “I do” was 21. Today, it’s 10 years older.

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, women entering their first marriage beyond 40 has increased by 70% since 1975.

“It’s a massive shift when you sit down and actually think about it,” UNC Charlotte psychology professor Sara Levens said.

Queen City News sat down with two psychology experts who concluded that the shift started during the women’s movement. It was a period that birthed a wave of new legal rights, career growth, and ongoing conversations about women’s role in marriage.

“Marriage started out as a financial transaction,” said Dr. Amy Canevelo. “Women were property, so if you start out with that, as it evolves over time, it becomes a woman’s value and worth can be in part determined by her marital status.”

In 2023, women outnumber men in the college-educated workforce, shifting the focus away from walking down the aisle to a career.

“I think there is just pressure going on both sides where we find people our age who are more focused on career before marriage and the kids and the whole nine yards,” co-owner of Sol Ray Films Stephanie Roman said while sitting next to her partner Brandon Geisler. “I think that is what we are focused on too.”

Stephanie and Brandon are engaged and approaching their 30s, but they have an up-close and personal view of the transforming wedding industry through a camera lens.

“The thing goes less from, ‘Oh, look at how much money we spent on this place,'” Brandon elaborated. “It goes more to, ‘Who do you want us to capture?’ and ‘What do you want more of?'”

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While brides and grooms are giving it more time before saying their vows, a growing number of couples are doing away with the big celebration.

“When she first said it, I was like, ‘You are kidding me, right? No, God no,'” said Tiffani Davis, mother of new bride Brianna. “I just kind of had to respect that for her.”

Instead of a venue, guest list, and pageantry, Brianna and her now-husband Anthony chose the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

“It was very quick. So, we just did our vows. I got emotional, and I wasn’t expecting that,” Brianna said. “We looked into each other’s eyes; we exchanged rings. It was just a beautiful time.”

Even if the traditions behind marriage change, the end goal remains the same: a life with a partner who gets you.

“Plug through the tough times and enjoy the good times,” Jackie said. “There have been a lot more good times than tough times.”

While Jackie, a retired nurse, has seen a new generation of women do it differently, she says she would not change a thing if she could.

“I often wonder if I could go back and do it all over again and concentrate on my career more, what would have happened,” Jackie explained. “I think about that a lot, and then I think to look at what I wouldn’t have had, and that’s more important to me than what I might have had.”