The other day I had a sobering conversation with a 21-year-old woman. We covered a lot of topics, and when I got to my inevitable probing questions about her personal life and asked if she ever wanted to get married, her answer was a quick and resounding, “No.” The ensuing short exchange sealed the deal for me of how far we’ve come – as far as societal values – in just my own lifetime!
Me: Why don’t you want to get married?
Her: Why should I?
Me: Don’t you want to have children?
Her: Yes, but I don’t need to be married to have children?
Me: Don’t you want your children to have a loving mother AND father?
Her: Yes, but marriage and a piece of paper are unnecessary!
Me: speechless (not a common thing!)…
Okay, I’ve paraphrased the conversation but the “piece of paper” part is 100% verbatim and the most common reply to the “why get married” question I’ve heard over the years.
I recently wrote a column about how difficult it has become to make a living and it’s abundantly clear that that is one of the factors in people choosing to have or not have children, a clearly related topic. Money does rule a lot of decisions but since human history is laden with poverty and throughout human history the desire, dare I say urge, to marry and have children remained strong, why such a radically different view today?
Here in America I would assert that the self-absorption of most people is a dominant reason not to have children. Having children might mean a sacrifice here and there. Having children might mean not going on that exotic vacation or getting that new car. Having children might mean a crimp in one’s social life. Having children is hard work. Why do that?
I “get” that thinking though I think it’s self-destructive if you live a long life. Those things that are seemingly so important in your young adulthood – especially things/stuff – are increasingly unimportant as life goes on. So, I “get” not wanting children, but I don’t get not wanting to be married or have a life partner. They are intertwined if not quite the same thing. And, yes, I understand you can have a life partner without that “piece of paper.”
Many people believe the often-touted statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce and often site that as one of the reasons they don’t want to get married. Well, like many statistics, this one is false and the more accurate one is about 1/3 of all marriages end in divorce. This is still a discouraging number though at 1/3 or ½; I don’t think it really makes much difference. We all die so should we not live? There are risks in much of what we pursue in life so should we avoid all risks and not take a chance on something that might “pay” off big for us literally and/or figuratively?
There’s a cynicism to this “I don’t want (or need) to get married” thinking that is sad. There’s a defeatist attitude and, as stated earlier, a very selfish self-involved narcissistic strain as well.
Marriage civilizes men, and gives women the home they inherently crave. Work provides some meaning for most of us – men and women – but NO ONE ever said on their deathbed that they wish they’d spent more time working. It’s the relationships in life that matter and we cherish. Yet, I hear this kind of mantra so often about marriage and kids – not for me – that I get worried about our kids’ futures and happiness.
Speaking for myself, the things I care most about now are experiences and relationships. There’s almost literally nothing materialistic that I crave and feel I need. What a gloriously liberating feeling. I know, from experience, that whatever I tend to want materialistically will only satisfy a short-term urge. It’s very similar to drugs – you always want more. But, marriage, relationships, and children give a deeper meaning to life that I believe gives us deeper happiness.
We won’t know what this self-entitled self-absorbed generation will be like later in life. Naturally, every generation tends to decry the ones that follow, so I may just be repeated the old pattern. My parents were upset when I married “out of our faith” but learned to accept my choice(s). They were “old school” much as I’m old school to my kids and their generation.
Yet, I believe some things are eternal and family relationships are one of those eternal things that transcend trends and fads. A simple example occurred in my lifetime when the feminist movement gained traction. I know a whole lot of women who put work before marriage and kids and found themselves – later in life – out of luck in both departments. And, I know that many of them regret those early-in-adulthood choices.
We were made to procreate and we were made to partner. I don’t think that will ever change. What do you say?