“Mawage is what bwings us togevah today!”
The Princess Bride‘s Peter Cook said it best. And it’s true; marriage is a sacred bond that connects two people in powerful ways. And there are plenty of marriages happening everyday around the world. But for Millennials, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.
Millennials aren’t getting married as young as our parents or our parents’ parents. And in many cases, that’s a very good thing. In other cases, it’s not so good. And for some, it’s neither here nor there. Every Millennial’s story will be different. But I see two major factors in why Millennials aren’t running down the isle as quickly as our generational predecessors. A third factor is the ridiculousness that is the dating game, which deserves its own rant…uh, I mean post. (Forthcoming.)
I’m writing about these not to give excuses, but to shed some light on what’s going through our minds when we think about marriage. And how the culture we grew up in—vastly different than our parents’ and grandparents’—has shaped much of how we’re viewing the “traditional” life plan.
The College Push
The average age for marriage these days is around 28, TheSpruce.com reports, and it may be largely due to the amount of time we’ve spent on education. Time that has not been wasted.
Millennials were encouraged to go to college, whether that’s because our parents went to college and had a good experience (like finding their spouse), or because our parents didn’t get to go or finish and wanted us to. And it was a good idea—they wanted us to get an education, to become learned and wise, to grow up and make a difference in the world. To get good jobs, to establish financial security, to have a family, and to be successful. Nothing wrong with that. So we all went to college. And it was awesome!
It bumped the traditional timeline back four years, though. And for some, six or eight, because since we were all graduating with college degrees, the degree became less and less significant. Many of us, including me, went on to earn even higher degrees. So, whereas our parents and our parents’ parents were marrying anywhere between the ages of 17 and 25, we were working on our education. And education is a good thing; I loved my time in college and graduate school. But, even so, those pursuits set the traditional timeline back even further. And, of course, there’s the social aspects of college life—or wherever you are in your early twenties—that provides a different sort of education, too.
The freedom we found in our college years affected different people different ways. For students who weren’t raised in a faith system, it let them begin (or continue) exploring the world of sexuality in unhealthy ways. Some of us—as we cut our adolescent teeth on shows like “Friends” and “Dawson’s Creek“—were never taught to think about marriage as the only context for a sexual relationship. For students who were raised in a faith system and taught to think biblically about marriage and sexuality, college gave them an opportunity to decide what they really believed about it—and if it was really worth the wait. To figure out if “Friends” and “Dawson’s Creek” were really right about the birds and the bees or if we should stick more to the “7th Heaven” ideals. Some chose experimentation as the hook-up culture emerged; others chose the straight-and-narrow, though it came with many lonely Saturday nights.
We also learned at college that the marriage-and-family track was no longer our only option. With our degrees, we could chase dreams, pursue careers (we had to pay off our school bills somehow), and enjoy a few more adventurous years unattached. And the average marrying age got pushed back (which, in some cases, is a good thing).
I might mention that, while there’s maturity of mind and body to take into account, there’s no biblical precedence for a specific marrying age. Within reason, there’s not a right or wrong answer here. Getting married at 21 or 22 isn’t better or worse than getting married later, and it doesn’t mean you’re more mature emotionally or spiritually than someone who marries at, say, 29 or 30. And vice versa. Sometimes when you’re still single in your later twenties, it feels as though the kids’ table (or the overgrown-teenagers’ table) is the only option, and that’s just not always true.
Commitment and the Fear of Divorce
Here’s the bottom line for many millennials: It’s scary getting married. I can’t say I speak from experience, but thinking about it does actually scare me a little bit. On one hand, you’re getting a life-long companion who is vowing to never leave you no matter what. On the other hand, you’re promising to trust the other person and you’re pledging to be that life-long companion for forever.
The thing is, so many Millennials have grown up knowing this marriage thing doesn’t always work out. Millennials, arguably more than any other previous generation, have seen and experienced divorce destroy so many families. And it really scares us. It scares us because we’ve seen perfectly good people give up on perfectly good marriages. We’ve been hurt by absentee parents, or parents who’ve decided their kids aren’t worth the fight. And it scares us because we know ourselves, and how imperfect we can be. It scares us because we know how much we’re like our parents. And it scares us because we don’t want to make a decision only to have it end in divorce. Nobody gets married to get divorced, but we’ve seen it so often. Friends marry people who seem perfect for them. People who have everything lined up. People who swear their drinking isn’t a problem anymore. People who promise before God and each other to be faithful. People who truly mean it when they take their vows. But life gets stressful, and they turn to things they shouldn’t and their marriage gets destroyed against desires of both parties. And who’s to say that won’t happen to us? None of our friends saw it coming when it happened to them. And it scares us.
We know marriage is a good thing, and many of us want it. But, we’ll admit—we’re scared. And we want to be sure we know what we’re doing before we sign the dotted line. So we’re slow movers.
And because of this fear, the cohabitation trend has emerged. Why get married if you can live a married life without all the contracts and hassle and threat of divorce? Even couples in faith communities have adopted this trend. It’s a defense mechanism, and while it’s not what God intends for relationships, I can’t say I blame them for the compromise.
We Need You
There’s a through line I hope I’ve communicated through this series on Millennials and Minding the Generation Gap. It’s simple: We need you.
We need you to be faithful to your husbands and wives. We need you to love your wives as Jesus loves us. To respect your husbands as the caring leader of your family, as the Church follows Jesus. We need to see marriages that last. We need to see you fight for your spouse when things get tough. And we need you to love us wherever we are–whether that’s in a relationship or not.
We need you. We need you to come alongside us, pray for us, mentor us, and love us, regardless of our marital status. If you’re married, have us into your home every so often, so we can see what marriage looks like. (Pro-tip: Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, we’d prefer it not be, because it gives us hope for our imperfections.) If you’re not married, show us what that looks like too—contentment and trusting God is something we all need more of, single or married!
We need each other, whether married or single; let’s not let mawage be the only thing bwinging us togevah today in the Body of Christ.