Is Marriage Obsolete?

A new report issued by the Pew Research Center shows that 4 out of 10 people think that marriage is obsolete. Of course most of the people who share that sentiment are us- jaded twenty-somethings who watched the nuclear family crumble before our eyes. We watched our parents bicker and barter until there was nothing left or maybe we were completely blindsided by a surprise dissolution. Either way, we got the craped scared out of us.

The famous New York Times article, “What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?“, explains that two thirds of Generation Y live with a romantic partner without getting married and that the median age of marriage is up from 21 to 26 for women and 23 to 28 for men in less than forty years. I know I for one can be counted in that 40% represented in the Pew Research report. It was only as of recent that I warmed up to the idea of marriage and I’m 27! This was the age my mother got married and that was considered late in 1977. I still don’t believe marriage works, but I’d rather try my chances than becoming a shut-in with pet hamsters named after Mad Men characters with the Don Draper hamster taking cuddle priority over the rest never at all.

Outside of watching marriages drop like flies, other factors such as the current economic state, waning religious beliefs, and the over-idealization of love and romance have also played a factor in our decision-making process. Hundreds of years ago people got married to ensure legacy or wealth, but now it’s impossible to imagine marriage without love. It’s even more impossible to imagine having to mount an over-weight, bald, middle-aged farmer neighbor that your parents married you off to at 14. Watching way too much television and film as a child taught me that I don’t have to marry that neighbor, I can marry any neighbor, or hell, I can even marry a dude with perfectly white teeth or a doctor who moonlights as a vigilante or someone that smells like Cary Grant.

But back to divorces and why they messed us up.

I have a theory that if you come from a “broken home” you turn out one of two ways- 1.) you learn what not to do from your folks and quickly and happily create a family of your own or 2.) run screaming away from anything that resembles commitment or small beings that yell and poop. That’s not to say that your view can shift through the years. It takes many years of self-reflection and therapy to undo what your family did to you but it IS possible.

My parent’s divorce was easy compared to most. There was no cheating, no abuse, no mind games, no yelling even. My father simply realized that marriage and fatherhood was not his bag. My parents tried to make it work, but soon enough it became clear that the marriage was over. He moved from our home in New York down to Maryland and my mother and I would often visit. Eventually he met another woman and the same 12-year marriage cycle repeated itself. Now past his second divorce, my father has been dating a wonderful woman for over a year and a half. Recently, my mother, my father, and I all stayed at the girlfriend’s house when we were in Los Angeles. We all sat up and talked and laughed and I recall mentally stepping back and thinking, “This is so wonderfully progressive and blog-worthy”. Then everyone went to sleep and my father and I sat up and did shots of tequila and talked about how him leaving caused me to pine after unavailable men.

I kind of like the person I am, but I can’t help but wonder what I would be like if my parents stayed together. I wonder if I still would have such a jaded view of marriage. Who knows, maybe I would have become a huge mess. Maybe my parents would have hated each other and I would have a different but equally bitter view towards marriage. It’s hard to say. The only thing I know for certain is that I come from a broken home, I watched way too much TV as a kid, I’m economically disadvantaged, and I’m not religious…

….Man, am I fucked.

Do you believe in marriage? Did your parents divorce? How do you think your parents and the media helped shape your view on marriage?

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  • Reply One Blonde Girl November 18, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Granted, I'm no longer a 20-something, but my parents' divorce was tumultuous, and that's being kind (my dad has also been divorced twice, his current lady-friend, however, is no walk in the park, but that's a sob story for another day). I have been a commitment-phobe ever since (but have only recently accepted this). I run screaming for the hills at any hint of wedding bells and baby bottles. That being said, it has only been recently (as in the past 11 months) that those things have vaguely started appealing to me. And by vaguely, I mean it doesn't sound like a death sentence.

    I have also believed that the biggest problem with marriage is unrealistic expectations. I think young people (and yes, mostly woman) think marriage is a magic cure-all that will make their lives wonderful and happy forever. They think that being married changes things. The idea that it should change things angers me. If I were to ever marry, I wouldn't expect anything to be different after the wedding from what it was before.

    Ugh. I could go on and on about this (and have after a couple of drinks), but in a nut shell, I agree.

  • Reply Sailor Legs November 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Even when I was younger, I told myself I'd never get married before the age of 28 [I'm currently 27] and people always thought of that as odd. I was too young to remember my parents divorce but what came afterward made me realize what I never wanted to be. I had a very co-dependent mother whom never felt right without a man.
    Thus, she raised a daughter despising that "weakness" and is too damn independent that her pride won't allow her the right for help/assistance or the ability to feel vulnerable.

    In relationships, it's really hard for me to let the man be the man. And I will fight till the end pushing the idea that I don't need them.
    Some men find that hard to deal with [sarcastic shrug]. But when it comes down to it, making that commitment, giving this guy my heart, scares the shit out of me.

    And with marriage. My only real desire to get married is to let my father know I have someone to watch out for me when he's gone. And to have him walk me down the aisle [because im a sappy daddys girl]. But other than that, it's just some form of commitment I'm not ready for yet.

  • Reply Maggi November 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    This was a fascinating post to read. My parents have been together since high school and married for 35 years. Most members of my family are happily married and have been for a number of years. Only 2 divorces to speak of and neither of those had minor children involved. So, I can't even say how they might have been affected. You would think that this type of record would make me see the happiness in marriage and wedded bliss.
    It doesn't.
    I've never been one for thinking that I need to/want to get married. It's just not something that I have ever desired. It seems so confining and bogged down, like once you're in, there's no going back. Whether that's a product of how I was raised or what I watched on t.v., I'm not sure. Maybe I thought my parents, at times, seemed like they wanted more from their lives than a family, and I was somehow affected by that. Or, maybe, I saw the crazy society we live played out in front of me on t.v. shows. Either way, I turn 30 in 3 days, and it wasn't until the last couple of months that my perspective on marriage has changed.
    I still don't feel that overwhelming need for marriage, I'd be happy just being with him. But what I feel is that need for security and for that person to know that I'm serious about us. He thinks marriage is important, and what is important to him is important to me. What I do think about marriage is that by having a family that consists of a lot of strong marriages, both mine and his, it makes me hope that there is less likelihood of divorce…I don't know, maybe. Maybe we will try harder to work out any problems? Who knows though, until something happens, how one or both people will react?

    Either way, marriage and all that it entails is some scary shit.

  • Reply Big Mark 243 November 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I don't have baggage from my parents divorcing, none that I can count as such straight off. I am sure that a lot of the turbulence in my life is a result of not having a father to grow up with, but who knows what would have happened had he stayed?

    One of the reasons that marriage has become so feared an institution, is that we keep acting like it is new. Nietzche said of marriage that it is to havle one's rights and double one's respnonsiblities. Therin lies the challenge.

    When you take away the ritual benefits that come with being married, wealth, property and most important, identity, why do it? The ideal of marriage is too ambigious to be defined much less pursued, and I have seen it as a question of motivation (as in, 'what's my motivation..?') as to getting married.

    Sex? Had plenty of that, thank you very much. How much more does one cat need? Money? Even in my salad days, it didn't seem to matter, the relationships I was in were high functioning and beyond material matters. Companionship? I don't watch 'Mad Men', but I would sit and watch with you, Lauren. But would you sit and watch 'Saving Private Ryan' when it is in high rotation on TNT or go talk about Thomas Sowell's column in the paper?

    Don't answer. Because we all say 'yes' to one anothers habits and are accepting of their quirks until things get real. By that, I mean we start living together and setting dates and looking for churches. Is that REALLY what you want to wake up in the morning to, irrespective that you aren't a prize yourself at dawn's first light?

    By not being married, the sense of freedom being a simple decision, so what if it means you need two moving trucks and it cost more than 2 years of college to get free, you can do that. But married, with children and a home…

    Anywho, I don't think a pretty woman such as yourself should be stressed about marriage. Date, and if that cat IS that cat, you both will discover each other. And don't short sitting around with a cat and 'Mad Men' marathons on AMC or via DVD. You tend to forget how good it is to do what you want, when and how you want it.

  • Reply Kris November 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    My parents got married young and have stayed happily married till this day. I have four siblings, and although each of us respects marriage (not obsolete here) none of us is hitched yet, or in any hurry. In my teens I decided I DIDN'T want the life my parents led.

    My Dad's parents went through a messy divorce when he was older and I believe that made him determined to make it work. We're all "religious" (hate that word, of course). Which is very relevant.

  • Reply Brooke Farmer November 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Parents that stay together and hate each other just fuck you up in a different way. Trust me.

    Or, at least mine did.

  • Reply Benny November 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    My parents' marriage is weird and I'd never want to be in it but it seems to work these days. What you said about wondering how things would've turned out if your parents stayed together was interesting. I always wonder how things would've turned out if they just split and I didn't have to grow up around their dynamic. Who knows what's worse? If there was a god, he probably wouldn't even know.

    I feel like the only positive aspect of marriage is that it can be a celebration of people who are already good together. I think that many people use it for a different purpose, though. I've dated two married (but separated) people and both of them told a basic story of "I wasn't that into him, but I thought marriage would be exciting." They also both felt like the guy proposed because he thought it'd mean he had to do less "work" in the relationship. Got me thinking about how the institution, with the "man proposes" tradition, is kind of a way to discourage women from leaving relationships that don't satisfy them… not that it has to be.

    But that got me thinking about how its functions are sort of archaic… it's really about ownership, in a way.

    On another hand, I went to a wedding of two friends and the priest quoted Rilke about "guardians of each other's solitude" and it was awesome, and I was like, "It could be fun to have one of these."

  • Reply @emllewellyn November 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    My husband and I got married when we were 22. His parents are divorced, each remarried, and remained relatively amicable. My parents have been married 27 years– my mom's parents had a very messy split, while my dad's parents were married almost 50 years. We've got divorce and remarriage sprinkled throughout our extended families, but I was always raised in a home where divorce simply was not an option for my parents. That's the phrase they would use. It wasn't defensive and it wasn't stubborn, it was a simple decision.

    Marriage is tricky. I get that. Relationships are complex, kids add more complexity to the mix, but my parents actually made it easier on themselves by making a literal choice which has worked beautifully for them and always fostered love in abundance for our family. I never set out to get married so young (in spite of the marriage culture in my religion) but we met, and it clicked, and it was the next step, and it happened, and I'm thrilled. Sure, we're only a few years in, but this marriage is SO MUCH EASIER than any relationship I've ever had. I think people (myself included for a long time) put a lot of pressure on their relationships and worry a lot instead of taking a step back to just "be." In essence, NOTHING CHANGED when we got married except my name. I love it. And it's SO much easier without the stress of "what if." The commitment for us was final, but rather than making me fret, it's instilled so much trust and peace.

    Expectations are different in our generation, though, all around. Women aren't expected to be exclusive homemakers, which has changed the dynamic of relationships and marriage entirely. Media has changed as marriages have changed– most families are not the Cleavers. But have most families EVER been the Cleavers? Rather than glossing over the real challenges most people face in their marriages, media and society is acknowledging and embracing reality. Within my own family I have all sides of the spectrum, but my parents' view of marriage absolutely shaped mine more than any other influence.

  • Reply girluntitled November 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    i LOVED this post, because up until a couple months ago marriage WAS obsolete to me. i swear every day i hear about someone else (either married for 20 years or 2 months) that's going through a divorce. what else are kids our age supposed to think?

    but then my sufficient self didn't watch it and i ended up falling in love with a long-time friend…i may not know what to expect in a marriage but i'm prepared to jump into it nose first with this guy.

    i find 20-somethings, me included, are too damn selfish these days…and i think selfishness is the killing factor in a marriage.

    am i scared? you bet. a little jaded? probably. but i can't WAIT!

  • Reply Hipstercrite November 18, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    @One Blonde Girl- Ha. We sound about the same. So does @Sailor Legs below you there. I was nodding my head at both of your comments. Yep, it was only recently that I warmed up to the idea of marriage, where, yes, it's not viewed as a death sentence. Maybe even one day I will look at with joy, who knows?

    @Sailor Legs- Aww…that part about your dad really got me. And the part about being in control in the relationship? That sounds about right for me too. I always act like I don't need them and either that pushes them away or when I actually do need them, they freak out. Ha. Fuck men. 😉

    @Maggi- Your lucky to have a family that has stuck together like that. I can only imagine how inspiring that must be. However, I'm with you on the idea that you can be in a committed relationship and not necessarily be marry. In fact, I think that works better for some people. Takes the pressure off.

    @Mark- Yes, I would watch "Saving Privare Ryan", but maybe not on rotation. I fear it would make me violent. Thank you for your thought-out answer. I can only imagine what the book of your life is like!

    @Kris- I agree that being religious is very relevant. I see my friends that are devout Christians and they have very happy lives and families. I often wish I grew up with religion as a rock, but alas, it was not…

    @Brooke- I think our poor parents fuck us up regardless of what they do. The burden of being a parent…

    @Benny- That is another interesting topic. I recall an LA Weekly front page article called "30 and Divorced". It was about how the new thing was to be divorced before 30. Of course, I know people who got married at 18 and have been together for 30+ years. As my mother says, "There really is no right or wrong way to making a marriage work…" Who knows what makes one work?

    @emllewellyn- Reading your story made me smile. I often day dream about being married and having lots of kids and love all around me. Maybe one day I will have that. You are so lucky to start that journey now. It sounds like you grew up in a wonderful household!

  • Reply Emily November 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    I'd love to believe in marriage but you have to suspend disbelief to believe in it really. Everyone knows the likely-hood of spending their life with someone is slim. Also I don't believe in 'the one', I think there are tons of 'the one's'.

  • Reply Berry Quiñones November 18, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    really intreresting blog you've got… definately going to follow you.
    i didnt used to believe in marriage becasue none of the ones in my family have ever really worked out…but now i want to prove to myself and the rest of my family that marriage can work and so can families. i'm happily engaged and ready to take on the world…as soon as i graduate high school 🙂

  • Reply HISdaughter November 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    my parents divorced and remarried quickly, when I was about 5. I dont think it ruined me, but my divorce kind of did. I was married 7 years, and now I am engaged, after being divorced for about 3 years. I love this man, THis relationship is completely opposite of my marriage, but I am still TERRIFIED, about taking the leap again. Scary scary scary

  • Reply KeLLy aNN November 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    When my parents got divorced, I was the first one: learned what not to do.
    Mostly. Like not hold out your hand for his paycheck the minute he walks in the door.
    snort, solved that by making my OWN money.
    Their divorce {1984} was a pain in the ass with me being recruited for Messenger. I had a car, I wasn't home.
    The first husband was an abusive alcoholic. My really cool Gay son that I talked about a few blogs back and I left when he was 4. I was a Single Parent with him ~ bringing him to my college art classes when his school was out; Road tripps with a pot smoking MoM who listened to Sam Cooke one minute and Type O the next; volunteering for his school whenever I could; Solstice Meetings with the Coven:. He had a very privileged diverse up bringing that not to many kids at that age had. {he was born in 1990}
    Divorce worked really well.

    Second Hubby, Copper, cause, he's a Cop is whole different candy. Well, we fit together. Like, totally together. He wanted to get married, I didn't. We did mostly from a legal point {insurance, checking, etc} but I would have just been happy with him and babies.

    If you want any relationship to work, marital or otherwise, you just have to accept and compromise.
    Accept that he's an alcoholic and hell yeah you can move on.
    Accept that he's a slob but compromise: when the clothes on the floor reach the door, it's time to pick up, Ok?

  • Reply theTsaritsa November 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I think there is also a third option if you come from a broken home, which is that you make the same mistakes your parents made. I can't help but realize that I have the same bad temper as my dad and the same cool attitude as my mom. Damn.

  • Reply Peaches and Cream November 18, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Hmm, where to start? First of all, can you tell my friends about that article? The smug-marrieds who tell me that when Wes and I celebrate our 10 year anniversary it doesn't count because we're not married yet, even though we'd been successfully living in a 'marriage-like relationship' for several years before they even met their spouses!!

  • Reply Carol November 18, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    My three sisters have all been married for a few decades and, as far as I know, no divorces are in the planning. My parents have been married for more than 40 years and are happier together now than I’ve even seen them. Their marriage worked because they made a commitment and then they stuck to it, even when times were difficult. They rode it out. That happens less and less these days because life has become all about convenience and comfort and that’s a shame, because think of all the times you worked really hard to achieve something you’d set your mind to. When you reached your goal, did you ever like yourself more?

    Marriage is teamwork. Marriage is forgiveness. Marriage is allowing the other person to have a life outside of you. Marriage is taking out the trash and nights sitting on the couch watching reruns. It’s someone who’ll always pick you up from the airport and who will dress you before the paramedics show up if you die naked on the bathroom floor. And I think that’s a pretty good thing.

  • Reply Christopher November 19, 2010 at 12:16 am

    marriage won't be obsolete until my aunts stop bugging me about when i'm going to settle down and get married

  • Reply Ashton King November 19, 2010 at 12:56 am

    My biological parents divorced before I can remember. My mom remarried my wonderful stepfather when I was 3 and they've been together ever since. That's who I consider to be my nuclear family, in part because my real dad is a very selfish person. It's not that he doesn't love me or by brothers and sister, but he doesn't love anyone more than himself, which is probably a good thing considering his self-destructive behaviors.

    I think it's all in what you make of the situation. We all have to choose our role models, and sometimes our parents won't make the cut. And even then, we can't let our role models dictate our actions. It has to be about what we want from our relationships.

  • Reply Randall November 19, 2010 at 1:48 am

    For my mom, marriage was a way out of her parents' house, and sometimes I think her winding up with my dad was kind of incidental. And sometimes I just feel like a byproduct of that. It's… more complicated than that, but still kind of sobering.

    I went through both kinds of divorce. At 6 or 7, my parents split. It was a real 90s divorce, the whole "this is not your fault, we just love each other in different ways now, we're going to have a different kind of family," which turns into things like three Christmases and passive aggressive "I would never say anything bad about x parent, but…". I always felt sort of like it was a non-event, something that didn't effect me, but the older I get, the more I think maybe by being a non-event it did change something about me, about the way I see relationships.

    The second time, when my mom and step-dad broke up, I totally didn't see it coming. I had been away for college, and then after I was really burned out, so when the next thing I know people were moving out and telling me "we're going to try and work this out, so don't tell anybody about it yet" it came as something of a shock, and even though I was much older than the first time, about all that afforded me was the good sense to occasionally say "No, I put up with x weirdness before, I'm not going to this time."

    I don't know how deep those scars go. But I do know it fucked my trust up all to hell, so while I've been with at least one woman who I could say "I would probably marry this girl," when I'm not in relationship, actually getting married seems to far away as to be something of an impossibility. Because not only do I have to get the actual relationship, and get over all those trust issues/dealing-like-an-adult-when-folks-let-you-down-as-they-will, then we're talking about one step beyond that, some sort of commitment. Matrimony might as well be China to me… I couldn't be farther from it.

    What I find really funny is that a lot of people, my age, younger [so 20-somethings] when they do believe in marriage, they always have this huge check list of things that have to be just so, or "there's no way me being married will ever work ever, so what's the point?" and I find that interesting.

    And then there's also the issue of privilege here. Me, the people I'm talking about, the listless hipsters who are doubting the usefulness of marriage are a far cry from the kinds of people I went to high school with here in WV, where x person got y person pregnant, and then the marriage becomes like social, economic, or religious necessity. Or even a situation like my mom's, where it's an escape. In those cases, marriage takes on an entirely different meaning than the sort of pie-in-the-sky, make a family, happy forever thing we're talking about here.

  • Reply Just Plain Tired November 19, 2010 at 2:14 am

    We share the same views, and I'm probably 25-30 years older than you.

  • Reply magiey November 19, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Marriage isn't obsolete really its just that young adults now a days are clever enough to calculate all those bills being a double rather than a single. Thats it, being wise enough.

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  • Reply inflammatory writ November 19, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    My parents split when I was 17, in sort of dramatic fashion that I won't go into here.

    However, that did not stop me from getting married. I think marriage is an absolutely beautiful and special commitment between two people that also happens to have legal benefits. I think the biggest mistakes people make concerning marriage is thinking that it will change the person they're with or fix everything. IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT. What it does require is patience, trust, respect, understanding, love and a willingness to deal with the bad times. There are always bad times. It is not easy. It is a constant system of compromise and considering another person with every decision you make.

    Also, anyone who says that sex isn't important is a giant fucking liar. That is another thing that requires work and commitment.

    I've been married for five years. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Even if we eventually got divorced (which I don't see happening, but life takes turns sometimes), I would do it all over again.

    I do think people in our generation have serious commitment problems, in all areas of their life. We're told not to settle so much that we can't even recognize something worth sacrificing for. I do think we get married now for better reasons than our folks did. I like to think so anyway.

  • Reply NeonRaine November 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

    My parents have been married for around 23/24 years now, but I still can't see myself getting married. I understand the gesture, but big white weddings are really off putting I find. If I ever do get married, it'll probably be a case of signing a register and that's that. But I don't think you need marriage in order to raise a family with someone etc, and the fact that people won't let same sex couples get married if they want to, yeah, I think marriage is obsolete.

  • Reply CAITLIN November 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    i'm a little behind on this one, but i have to say–i think we're all just fucked, regardless. my parents have a beautiful, perfect, blissful marriage, which has only improved over the years. because of their perfect union, i am incapable of settling for anything less than what they have (or what i perceive to be less than what they have), which fucks me up in other ways. yes, i believe in marriage for many reasons, and i definitely intend to marry only when i'm reasonably sure it will last forever. it's the general divorce rate that gets me down. and the general spoiled twenty-something attitude that we can and must have everything our little heart's desire… including romance, passion, and enduring love.

    we can't win. i think the only way is to be very sure of who you are and what you want/need out of a long, committed relationship. so many people get married for all the wrong reasons. we just have to be reasonable people and find the right balance between passion and security–that's the hard part.

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