What has happened to the institution of marriage? How has it changed and why? There seems to be a lot attention swirling around this mysterious bugaboo called marriage. We need to carefully examine what changes are taking place because it speaks to attitudes and philosophies among singles. The importance of knowing these types of trends gives us insight into this generation of single people, and in so doing might be a predictor as to what to expect in the near future. These issues impact economics, social security, birth rates and a multitude of other issues.
There is no question that within and around marriage something is brewing. For the first time in census history we have more singles than married. What does this statistic tell us? Upon further investigation we’ve learned that marriage is being put off and many people are not reacting to it in a traditional manner.
I want to make it clear that I am not demeaning the institution of marriage. It means a great deal to those who respect and revere it, and I offer no judgments. When it comes to having children I believe in marrying to make it socially acceptable. Although in today’s age it doesn’t matter for the most part if a child is born out-of-wedlock or not, but the underlying emphasis is on marriage as the better of the ways to go.
For many, marriage is being put off for various reasons; careers, limited means to meet singles, not feeling one has lived as yet, men who are reluctant to commit and fear of dating strangers. The average age of males marrying has upped to a median age of 27 years old (and older for college graduates), the highest age ever. Even though the overwhelming majority, approximately 93%, want to marry at some point in their lives they are holding off on marriage and simply dating or co-habituating. Of course, women marry older as well – 25 is the median. It was 22 in years past. Add to this phenomenon that the US is the most marrying country in the developed countries.
On the flip side, according to national statistics, marriages are failing at an alarming rate and men particularly, are reluctant to jump into the marital fray. Both sexes generally want to marry for love. Yet, when they do, at least 50% end in divorce. We are baffled even though we understand the many reasons. Why do so many marriages land in divorce court? The result of divorce creates havoc for a long period of time even if that is what was wanted. A bitter divorce can be traumatizing for a lifetime.
I want to address the pressures still existing in society that require people to marry, raise a family and move to a suburban house with a white picket fence. These expectations are much more prevalent with women than with men. Males have become more casual about marriage. Yet, this requirement to marry often comes from a society that has yet to pause and seriously examine why marriages are failing at such a high rate. A lot of marital pressure comes from parent who might not have a good marriage themselves – this ambivalence seems to emanate from demands what society deems is normal. That concept is rapidly being dismissed and changes are occurring at an even more rapid pace.
With more pressure placed on women, what is sometimes most ignored is: Are you suited for holy matrimony? Unfortunately, that is a question not asked often enough. Is it possible that 1 in 5 men are not marriage material as it has been observed? You must ask yourself, are you willing to compromise and bend somewhat or do you have requirements that are hard to live up to? What are your expectations? How do they intertwine with the personality of your intended? Are you on the same track or are you in denial that you have totally different goals and needs? These are questions that must be answered upfront.
When an unmarried, fortyish man is clearly heterosexual, in all probability he will be considered a stud, and for many men it is a preferable status that some want to continue as long as they can. In other words, being single and hitting around middle-age is not stigmatizing for a man as it is for a woman.
As far as the unspoken societal rules go, it’s okay for males to delay that magic moment. But an unmarried female is looked at as though she is a reject. If you take this unspoken (or shouted) perception to heart many women might be pushed to marry for the wrong reasons or feel unwanted. They are made to feel guilty as though they are deficient somehow.
Researchers in a study, the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University gave their results in the annual report, “The State of Our Unions” 2002. The study explored men’s attitudes on sex, dating, meeting women, living together, marrying a soul-mate, the timing of marriage, social pressures to marry, divorce, desire for children and about balancing a job and having a family.
The study was entitled, “Why Men Won’t Commit: Exploring Young Men’s Attitudes About Sex, Dating and Marriage.” The co-author, Barbara Defoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University founded in 1997, was featured on CBS, The Early Show . The study is based on 8 focus groups with 60 single men between the ages of 25 to 33 in four metropolitan areas; Northern New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Houston.
It focused on men since it appears that they have often been excluded in this debate. Maybe it’s because they are essentially calling the shots when it comes to marriage and calling them a lot more slowly than ever before.
Here is how men responded: They had few social pressures to marry. “They are more willing to live together than marry. They can get sex more easily without marriage. They want to avoid the financial fallout of divorce. They are waiting for the perfect soul mate. They fear marriage will require too many changes and compromises. They want to delay having children. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children. They want to own a house before they get a wife. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.”
Men, generally, are dragging their feet about walking down the aisle while women are still yielding to pressure. Societal traditions may be far more embedded than we can ever imagine and women might give in or compromise in order to play by the rules. Because of that women may become less cautious about their potential mate.
Women tend to avoid being forthcoming about changes they want a future spouse to make because they might chase him away. This grocery list of demands is presented after marriage. More than likely there will be resistance on the part of the male. Suppressing honesty can create misdirected anger that will ultimately rear its ugly head, probably in inappropriate ways. That is a fast track for divorce. I suspect that men sense this hidden agenda or see other couples who have wound up in explosive situations because of it. Men are therefore encouraged to remain in the single mode. If you fear that straight talking before the big day will make him walk then you might consider taking the risk.
Marrying for the right reasons, of course, makes perfectly good sense. You love each other, aren’t afraid to say what’s on your mind in a kind way, share some interests (not necessarily all) and understand where each of you is coming from.
My advice for women who are eager to marry yet can’t find a mate: You are not half a person because you have no partner. You must be your own best friend, learn to enjoy life and like yourself even if you are alone. Stand strong against the labels society brands you with.
Dig in now and deal with who you are. Hopefully, it will be a great journey for the rest of your life.
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