Is Marriage ‘Evolving?’

It is not impossible to find married people who occasionally daydream about the early stages of dating. Remember the first time you met someone, the first time you went out to dinner, the early conversations when you didn’t know everything about the other person, when you spent time deciding what to wear and carefully considered where to go together?

But there are relatively few married people who want to be back in the thick of dating, that stage of life when you have been with someone for a long time and are trying to figure out where the relationship is going—if anywhere. The misery of this stage, unfortunately, seems to be lasting longer and longer though. According to a recent poll by the British website Bridebook:

The average couple were in a relationship for 4.9 years before getting married. This breaks down as:

Dated for 1.4 years (17 months) before moving in together.

Then lived together for 1.83 years (22 months) before getting engaged.

Then were engaged for 1.67 years (20 months) before getting married.

The total average time living together before marriage totals to a whole 3.5 years.

The average number of serious relationships each member of the couple had before marriage = 2.

Maybe I’m just getting old but it sounds thoroughly exhausting to follow this pattern with even one person on the way to marriage, let alone the three times, on average, that the poll suggests people do.

All of this preparation for marriage does have some upsides, it seems. According to a recent survey, millennials are less likely to cheat than previous generations. According to a new study from the Institute for Family Studies, twenty percent of Americans older than fifty-five reported having sex outside of marriage, compared with only twelve percent of those ages thirty-seven and under. The later age at which young people marry (and all of these hoops they jump through on the way) means they’re pretty darn sure by the time they walk down the aisle that this is the person they want to spend the rest of their life with.

On the other hand, these long years dating can take an emotional toll. It is not easy to start up a new relationship, let alone trust another person after your last four-year commitment ended. Even the relationship that does lead to marriage can often be a rocky road. According to the survey, only “twenty-six percent of couples hadn’t broken up in their relationship before marrying.”

The couples who survived this obstacle course of relationship pitfalls seemed pleased that they did – eighty-five percent of couples say marriage makes a relationship stronger and ninety-five percent would recommend it to others. The question that researchers didn’t ask in the survey was: Do you wish you had tied the knot sooner? What is it that you learned about the other person in the second year that you didn’t know in the first year?

Even the long period of time between engagement and marriage seems a little absurd. But since so many people seem to have embraced the idea that they should spend a fortune on their wedding, perhaps it’s not surprising that it takes them so long to plan one.

You don’t have to be a fan of arranged marriages or the show Married at First Sight to think that perhaps young people are spending a little more time deciding on a spouse than they have to. Then again, the vast majority of couples reported that they experienced absolutely no social pressure to get married.

The authors of the study are breathless in their excitement about the new marriage regime: “It is fantastic to see how the marriage is evolving with today’s modern couples for the positive. Marriages are becoming stronger than ever, relationships happier and more committed than ever, and couples more independent and consensual in their decisions than ever.”

But for the poor thirty-somethings who are in the third year of a serious relationship, wondering each day whether this is it, this “evolution” of marriage may not seem so positive.

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