Some Thoughts on Marriage and Millennials

04.06.18

There’s this recurring conversation I have with my mother. It happens every six weeks or so.

Sometimes it’s over the phone, sometimes it’s after family dinner on a Sunday night when we’re sprawled out on the couch and dad’s sorting out the leftovers for his adult children’s work lunches (God bless his soul), and it’s always about marriage.

My mum, probably like yours, is from the generation that married young and had babies young. Her and dad married in their twenties, had three daughters soon thereafter and with thirty years of wedded-bliss under their belts life is pretty good. So she finds it a particularly hard pill to swallow that none of her adult daughters are “there” yet. She can’t reconcile why the timeline – and order – of such significant events might be exponentially different for Charlotte, Bizz and I.

Best-selling author, Marian Keyes, has been writing about modern women for over twenty years, and she believes that this “crisis of commitment” is a modern affliction because we are living for so much longer. For a thirty year old who could easily live to her hundredth brithday, the thought of marriage might be a daunting one – that’s almost seventy years with the same person!

For the record, seventy years with the same person sounds like heaven to me. I’m a creature of habit and the idea of never having to teach a new person my coffee order, the way I like my eggs, or that I need to have an isle seat on the plane is positively thrilling.

But at 25 year’s old, I’m content with the notion that it might be a little while longer before I find my person. My Person. Capital P. Being 25 and unmarried is not a talking point for millennials. Neither is being 35 and unmarried. As Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist said, “Marriage used to be the first step into adulthood. Now it is often the last.” And one of those pre-cursor steps is financial security. Our generation literally can’t afford anything. And not to sound dramatic but how the hell are we suppose to pay for a wedding if we can’t even pay for a house to live in? Some of us are trying to gain financial independence from our parents or pay off our student loans before we think about tying the knot. Or maybe we want to throw all of our money into travelling. Or risk it all for a new career “while we’re still young”. Then there’s the fact that women are now just as driven to succeed as men; sociologists and psychologists who study relationships say that our “no-nonsense” attitude towards marriage has been fostered through women piling into the work force. The median age of marriage has risen to 27.4 for women in 2017, up from 20.8 for women in the seventies.

None of this means we don’t want marriage. Quite the opposite actually.

There was an article in the New York Times this week that said a recent study showed millennials are approaching lifelong relationships with a lot more caution than was anticipated. The term “fast sex, slow love” was thrown into the conversation. It describes the juxtaposition between the causal sexual encounters our generation have, with the long term committed relationships we aspire to. And we’re not only marrying and having kids later in life, young adults are also taking more time to get to know each other. That same NYT article quoted an eHarmony report that found American couples aged 25 to 34 knew each other for an average of six and a half years before marrying.

I guess the only other thing I would add to this conversation is that because some of these big milestones in our lives are being pushed out later, so too are the formative years of our youth. There are days when I still feel very much in the thick of mine. Figuring out my “non-negotiables” in life, love and partnership. The truth is, my girlfriends and I still feel really young at 25 year’s old – like our feet can’t touch the ground – and our mothers at the same age probably didn’t. They felt settled.

Or at least that’s going to be my new argument at family dinners.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club