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Modern romance: Gen-Y is late to the wedding, but wants marriage

Gen-Y is is rewriting modern romance as the path to marriage gets longer but more certain: Young people want more certainty before the wedding.

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These nonrelationships exist now because sex in dating has become divorced from a committed relationship. We live in a culture that expects men and women to be sexually active, in or out of a relationship, and it's strange if they aren't, says Bogle.

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Indeed, in a 2007 University of Denver study of about 800 20-to-30-year-olds in an opposite-sex relationship of two months or longer, 93 percent had been sexually active at the time they were interviewed.

Galena K. Rhoades, a senior researcher for the university's Center for Marital and Family Studies, has been following this group of young people for four years, as part of an ongoing study of relationship habits.

"About half of them say that in their current relationship they had sex with the person before they had a relationship with them," says Ms. Rhoades. "That's a pretty big change from previous generations, when if you slept with someone, it was usually the start of a relationship."

Laura Leischner, a single 25-year-old living in Harrisonburg, Va., describes her current situation as "occasionally a physical relationship with someone, but without a commitment or a relationship. I can still be friends with the man. There's no weird feelings afterwards. I don't owe him anything or he me, other than the friendship we had before. And this is the way it is for a lot of my friends." Although marriage is a part of the future Ms. Leischner envisions for herself, she feels she hasn't dated enough yet to think about marrying someone.

Yet all this liberation hasn't eliminated the old double standard for women; there is still a stigma for those who have too many partners or are always looking for a hookup, says Bogle. Whereas for men, hooking up and friends with benefits simply means "they have a person that likes them, is attracted to them, and that they can be physical with, but it doesn't prevent them from finding other people. It's also safer to have one partner," she says.

To meet eyes with a stranger: weird

As for how Millennials find people to date, Rhoades and her colleagues found there is a lot of online dating after college. But while in college, people meet mostly through friends or at clubs or parties. But even in those places, they meet through a group of friends and acquaintances. Millennials are far less likely than those of previous generations to go where singles hang out or date someone they meet simply by chance.

"This generation is so socially connected to each other and the world because of technology that the idea of dating someone you meet on the bus while commuting to work seems pretty far afield. They want to be connected to the person they date in some social way," says Rhoades.

Kendall Younger, a 31-year-old veterinarian living in Sacramento, Calif., says, "When you meet by chance in person, you're very limited in how you're able to decide if you have anything in common with them." She has been dating online for five years and has met "far more decent guys online than I did in person because it's much easier to screen them."

Bogle teaches a class called Love, Marriage, and Parenting and says her students don't see the romance in having their eyes meet a stranger's across a crowded room. In fact, they think it's weird. "They felt it was far more normal to meet someone on the computer, rather than to meet a stranger that just happens to be in the same public space as you are," she says.

Strategy vs. romance

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