Monday, June 21, 2010

Love and Longevity

Pauline has posted about the pressures on single women (especially those “of a certain age”) to get married and settle down, and Sally has posted about the pressure on committed couples to throw a wedding. I tend to land in the same place they do on this issue, which is to forget about what others think and to move along at my own pace. I don’t worry about it—I just live and let live. But the topic has a tendency to resurface.

A recent Newsweek article* discussing my generation’s shifting attitudes toward marriage cited some intriguing and comforting (to me!) statistics. For instance, the article reports that the median age for marriage in the U.S. is 28 for men, 26 for women—the highest it’s ever been. And apparently waiting isn’t such a bad thing, because: “Every year we put off marriage, our chances of divorce go down.”

The article goes on to ponder the true question of our day: “If you’re going to wait, why do it at all?” If marriage is no longer economically necessary and singledom not so strongly socially taboo, why not skip the expensive party and look for completion in other ways? A woman can make her own living these days, but is it really true that the “old maid” taboo has lifted?

I love the idea of marriage, and I’ve certainly witnessed some strong and beautiful partnerships. In fact, this weekend I attended a lovely wedding ceremony for an old college friend. Yet, I can’t help thinking about all the ways the world has changed in the last half decade. It makes sense to me that the model for marriage set by the likes of Donna Reed and Leave It to Beaver has begun to shift towards something entirely new. The old joke about women going to college to get their “MRS” no longer applies.

In the old days, marriage meant stability and commitment and protection for both parties. Today, plenty of couples commit to one another without the formality. We still value the ideals of partnership and family, and the laws are slowly coming around to support unmarried couples. So what’s the big deal? Is it the same in the end, or isn't it?

*Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison. “‘I Don’t’: The Case Against Marriage.” Newsweek, June 21, 2010. p 42-45.

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