My daughter, nearly 11, told me three years ago that she intended never to marry. I believe her. Not only is she a person who seems fairly well tapped into who she is and who she will be, but statistics bear her out. We’re not getting married the way we used to.
According to Time, only half of us are married now, compared to nearly 70% of us just 50 years ago. What’s even more profound and perhaps more disturbing is that it seems that only the more well-off of us are marrying; less well-off folk are waiting longer to step up to the altar, and perhaps not stepping up at all. 40% of us think marriage is obsolete, according to a Pew survey (huh? really?), but it does seem like we are rewriting what marriage is.
Dreaming of your daughter’s wedding? Your son’s? You might have to wait a long time for it. Are you prepared for never?
What does all this mean? In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure any of it matters. We are changing the social fabric, and I don’t think that the old marriage model was working for a lot of people anyway. It didn’t work for me, though I gave it a good shot. I look now at my three younger kids and can’t imagine any of them marrying, not because they’re still my babies but because of who they are. Do I care? Not really. I want them to be happy. But if my kids are anything like all the rest of the kids their age, I think this means something in the larger sense. Something about family.
When I was growing up, I envied people who came from large close families and who had things called “cousins” that they ran around with, like a whole flock of extra brothers and sisters but better, because cousins were (in my imagination) nice to you and probably brought you presents. My family was alone, one unit shivering in the wind. We were, in some ways, harbingers of what seems like is yet to come: without extended families, where will we turn for support? If, in the future, we refrain from marrying does that mean we also opt out of large extended families, in-laws and out-laws, cousins and grandparents on both sides, one happy big modern family? Where, then, will our support circle come from?
This is the change I mean. This is why I think the question of marriage matters, not for my kids and maybe not for yours, but for all of us. Not because I think that we should all rush to Vegas and get hitched and live happily ever after — because I’m not for that, not when it doesn’t fit — but because I’m interested in knowing what we’ll replace the old model with.
Who will be the village that raises not our children, but theirs?
If you have any ideas about this, please share.
[photo: dani_ana, stock.xchg]