So my original idea for my blog was to comfort women in their 20s and 30s who are not yet married or do not have a significant other. Years ago I, too, felt envy, anger, and frustration at seeing photos of adoring couples or capsule PR-heavy descriptions in the Vows section of the newspaper. I felt conflicted, both depressed that I did not have a mate or husband and angry that society (and my relatives) judged my independent solo persona as not worthy of admiration. So to prevent myself from feeling worse, I told myself that at least I would not have to go through a divorce, as many of my friends and family had.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a good, long-term relationship, but I knew myself well enough in my 20s and 30s to know that marrying just to be married would have 1) made me miserable, 2) made my mate miserable, and 3) resulted in divorce. My horrific dates included one guy who ate garlic shrimp with his hands, a rock drummer who said that I wasn’t religious enough for him, a guy who kept staring at other women during our first date, and one who was disappointed that I hadn’t lost weight after I had a root canal.
Eventually I did find someone who adored me. I was 42 when I married for the first time and 43 when I had my first and only child. It all worked out fine, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have enjoyed my earlier life a lot more and would not have been not bathed in the guilt induced by my conservative and grandchildren-less parents. Do as I did, I wanted to say, avoid your first divorce by not marrying (or procreating) until you are in your 40s.
It was a surprise to me, then, when I started reading current marriage statistics, and I found that the truth is that the divorce rate for millennials is much lower than that for their boomer parents. In fact, millennial divorces have decreased by 18% between 2008 and 2016. That statistic may be misleading, though, because the marriage rate is also declining.
One reason for the declining marriage rate is that fewer people are marrying in their early 20s. In 2018, the median age for a first marriage was 30 years for men and 28 years for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many millennials don’t feel as if they can afford marriage and are waiting until they are more financially stable before getting hitched (and some may never reach economic stability). Others have just decided to cohabit because they don’t believe in marriage or just don’t feel as if they want to make that commitment.
And in fact, it doesn’t seem to be the young and eager couples (filling the newspaper with sometimes heart-warming, sometimes risible descriptions of their impressive bios and their elaborate weddings) who are headed for the courts.
Time magazine reported that older Americans are the ones who are getting divorced at higher rates than are the millennials. According to a Pew research center study, “grey divorce” is growing. Among those 65 and older, they report, the divorce rate roughly tripled since 1990. The U.S. Census Bureau also reports that the number of older adults who live together and who are not married continues to rise even faster than in other cohorts, up 29% since 2007. So it seems that millennials are marrying less and boomers are divorcing more.
What is also different is the changing topography of marriage. The Vows sections of newspapers are filled with announcements by couples of different races, religions, and genders. Same-sex marriages are also increasing. According to a Gallup poll in 2017, about one-in-ten LGBT Americans (10.2%) are married to a same-sex partner, and a majority (61%) of same-sex cohabiting couples are now married. Pew cites that about 17% of couples marry someone of a different race or ethnicity, and about 40% of adults are married to someone in a different religious group. My husband and I were part of that last statistic—marrying someone from a different religious group—and the eventual acceptance and celebration by our families gave me great hope for a future where people marry whom they love.
The only people NOT marrying each other these days seem to be those with different political beliefs. About 77% of Republicans and Democrats who were married or cohabiting said that their mate was in the same political party. And, with the current level of political vituperation, that particular statistic may increase. Even in a home with two people who consistently vote alike (my husband and I), it is easy to make the political personal. I often demand a temporary media boycott due to matters of digestion.
So marriage has changed and is changing. There are fewer divorces and fewer marriages, and there are a growing number of choices of who to marry (or not) and what a marriage should be (or not). I am inspired by how courageous people have expanded diversity and choices in marriage. Relationships, on the other hand, continue to be as complicated as ever, and, marriage aside, are the ultimate leap of faith.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: “Warm, Wise, Smart, and Funny” book by Lori Gottlieb