Before I got married, I was enthralled every time I heard a couple refer to their other half as their “husband” or “wife.” The way the words so effortlessly slipped out of their mouths, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say. Like “thanks” or “sure.”
As someone who faced the prospect of never getting married (i.e., read my past posts here, here, and here), I have found one of the unexpected delights of married life (all two weeks of it) is being called “my wife” or referring to “my husband.” So far, the primary audience to our newlywed status has been limited to airline and rental customer service reps who were troubleshooting our delayed—then ultimately canceled—flights.
“But my husband and I are on our honeymoon…” I pleaded with the airline rep on the phone, assuming that this fact would somehow curry favor with her, and in turn, she might, I don’t know, charter a special plane just for us to get to our destination? They did that kind of stuff, right?
Meanwhile, my husband was chatting with the gate agents, inquiring about our delay. “It’s just my wife and me,” I heard him tell them. I perked up when I heard the word “wife"—my first instinct was to look around and try to find her. There was a beat before I realized that it was me. I was her. For a moment, I was beatific. This was something I had longed to hear for so long... then the faraway voice of the airline rep brought me back to reality, “There’s nothing I can do for you. Sorry”
As we sat in the Maui airport for the next several hours, me alternating between aggressively tweeting, calling, and making repeat visits to the gate agents trying to figure out what was going on, I would periodically go back to his words, “my wife” (referring to me, his wife), and it made me prickle with delight.
Am I crossing into giddy-school-girl territory? Is it too late? The truth is, my longing to get married to my husband has been well documented. Both in my posts here as well as in my book, Love and… Bad Boys, The “One” and Other Fun Ways to Sabotage Your Relationship. It also remains the number-one question that is emailed to me from readers (many of whom have found themselves in similar situations), and it was the only thing that I was obsessed with for a long time, and not in a normal, healthy way either.
In my attempt to understand why we weren’t getting married, I turned to articles and studies about the state of marriage in today’s society. If you choose to go down this rabbit hole, there is no shortage of headlines like "Why Millennials Are No Longer Getting Married" or "Does Marriage Still Make Sense?"
Here’s what some of the more well-known stats tell us:
- Americans are waiting longer to tie the knot. In 2018, the record-breaking median age for a first marriage was 30 years for men and 28 years for women—this trend doesn’t seem to be going away either, according to Pew Research. Not to mention, only half of Americans are married today, compared to 72 percent in 1960.
- Young couples are dating longer or choosing to live together instead. According to an eHarmony study, couples between the ages of 25 and 34 are in a relationship for an average of six and a half years before getting married. Furthermore, anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher describes this relationship behavior as “slow love.” As the name implies, a long pre-commitment stage allows both partners to learn about themselves, so by the time you say, “I do”—“you know what you’ve got, and you think you can keep what you’ve got,” she tells The New York Times.
- People aren’t financially prepared. Nearly half of people earning less than $30,000 cited that their financial situation was the primary reason they aren’t getting hitched, according to CBS News. It’s no surprise that marriage is becoming more and more of a rich man’s game.
These types of stories, which seem to percolate incessantly throughout the Internet, did not make me feel better or at ease about my situation. Rather, they simply made me feel as if I was a nut job to want to get married or think I could get married in this society/country/economy.
But the reality is that those scary statistics show only one side of how marriage works in the 21st century. Here are a few more truths that might be flying under the radar:
- Marriage is not in decline, it is in delay. At least, that’s what historian and researcher Stephanie Coontz tells The Guardian. By middle age, 80 percent of Americans will be married, roughly the same number it was a half-century ago.
- Highly educated women are most likely to get married—on their terms. A Brookings Institute study finds that women with advanced degrees are not only getting married more often than their bachelor earning counterparts, but they are also leveraging their newfound economic independence to “renegotiate the terms of marriage in a more egalitarian direction.”
- Millennials are better at marriage—even though they are getting married less often. Between 2008 and 2016, the divorce rate declined by 18 percent, according to research conducted by Phillip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor. He credits millennials’ lack of divorce to their “increasingly selective nature of marriage… greater stability of couples who persist through cohabitation and enter marital unions at high levels of economic interdependence.”
Now, back to my honeymoon. When we finally landed in Kauai, 18 hours after we were supposed to, a friend texted me and asked about my new status: Does it feel different? I wrote back: Yes, is that weird?
She’s been married for about four years, but she still agreed with me. I believe the word “legitimate” might have been used. While she’s not the only who might describe marriage in this way (I would too), it’s a concept that is becoming increasingly outdated, according to Kristin Celello, Ph.D., an author and the director of the American Studies Program at Queens College CUNY. “There’s been a social change and a cultural change,” she tells Refinery29. “Marriage is still important, but there are now other legitimate ways to make families and be in relationships.”
Still, despite these other legitimate unions, Celello foresees that marriage won’t ever truly go away, at least not in the U.S. We just love “love” too much—in fact, 88 percent of Americans cite “love” as a very important reason to get married, according to Pew Research.
So, all of this is to say, if you’re someone who has been in a long-term relationship who really wants to get married (and is terrified you won’t), chances are that you will. You’re reading proof of it right now.
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