Is Marriage Dying?

In the February, the month of romance, it is disheartening to read the results of a study newly released by Match.com. Most of today’s singles in the United States are not actively seeking a relationship, according to the study. Romance is not high on their list of priorities.

Binghamton University developed the study and conducted it for Match.com. About “40% of respondents 21 years and older are not sure they want to get married, 27% said a wedding is not in their future, and just 34.5% said marriage was a must.”

Sociologist Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University said the results were not surprising. He told USA Today that marriage has been on the decline for more than 35 years.

“It is true that researchers used to find that people who hadn’t gotten married still had aspirations to get married, but I think that may be eroding now. A new generation has grown up in a world where marriage is not a certainty. If they’re 20 years into adult relationships and haven’t found somebody they want to marry, maybe they’ve changed their minds about how necessary marriage is.”

Single people in the study were not concerned about flying solo. Fewer than 12.7% of them are actively seeking a relationship and 15% prefer to stay unattached. What’s more surprising is that the trend is not limited to single people in their twenties. Singles older than sixty tend to be the most fickle about marriage, because they want a partnership that includes sexual attraction as well as romance.

I knew that sexual attraction was very possible without romance, but I am perplexed that sixty-year-olds think that romance is possible without sexual attraction. Seems a little like a carriage without a horse to me.

Comments?

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About Robin Helm

Robin Helm has published all three volumes of The Guardian Trilogy: Guardian, SoulFire, and Legacy. She also recently published the Yours by Design Series: Accidentally Yours, Sincerely Yours, and Forever Yours. She and her husband have two adult daughters, two sons-in-law, two granddaughters, and a Yorkie Poo named Toby.

22 thoughts on “Is Marriage Dying?

  1. Susan Kaye

    I can see how this comes about. My generation–I’m 53–saw their parents get divorced, maybe several times, leaving us more likely to divorce. Now, our kids–mid 20-somethings–have several sets of grandparents and maybe several sets sets of steps.

    When you have no place safe and unchanging, going it alone seems sensible.

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    1. Robin Helm

      I think the changing mores of our society have contributed, too. Many people see marriage as unnecessary – just a piece of paper.

      But, ladies, if there is no romance, what will we write?

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      1. Susan Kaye

        To my thinking, romance is the ideal and love is the reality. When I get done telling about how Bill and I got together, I’ll show that.

        As for “it’s just a piece of paper,” is the cry until they DO need the paper. And the next cry is that it’s unfair that people WITH the paper have an unfair advantage. Uh huh. *eye roll here*

        The ramifications of romance, love, and sex are huge and life-changing. In no other area of our lives do we trust it’ll all work out. IMO, it comes down to people giving themselves away cheaply in hopes that everyone will play fair. Unfortunately, these days, no one has to play fair. Sadly, they may not even know how.

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  2. Jakki Leatherberry

    This is interesting and sad at the same time. It seems that since it is becoming more acceptable to have most of the benefits of being married without actually being married, that is the route many are taking. (Sorry, Judge Judy is a guilty pleasure and I see lots of that on there). I wonder how many are afraid to end up like their parents, either unhappily married or divorced? And how much of it is the cow and milk philosophy.

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    1. Robin Helm

      You make several good points, Jakki, and I think you’re right. However, I don’t see why singles think avoiding marriage avoids the problems of a breakup. All “living together” means is that you have no legal protection if the relationship ends.

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      1. Susan Kaye

        Sorry I keep butting in here, Robin, but this is a HOT BUTTON of mine.

        I think it’s hilarious that people will shack up together, forgoing marriage and the whole paper thing, but they WILL sign a lease together. They don’t cry foul when the bank requires them to sign a whole raft of papers if they buy property together. They even name one another in their wills! But they don’t want to spoil their pure love with meaningless paper and all that legal mumbo jumbo.

        Gotta go. My blood pressure is spiking!

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  3. Laura Hile

    So I wonder, why the appeal of Jane Austen? To this generation?

    Why were so many bowled over by the 1995 or 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie adaptations? We’ve seen/taken part in the fan fiction phenom those movies produced…

    Something struck a chord in young women, many of whom had never heard of Jane Austen. What was it?

    Mr Darcy–handsome, intelligent, and reserved.
    Elizabeth, the woman we would like to be–winning the heart of such an honorable (and very wealthy) man, and without hopping into the sack to get him!
    And they live happily ever, not as paramours, but as husband and wife.

    That timeless romantic theme resonates with women, even now. We long for a happy ending for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy … even while thinking that it will never happen for us. Are we jaded? Disillusioned? So disheartened about being alone that we settle for the live-in boyfriend who expects us to pay our way? And pour our love instead into our children, whom we must raise alone?

    One of the blemishes in You’ve Got Mail, a movie that I love, is that both leads are in tenuous romantic relationships, and yet are keeping a weather eye peeled for the perfect mate. Who is not the one they’re with … and they know it. Sure, the story’s fiction, and I can appreciate the plot devices involved. Even so, what this says about what we think about living together without marriage is a lot.

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    1. Susan Kaye

      I wonder about the appeal of Austen to this generation, and why they are now, systematically with practically every book, degrading and debauching the characters at every turn.

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      1. Laura Hile

        Don’t you think this has to do with telling the “real” story? Which, of course, involves sex. (It has to involve sex. All of life involves sex. Everybody knows that, right? Right?)

        I’m okay with that, to a point. (And please, not the details of the bedroom. I’m no voyeur! Close the door!) What we must be, as writers, is honest. Like it or not, sex complicates a relationship. It isn’t casual. Expectations are created, and all kinds of assumptions and unseen emotional ties. And it isn’t always wonderful. A particular kind of anguish follows when one of the parties shrugs and moves on … for is this not the ultimate betrayal? Rejection on the deepest, most intimate level? And then there are the unexpected waves of guilt and regret and the consequences that linger …

        Jane Austen includes passionate affairs among her characters, but they read like life — like the stories you hear around the water cooler at work — not like Harlequin. Lydia and Wickham. Willoughby and Eliza Williams. Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram Rushworth.

        On the other hand, it’s possible that the “sexing up” of Jane’s characters to which you refer is happening because of the need for a driving plot device in an otherwise predictable story.

        Haven’t we learned anything from Harlequin? Can’t we as writers do better than that?

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      2. Susan Kaye

        I read a great post the other day on Victoria Mixon’s blog. It was called “7 Things I Learned Last Week From Stephen King.”

        This quote from the post, I think, perfectly captures why sexing-up Austen is such big business:

        “Fiction is about reaching into the reader, past their intellectual understanding of both your story and themself, and pressing where it’s sensitive. … This is also why romance aka soft-core p*rn is the top-selling genre these days.

        Adrenalin rush through either procreation or running for your life, the two most predictable chemical jolts in the animal kingdom. Temporary relief.”

        Hammer, meet nail.

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    2. Robin Helm

      Obviously, Laura, they are more romantic than they want to admit to being. The popularity of the Austen movies and other period films show that.

      I think it’s terribly sad that people today settle for less than what they could have. I also think that you’re right about the fear of being alone. Some people would do anything rather than face the future by themselves.

      I would say that most modern movies and songs illustrate your final paragraph. Remember the song with the lyrics, “If you like pina coladas”? Both of them had put personal ads in the paper in order to cheat on their significant others. They both answered the ad, found it was their “mate,” and laughed. Would you have laughed? I don’t think so.

      Susan, I totally agree with you about the absurdity of people eschewing marriage as a “piece of paper,” yet bemoaning their fate when their boyfriend runs off with someone else, leaving them with less than they had before.

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  4. Alison

    Interesting conversations…
    To me romance is the icing on the cake, the sugar coating, the chocolate part of a dipped cone, who wouldn’t want them? But love is the sustaining factor, hardwork is what holds a couple together, and even harder work is required to hold a husband and a wife together for a life time. Our previous generations were taught to work hard, with all their hearts, all their minds and all their souls. They took pride in working hard for the important things in their lives, and the most important thing in their lives was their families -their wives, husbands, children.

    Times have changed, people have changed, their priorities have changed – SELF has become the most important thing and top priority of this generation. They are trained (be it by design or as a byproduct of society) to take short cuts, look for quick solutions, take pleasure in instant gratification, the less toiling the better, the wiser. Many of the young and even the not so young don’t value the simple virtues like patience, decency, being considerate, respect for each other… Because all of these require one to set aside oneself…

    Marriage is about giving and receiving, and I dare say it’s often about sacrificing for the ones you love, so in return you feel complete. If most people see themselves as the most important person in their lives, the sole object of their own existence, what is marriage to them? Romance would at least sweep them off their feet, elevate their sensation for a short period of time, while marriage is an inconvinence, a burden, a prison, they feel constrained in it, suffocated even by the idea… For as long as our world continues down the path of aiming to please only ourselves, I fear that the current trend would only get worst!

    And I believe those of you who have the talents of story crafting could use your power to influence your readers in their believes in the rewards of romance and lasting marriages, therefore leaving your mark in this world in a profound way one reader at a time.

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    1. Laura Hile

      Alison, you’ve hit the nail on the head with love being the sustaining factor.

      Like you, I love the swoosh of romance. But real love is forged, not fallen into. It’s unromantic — and it contradicts so many of our starry-eyed notions! — to say that we learn to love through choosing to put our beloved before ourselves. But it’s true.

      When do we, as mothers, realize that we truly love our children? When we take food from our own plates to feed them, thinking only of their need and not of how hungry we are.

      And my sons, who were hopping eager to get to the gift-opening part of Christmas, not because of what they would get — which wasn’t much! 🙂 — but because of the laptop they’d emptied their bank accounts to buy for their mom — me!

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      1. Alison

        Awwww! The picture of your sons hopping to get (Mom) to the gift-opening on Christmas just warmed my heart! Don’t mean to change subject, but not all kids (both kids KIDS and grown-up kids) are like that, you know! I often drive pass our nieghborhood and see that some kids have certain anger in their eyes that tell you not to mess with them, and some are sweet as angels.

        But how true – that when you’d rather tend your child’s needs and forget your own’s, you know you truly love them! And often we, mothers, have self-doubts questioning whether we are good mothers, or have we made mistakes… but it’s the love that counts, and serve as the source of our endless energy, worries, striving to do the best, or the right things. I can tell that you’ve right well, Laura! Congratulations! 🙂

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      2. Robin Helm

        I think of “real love” as commitment. Are you committed to the relationship, or not? Feelings don’t always last, or they can come and go. The commitment to stick with it under less than perfect circumstances is what will hold it together.

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    2. Susan Kaye

      I think you’re on target, Allison. I also think we have created a culture that took the notion of not working harder, but smarter, and elevated it to grandiose proportions. Working hard, whether it’s physical, dirt-under-the-nails physicality, or just toiling away is now looked at as less than.

      We also have fallen into the the trap that when our emotions change, we should change our lives. Emotions are shallow indicators of truth. So, if you don’t get that WHOOSH when hubby walks in the door, time to change up to someone who does make you WHOOSH.

      I’m personally too lazy to look for and break in another guy, so the heck with WHOOSHING, I’ll wait until my feelings come back around to the one I’ve got.

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    3. Robin Helm

      We are becoming the “microwave” nation. We want it all, and we want it all immediately! We don’t want to wait for hot chocolate, food, or a real relationship. If it takes work, don’t expect us to want it or to invest in it.

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    4. Ann

      I have been married for over 28 years (or in Jane Austen speak, “not nine and twenty”) and I have found that love is a verb and romance is a mood. My husband and I have been through the ringer together. We have weathered separation due to the military, mental illness, cancer, and death of loved ones. It’s not pretty and sometimes you feel numb. I enjoy reading romances because they help the romantic mood that I can then share with my husband!

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  5. Alison

    I actually have been looking forward to Part II of you and Bill’s story… hope to see it soon! 😀

    Culture – yes, that’s another key word in this subject, IMHO. Our culture of divorces or living-together kicking marriage aside have created a vicious circle. Children watch the action of their parents, whether parents like it or not, children think our action as the pass of their own actions. And when parents divorce, regardless of how painful it is, it presents itself as an approval or even encouragement of this as a solution. I certainly don’t want to undermine their reasons for divorce (I myself had gone through some really tough and confusing time in my marriage, and it took SO MUCH to turn it around), but children don’t necessary understand the reasons, and it imbeds the idea in their impressionable minds. When divorce started to turn into a ‘popular’ culture (surely it wasn’t like this in the good old times,) the impact on the impressionable minds have been profound.

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  6. Sophia Rose

    I’ve always had the blessing of a great marriage as an example before me of my parents even though I saw ever so many more bad examples. My mom taught us from early on that love (substitute marriage here because she is old school and you don’t give the milk without buying the cow) is an action not an emotion. It is a selfless commitment and not a warm fuzzy. It is putting it all out there and being willing to be hurt and disappointed. Making it legal shouldn’t even be an issue or barrier if people loved like that. When someone tells me they are afraid to trust or commit, I tend to think they have it backwards. Marital commitment is more peace of mind not less particularly if you know them well enough to trust their word.

    Good discussion question!

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  7. Robin Helm

    I understand why some people have to divorce, especially in the cases of abuse (physical, mental, or emotional), adultery, or desertion. I do not understand why women will agree to live with a man for several years, and even bear him children with no legal bonds. When I was in my 20’s, I had been married about 3 years and my boss was a bachelor who lived with his girlfriend. He ate lunch with me one day and confided that he didn’t want to marry anyone who had previously lived unmarried with a man. I responded that he had “spoiled” his live-in girlfriend according to his own standards – he didn’t want to marry a girl like her. He reluctantly agreed that I was right. What hypocrisy!

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Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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