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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Millennial courtship involves an extra step between dating and marriage – living together, something that was far less common a generation ago.Skip to next paragraph
"It's essentially a way to test-drive relationships," says Seligson, the dating-and-marriage author. Both she and her husband believe their living together before marriage was a key building block toward married life. "People date for a long time now before they get married, and I think these are relationships that would have culminated in marriage much sooner a generation ago," she says. "But today marriage is really [the end result of] exploration, of finding out who we are and what we want to do with our lives. People want to get their ducks in order, professionally and financially, before they get married."
That caution in commitment is connected to Millennials' very real fear of divorce.
Smock, the University of Michigan sociologist, says that in almost every interview she conducted with young adults, they cited the 1-in-2 divorce rate (although it is slightly lower now) of marriages that began in the 1970s and '80s. "Gen-Y is very aware that divorce may be right around the corner," she says. A 19-year-old woman she interviewed, who was not dating at the time, said she wanted to live together before getting married so she would know what to expect in the future.
"When I get married, I want it to happen one time, once," one 19-year-old responded, in Smock's survey. "That's it. I just want to do it one time. I don't want to be divorced and looking for another one and going through all that. I just want ... the perfect guy, and that's it."
Millennials even exhibit some ambivalence about living together. A new courtship phenomenon called stayovers was documented last July in a paper published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships titled " 'We're Not Living Together': Stayover Relationships Among College-Educated Emerging Adults."
Coauthors Tyler Jamison, a doctoral candidate in the department of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Prof. Lawrence Ganong interviewed 22 young adults involved in exclusive relationships. The study found that all stayed together several nights a week but hadn't moved in together. They weren't sharing house keys and didn't leave clothes or toothbrushes at their partner's homes.
That phenomenon, says Ms. Jamison, had never been documented before.
"We looked at the research on mate selection, dating, and cohabitation – the stayover just didn't exist," says Jamison. Ultimately, about 70 percent of those getting married today do wind up living together first, according to a 2009 national survey conducted by Rhoades and her colleagues at the Center for Marital and Family Studies.
"I've never been in a rush to get married, but I do support marriage. I think it's kind of a blessing," says Anna Fields, a 30-year-old writer and teacher living in Winston-Salem, N.C. The author of "Confessions of a Rebel Debutante" and "Chasing Meridian," a young adult novel coming out later this year, has been living with her boyfriend for four years. They also own a house together.
"Test-drive" and "rent-a-marriage" were terms that came up fairly often – especially among men – during the focus groups and in-depth interviews Smock conducted as part of her research into cohabitation.