The first wedding I attended was Ken and Barbie’s. I was just 6 years old. I ended up being the officiant, the caterer, the wedding planner, and oftentimes, even served as proxy for both bride and groom.
I’ve attended several weddings in the 20-something years that have passed since then. And I’m sorry to say that mine is not one of them.
I hate to admit it, but I am both sad and embarrassed not to be married by now. The sting is particularly painful as it seems every week friends and co-workers announce their engagements and wedding dress selections, while I am still in that interminable bride-to-be line, waiting for my number to be called out.
I’ve always been a big fan of marriage. Scientific research has long touted the benefits of being married, from happiness to better health. Researchers at Michigan State University recently conducted a study that suggested that married men have more advantages than their bachelor bros. “Just being in a well-adjusted, long-term romantic partnership with someone may be the underlying mechanism,” says Stevie C.Y. Yap, one of the authors of the study.
My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly three years and living together half that. During this time, we have had exactly two conversations about marriage, both which were brought up by me. The first one occurred at a friend’s wedding last year. I was in a bit of a drunken, cross-eyed stupor, in the mood for melodrama and romance, and asked him if he wanted all of this – wedding, marriage, bliss. He looked at me and told me that we had all the time in the world, and there was no need to rush into anything. I took another sip of my sparkling wine and started crying. At that point, we had been dating two years.
The second conversation occurred about a month ago, when I was 100 percent sober and had just suffered through a week in which yet another co-worker announced her engagement on New Year’s Day. She and her boyfriend have been together for less than two years.
This conversation was not easy. My palms were sweaty and I couldn’t make eye contact. I felt the same kind of nerves and fear I felt during my 6th grade spelling bee performance. Except, now, failure would mean more than misspelling the word “raspberry.” It would mean that I would have to start all over – at 30 – and become one of those women I read about in chick lit. Those ones that wait years and years for a marriage proposal but instead get dumped for a hot co-ed. Then they inevitably end up in the Bahamas or some tropical location and must learn to find their groove again. I always admired these women, but I never wanted to become them. I wanted to be married in my 20s. I wanted to have the love of my life at my side. At heart, I am more of a mommy blogger than a bold and sassy Carrie Bradshaw-type.
I asked him if he remembered what we had talked about six months prior at his friend’s wedding. He nodded vaguely – terror began to swell into his eyes. (I’m just kidding. I wasn’t even looking at him. I was too mortified. I couldn’t believe that I was bringing this up again.)
I asked him again if marriage is something that he wanted, and more specifically, with me. Because it was something that I wanted… and soon. I told him that I want to have kids, while I can still run after them and see them, before my hips give out and I’m wearing diapers. I also want my mom to stop referring to him as her “future son-in-law” in all phone and email conversations. I’m afraid the blow might be worse for her than me if it doesn’t happen. I told him that I loved him, loved living with him, loved spending time together, that he means more to me than anybody. Then I paused. I asked him what he thought.
“I never really thought about it.”
I will spare you the insanity that followed and the residual insanity I feel right now, typing those words a month later. I’ve had time to digest it and everything, but still, I can’t get over just how utterly mind-boggling that sentence truly is.
The conversation did eventually continue – a lot of discussion about what we wanted in our futures, a subject that shockingly had never been discussed in our 900-plus days together, before we finally agreed that he would agree “to think about it.”
This was not the scenario I had envisioned. But in the meantime, that is what we have decided. And I have gone, in typical valley girl with a brain fashion, to the Internet to see why I am in this predicament.
Demographers at Cornell University published a study last year that cited that “fear of divorce” was the reason why couples don’t get married. According to the research: “Among cohabitating couples, more than two-thirds of the study's respondents admitted to concerns about dealing with the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of a possible divorce.”
My boyfriend’s parents are the most happily married couple I know. It’s a cliché story, but his dad saw his mom on a bus and just knew she was “the one.” It reeks of Nicholas Sparks.
Could he really be afraid of divorce because we didn’t have the same serendipitous bus meeting? Does he think we are doomed for a future more like Ike and Tina’s?
Another reason why couples aren’t getting married may be explained by the rise of “stayover relationships,” or relationships where parties sleep over at each other’s homes a few nights a week but have the option to return to their own homes. As you can imagine, stayover relationships are popular among collegiate 20-somethings, “who are committed, but not interested in cohabiting.”
Researcher Tyler Jamison explains (after interviewing college-educated adults in committed, exclusive relationships):
“As soon as couples live together, it becomes more difficult to break up. At that point, they have probably signed a lease, bought a couch and acquired a dog, making it harder to disentangle their lives should they break up. Staying over doesn’t present those entanglements.”
Jamison also found that stayover couples were content, but weren’t necessarily on the road to marriage or moving in together.
This study makes it seem like living together is tantamount to marriage, which doesn’t exactly make me feel better. After all, if they are so similar – why is it so difficult to cross the barrier into marriage territory?
Well, it’s not difficult for everyone, apparently. Modern women, like me, do want to get married. For 37 percent of women 18 to 34 (compared to 28 percent in 1997), having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their life, according to the Pew Research Center.
Men, on the other hand, are on marriage strike. The number of men who want to get married dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent.
So there it is. Finally, the million-dollar question: Why don’t men want to get married? (Or in my case, why have they never thought about it?)
Now this is a subject with plenty of Google search results to sift through. These are just a few:
A writer and niece of anti-feminist Phylis Schlafly, Suzanne Venker, blames women for men not wanting to marry. She explains that “men have nowhere to go” because women are angry and defensive. Women have “been raised to think of men as the enemy,” she writes. “Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestals and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs.”
Ladies Home Journal also tackled the question. A few reasons why young men wait (… and wait) to get married are:
- Men get laid anyway.
- Men get the benefits of having a wife when they cohabitate. “They also view living together as less risky than marriage. At the same time, the men in the study like the convenience of having a regular sex partner.”
- Men want to wait to have kids – they don’t care that their partners have their own biological clocks.
- Men are scared of change and compromise.
Cracked.com writer John Cheese blogged about his theories on why men are scared of marriage.
Among other things, he blames the onslaught of anti-marriage (pro bachelordom) propaganda by media, the financial burden of every girl’s dream wedding, fear of divorce, and the sharing of power over one’s man cave.
I stop and think: Is any of this helpful? Not really. While it’s all certainly interesting, these are all opinions from other people about other people – who are not in my relationship.
I finally realize that the only person who really does know the answer is my boyfriend. And right now, he’s thinking about it. All I can do is give him time and listen to what he says.
I don’t know what’s going to happen – perhaps we’ll head down the altar after all, or maybe we’ll part ways and he’ll become the subject of a very depressing blog entry.
All I know is that I am glad I brought up the conversation. I had to do it. At the end of the day, marriage or not, I have to look out for myself and my own wellbeing – because no one else is going to do that for me.
Steve Harvey agrees:
“Your objective is to avoid being on a string. The first step, I think, is to get over the fear of losing a man by confronting him. Just stop being afraid, already. The most successful people in this world recognize that taking chances to get what they want is much more productive than sitting around being too scared to take a shot. The same philosophy can be applied to dating: if putting your requirements on the table means you risk him walking away, it's a risk you have to take. Because that fear can trip you up every time; all too many of you let the guy get away with disrespecting you, putting in minimal effort and holding on to the commitment to you because you're afraid he's going to walk away and you'll be alone again. And we men? We recognize this and play on it, big time.” - From Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
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