We’ve all heard the cautionary tales: Baby brides who walked down the aisle too young and were separated before their 30th birthdays; older women struggling to land a man or to have a baby. Stories that beg the question: “In marriage, is timing everything?” Since a whopping 90 percent of us will wed at least once by the age of 50, we’ll all find ourselves facing when-to-tie-the-knot fears. b1.jpgBut is there a perfect age to wed? Well, yes and no. Several experts cite the 28-to-32 range as having the ideal blend of energy and experience. “There are advantages and disadvantages to marrying in your 20s, just as there are for marrying in your 30s,” says David Popenoe, Ph.D., head of the National Marriage Project atRutgersUniversity

. “But those pros and cons are very different, so it comes down to what matters most to you.” Marrying at an age that best compliments your priorities—kids, career, sex—ups your chance to living happily ever after. If you want…mega sex
Advantage: 20something brides
If your criterion for a great marriage is a ready, willing, and able partner for a 24-7 sexfest, then you’d better tie the knot while you’re young. According to a poll in the
U.S.
of nearly 4,000 newlyweds of all ages conducted by researcher Barry Sinrod and his newlywed daughter, Marlo Grey, the most prolific do-it duos are in their 20s. after one year of marriage, 20something couples report having sex 24 times a month versus 17 times for 30somethings (which isn’t shabby either). With so much boinking going on, these 20somethings know they have to bust erotic ruts before they start. “Couples in their 20s seem far more experimental in bed than those in their 30s,” says Sinrod, who published the results in Just Married: A Sexy, Irreverent, Eye-Opening Look at How We Met, Dated, and Married the One We Love (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998). And the young and horny husbands can’t take all the carnal credit: The youngest brides are way more likely than their older counterparts to grab their partners and get it on when the mood strikes them

If you want…affair-proof love
Advantage: 30something brides
According to the National Option Research Center at the University of Chicago, extramarital affairs in the U.S. (like here) are most common among younger adults, ages 18 to 29. “These couples often haven’t had enough sexual experiences or aren’t mature enough to handle being with one person for life,” says Lana Staheli, Ph.D., author of Affair-Proof Your Marriage (HarperCollins, 1998). “They feel like they are missing out on something, so they stray.” Keep an eye on guys who marry at 25 and younger. “That’s the age when men are most likely to cheat,” says Staheli. “Their hormones are raging, so they crave more sex.”

Sinrod’s research also supports the idea that younger equals less faithful. According to his study, 20somethings are more likely than couples in their 30s to have been tempted by the fruit of another since their wedding day.

If you want…a killer career
Advantage: 30something brides
If you’re intent on climbing the corporate ladder, you may want to squelch your urge to tie the knot. “Couples who marry young are more likely to follow traditional gender roles—the husband is the primary wage earner; the wife takes care of the home,” says Jaine Carter, Ph.D., co-author of He Works She Works (cartercarter.com, 1996). “The 20something male ego isn’t secure enough yet to accept that a woman can be his partner in the bedroom and the boardroom.”

Generally, women and men who marry later have an equal view of their vocations. And once your work life has gained a certain momentum, it’s not likely to be derailed by the demands of marriage. “Couples in their 30s are in a better position to call the shots professionally,” says John Gottman, Ph.D., founder of the Family Research Laboratory in Seattle. “They don’t have to put in crazy hours to prove themselves like 20somethings do.”

If you want…as many kids as you can handle
Advantage: 20something brides
As you probably already know, the longer you wait to make babies, the harder it will be to get pregnant. But you may not realize just how much harder. “Starting at age 31, your ability to become pregnant starts to drop every few years or so, each dip more dramatic than the last,” says Zev Rosenwaks, M.D., director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Fertility at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City. “So by the time you hit 35, your chances are significantly lower than when you were 29. At 40, the fertility rate plummets.” In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than five times as many first children born to women 29 and younger than those who are 30 and older.

Sure, there are wonderful options for infertile couples today, but they’re limited. “Advanced reproductive technologies can’t overcome the barriers of nature,” says Dr. Rosenwaks. The bottom line is: If you know you want to have a baby, don’t put it off.

If you want…fewer financial freakouts
Advantage: 30something brides
Brides who want big bucks will benefit from waiting a bit before their nuptials. “When couples marry in their 20s, money causes a lot of stress,” says Judith Siegel, Ph.D., a marital therapist and associate professor at the Ehrenkraz School of Social Work at New York University. “Both men and women envy their single friends who are buying what they want and having fun, but they feel they should save for a house and pay off debts like married people are ‘supposed’ to do.”

This isn’t as big an issue for brides at 35. Obviously, the older you are, the further along you are in your career and the more money you have for fun and the future.

If you want…fair fights
Advantage: 30something brides
For those of us who can’t bear battles royal with our Romeos, marrying in your 30s ensures fewer feuds. “You’re more willing to compromise and less impulsive as you grow older,” says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., author of The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage (New Harbinger, 1997). “And when you do become upset, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make a scene.” Sinrod’s survey backs this idea: Couples in their 20s have the greatest tendency to scream and break things when fighting with their spouses.

While the 30something newlyweds are probably mellower, Sinrod also found they are also more likely to set aside time to talk together every day. “Good communication protects marriages when conflicts arise,” he says. Younger newlyweds are less likely to make talking one-on-one priority—so it’s no wonder that things quickly get out of hand when they don’t see eye to eye.

If you want…a sense of belonging
Advantage: 20something brides
In most parts of the world, the 20s are the picture-perfect decade for saying I do. The farther you stray from that magic age, the more freakish you start to feel. An article in a 1998 issue of the Journal of Family Issues confirms that being unmarried in your 30s can be bad for your state of mind because you feel like an outcast.

“Women who aren’t married by 30 become anxious and think, I’ll never find anyone!” says Popenoe. These negative feelings don’t immediately go away once the ring is on the finger. Older brides often have to fight off fears that people will think there is something wrong with them for having waited so long or that they had to rope their men into marrying at all. It seems that for an “I’m normal” peace of mind, the 20something brides have the edge.

If you want…no regrets
Advantage: 30something brides
Age and experience beat out youth. “More mature couples have had a number of relationships that haven’t worked out,” says Heitler. “They won’t take the leap unless they know it’s right.”

Young couples might have a more idealized notion of relationships. So when they find themselves in a reality that falls short of perfection, they want out. “Nearly all those who said they regretted marrying were women in their 20s,” says Sinrod. They amounted to only 9 percent of the Just Married newlyweds surveyed.