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Better late than never: The Northern Ireland couples who took their time before getting married

We waited a long time for love, but it was worth it

Women are now more likely to get married later in life rather than in their 20s, says a new report. Stephanie Bell talks to UTV’s Rita Fitzgerald and Castlerock woman Carol Patrick, both of whom tied the knot in their 40s.

Carol Patrick (49), from Castlerock, who is medically retired, married Noel Anderson (59), a financial advisor, last year on her 48th birthday. Carol has one son Dean (28), who lives in Australia, and Noel has four boys, Jamie (32), Peter (31), Richard (29) and Philip (28).

She says: The statistics on marriage don't surprise me at all. I married when I was 20 because I was pregnant and it was the thing to do.

My family had just emigrated to Australia and I was on my own in Belfast with my sister and I didn't think twice about getting married because I was expecting a baby. I thought if I got married everything would be fine.

However, I quickly realised that I had made a mistake and the marriage only lasted a couple of years. I was young and very naive.

I had been in a few relationships since, but I never met anyone I wanted to settle down with - until Noel.

I don't know if it was being that bit older and more sensible, but I just never clicked with any of the other guys enough to want to spend my life with them.

As you get older and more mature, you know what you want. When I met Noel I wasn't even looking for a relationship and was just enjoying life. Both Noel's father and mine were ministers and because of that we understood each other. Being a minister's child is like being in your own gang and he could relate to that.

We had so many things in common we couldn't believe it, and he is just as mad as me in ways.

There were 80 family members at our wedding last year, with a big party later that night for our friends. We got married in Noel's father's former Church of Ireland parish in Dungiven.

My best friend also got married a few years ago when she was in her 40s. We both would have socialised together and we found it hard to meet good men.

And those guys we did meet - it seemed that the relationships were always about what we could do for them. Being part of a couple is what you can do for each other, to make your lives better together.

Attitudes have certainly changed over time and you don't get the same old-fashioned manners any more.

There are a lot of good men out there, but maybe by our age they are all taken or they don't socialise much.

I didn't want to stay single. I always wanted someone to share my life with, but I just hadn't met the right person.

I think more young women today are focusing on their careers before settling down. Also there seems to be a more materialistic approach to life now, so you have to have the career, the good car and the big house first.

Women are more independent now and the days when women married in their 20s and left work because of it are long gone.

Noel and I have the same mindset.

There is a 10-year age difference and we have five boys between us; he has four grown up sons and I have one.

The two of us know what we want out of life and it's great fun together. We are very happy."

The days when most girls left school, got a job and settled down, usually before the age of 30, are long gone as more women are now getting married in their 50s than in their 20s.

The changing face of marriage in modern society is revealed, with new statistics showing that women today are more likely to pursue their careers than a husband, opting to settle down in middle-age.

There have also been sharp rises in marriage among those aged 65 and over as the older generation choose to enjoy their retirement with a partner.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2014, there were 247,372 marriages between men and women in the UK.

The greatest percentage increase in rates occurred among those aged 65 and over - where the figure was up 12% for men and 17% for women compared to 2013. By contrast, the rates for men and women under 20 were down 20% and 11% respectively.

Rates had generally declined for all other age bands over that six-year period, apart from women aged 55 to 59 - where they spiked by 25%.

The rate of marriage among women aged 20-24 fell to 16 in 1,000 in 2014 - down from 16.8 the year before, leaving it lower than the rate for those between 50 and 54, which rose to 16.7%.

Two local women, who left it later in life to walk up the aisle, talk about why they made the choice and what difference it has made to their lives.

‘I think it is all about finding what you truly want from life’

Rita Fitzgerald (46), a features reporter on UTV Life, married her husband John (51), an architect, when she was 39. The couple have one daughter, Ellie, who is six.

She says: During my 20s and early 30s I had a great passion for travelling and after studying went off to teach English, living in France, Australia and America, and had these wonderful, exciting transient years.

While I studied social sciences I had always wanted to do journalism and TV presenting. In my early 30s I was living in France when I suddenly realised I needed to be more focused. I decided to go to Leeds to do a post grad course in broadcast journalism.

It was by accident that I got a placement in Northern Ireland and ended up back here. I hadn’t planned to come back home and didn’t see myself returning home having been away for so many years — but I loved it and then, of course, I met John.

He was an established architect at the time so I knew there was no chance of ever moving to another country and so I settled down here. Fortunately I got a job at UTV, which I love.

My life was very easy-come, easy-go for a long time and I suppose in the back of my mind I realised that I hadn’t met that extra special person that I wanted to spend my life with.

I was 36 when I met John and knew instantly he was the one I wanted to be with — and he felt the same.

We just had this good cheeky banter with each other. We met when I walked into my friend’s cafe and he was there all dressed up in a bow tie on his way to a reunion dinner.

We literally bumped into each other and from that moment we knew we were probably going to be together.

I’m not surprised woman are now leaving marriage until later.

I think it’s all about finding what you truly and honestly want out of life.

In our 20s we are trying to work out who we are and in our 30s we make our mistakes and it’s only then that we realise what direction we want our life to go in and what’s really important. Couples who meet when they are young and it all works out for them are pretty lucky but I think it is rare enough.

As you get older you know what you want and so does the person you meet, so there’s a beautiful simplicity in that. John and I often laugh and joke that one of the advantages of meeting at an older age is that you are much less likely to be bothered to leave each other.”

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