The Marital Sky is Not Falling

Sound the alarms! Our kids are afraid of intimacy and can’t commit! The world is coming to an end!


I heard this story on NPR yesterday morning. and then my Dad sent it to me, just in case I missed it. Has Brenda Wilson been reading too much Laura Sessions Stepp? Yeesh. This reporter seems to be as about in touch with the youth culture as Stepp is.

I would argue that these and similar “news” stories are aimed at trying to explain to the panicking Boomer and older generations why their kid or grandkid isn’t married and providing them with grandbabies yet. What is wrong with today’s youth? Why are they waiting? What’s the cause?
It’s coed dormitories! It’s women’s liberation! It’s their friends! It’s their promiscuous ways!

My dad said Brenda Wilson’s piece really “helped him understand today’s 20somethings.” Up until recently, I was one of today’s twentysomethings, and I don’t think Brenda Wilson describes me at all, nor do I think that she describes the majority of the people that I am friends with.

I realize I’m actually (sadly) a little bit older than the generation supposedly being profiled here, and that our culture is possibly shifting so rapidly under our feet that I may not know what’s going on with the generation just a few years younger. But by all definitions, I’m more part of the so-called Millennial generation than Generation-X, so I think I can speak to what they’re about.

And I go on dates. And I don’t generally “hook up” first. And yeah, ok a fair number of my friends do, but just as many don’t, and I’m talking both women AND men that I know. Moreover, none of the date-first-make-out-second people I know are proceeding that way for religious or prudish reasons, but rather simply because we crave the kind of emotional intimacy and commitment that Barbara Wilson purports that we simply are not interested in.

In my view, the culprit is not the cultural phenomenon of hooking up (which has been around for um, ever). People are getting married later in life in every place in the world that women have attained a more equal standing in society. I read an article not too long ago about how women in Japan don’t want to get married as quickly anymore. Their reasons are similar to their Western counterparts.  They are putting off husband and family to focus on developing their careers. They are also reticent to get married because they don’t want to be shunted into the traditional subservient wifely role that Japanese men still expect them to fill.
Go figure.

I swear I am so tired of reporters, especially women reporters, lamenting the breakdown of romance, intimacy, marriage, family, and whatever else in young people today. Yes, the rules are getting redefined. And if women are truly to be equal partners to men in this society, that’s going to have to happen. And it will probably be really confusing and frustrating for awhile longer. There will probably be a lot more shifting around until we get it right, because we have a lot to figure out, and centuries of horrific inequality to correct.

And we unfortunately have people freaking out and fighting change tooth and nail at every turn.

I say, chill out! Young people have not changed that much. Most of my friends, even children of divorced parents like me who understandably have a skeptical attitude towards commitment, want love, intimacy, commitment, family, and everything in between. Many want more than what their grandparents were willing to settle for though: many want an equal partner, a best friend, a life companion out of the deal, and they’re not willing to settle (despite Lori Gottlieb insisting that all us girls in our early thirties should marry any nice  man willing to make babies with us before we hit 35).

Without clear gender roles, we have a lot more to figure out to get there. Back when women did the domestic labor, and men earned the money, when the man’s role was to try to get sex and the woman’s job was to withhold it until she got a ring, things were definitely simpler for all involved. Especially because a woman couldn’t do so much as open a checking account on her own until the 1970s. But I don’t think it follows that we should head back in that direction for the sake of simplicity. We humans are complex creatures. I am confident we can figure out this new landscape and make new rules (or live just fine without rules at all) without seeing the destruction of romance, intimacy, family and commitment.

Just give us some time.

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