So here's the place to begin. A place to open up that discussion.
Several (okay, so maybe it's more than several) years back, I ran into a very interesting conundrum. For a single male reaching the age of twenty, there is a very notable source that seems to create a conflict. Learning about this source lead to a larger inquiry within Jewish sources for the prerogative to get married, the (ideal) age to do so and the life-development stages to consider. I'm laying out what I can scrounge and remember from that process, and I know there is much more (and a whole lot of discussion to be had). Then I'll tell you about my own thoughts, considerations and perhaps even a conclusion or two.
Let's start with the life development concerns. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:21) states: "At five years old a person should study Mikra, at ten years the Mishnah and at fifteen the Talmud." Shortly thereafter (5:25) they give guildelines for when to get married: "Shmoneh Estreh L'chupah."
The Talmud (Sotah 44a) teaches that the proper sequence of a persons life should consist of: (a) acquiring a house, (b) learning a trade and (c) marrying. Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilchot Dei'ot 5:11) flips the first two, noting that learning a trade precedes acquiring a house. Commentators struggle with the issue, but ultimately everyone concludes that marriage should come last and that is the most important value to extract from these sources. The rest is just logistics and practicality concerns.
Okay, so we have a sequence of learning and a sequence of building a life and family. Now the troublesome part. There are many different opinions for the proper ages, but here are two more I picked up along my inquiry:
The Talmud (Kiddushin 29b) brings down the following:
Rav Huna says: one who reaches the age of twenty and has not married, he lives all his days in sin. Rava said, until twenty years the Almighty sits in anticipation waiting for a person to marry. Once he reaches twenty and has not married, He says: "May his bones rot!" (Alternatively translated: "May his bones blow up!")
The Rambam states it similarly, but focuses on the commandment violations (Hilchot Ishut, 15:2):
When is a man obligated in this Mitzvah? From the age of seventeen. Once he reaches twenty years and has not married a woman, he has transgressed and neglected a positive commandment.
Oh yes, let's give people a mere three years to find a bashert! Oh, and by the way, you have -at best -about 2 years to seriously learn Gemara before being responsible to pursue marriage. Lastly, let's make sure you know that Hashem is waiting for you to find your bashert before the age of twenty. Also, you should have a house and a job before then. So a guy needs to be educated thoroughly in Judaic texts, learn a trade and buy a house by around the age of seventeen. Then he needs to be married by twenty.
The continuation -which will be posted tomorrow -will push the envelope further and explore the clash between the outline presented here and the reality we have to deal with.