A quick survey of the millennials in the room. Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a trip down the aisle. *Crickets*
According to data from a 2016 Gallup poll, 59% of millennials have never been married. And 60% of us have never had kids. That’s a stark contrast to past generations. That same study revealed only 16% of Gen Xers have never been married. And only 10% of Baby Boomers. What’s the deal? We millennials have disrupted and redefined everything from the way we work to how we communicate. Are we now disrupting love, too?
The Anomaly—A Married Millennial
You could say I’m an anomaly. At 32 years old, I’m a proud husband, and it’s a role I’ve always dreamed of filling. I wrote short stories about families when I was in elementary school. I came of age in the South where you’re considered damaged goods if you haven’t been scooped up by 30. And, admittedly, the proverbial white picket fence was central to my vision of the future.
Yet the path to marriage was a bumpy one.
When I moved to New York City, I (along with all other gays and most women) envisioned an event-filled dating life akin to Carrie Bradshaw’s in Sex and the City. Turns out dating in the city had a lot more in common with the series than I realized. And not the 5th Avenue penthouses, $400 designer shoes, and hobnobbing with Manhattan’s elite. There were a lot of unanswered messages, awkward run-ins, and short-lived romances. Add to that a cocktail of modern dating problems: unsolicited graphic photos, social media stalking, and left swipes. By the time I was 25, I was convinced I would never get married.
I wanted a lifetime commitment but kept meeting guys who thought long-term meant 4 weeks. It took me 8 long, tumultuous years before someone put a ring on it. But a lot of millennials aren’t willing to wait that long. Some of them don’t even want it.
Marriage Can Wait
So, it turns out most millennials are in no hurry to say, ‘I do’. And it’s not because we’re the “ME” generation. We do love ourselves and our Instagram stories. But even know a smartphone won’t keep us warm at night. There are other reasons keeping us single. And no, Tinder is not one of them (at least not in this section).
The Washington Post spilled the tea back in 2015. Their number one reason for the delay in millennial wedlock? A powerful combo of education, economics, and good ol’ preference. The more you know and the more you make, the longer you wait. Perhaps there’s a desire to get established in your own right before dragging someone else along for the ride. Or, like so many other things, many of us are realizing we don’t need to get married in our 20s just because it’s what our parents did.
Additionally, a lot of values surrounding marriage are tied to religious beliefs. However, less and less of us are taking part in traditional religious practices. As of 2014, the number of atheists and agnostics had grown by 7%. The more we explore other approaches to spirituality, the more we learn about how we should interpret marriage.
And lastly, WP reasons millennials have more options to create a family. Gone are the days when having a kid out of wedlock would earn you a scarlet letter. From 2006 to 2010, 48% of women chose cohabitation as their preferred first union over marriage.
All of this sounds so studious though. What about the juicy stuff? How’s swipe culture influencing millennial dating?
The End of Dating?
One could argue that marriage rates are dropping because people keep getting swiped left before they have a chance to make a connection. Back in 2015, Vanity Fair famously declared Tinder’s arrival as the dawn of the “dating apocalypse”.
And maybe they were right. Dating ain’t what it used to be. The Pew Research Center estimates online dating app/site use among 18-24 year olds has tripled since 2013. I met my husband on OkCupid. Before I got married, I could count the number of times I’d met someone in person on one hand. Save for a lucky few of you out there, people just aren’t making eyes at each other in the Starbucks line anymore. Online dating provides you immediacy, and depending on which app you’re using, it can give a breadth of information about your potential partner, on par with a Homeland Security background check.
If things don’t work out, you’ve barely invested any time. All you’ve done is some scrolling and swiping. Worst case scenario, you’ll just go back to the app and match with someone else. You don’t have to wander the streets thinking about the fateful day you’ll meet your soul mate. They may have already messaged you while you were on a date with the other one. You could even be economical with your time and double book, just in case one of those matches isn’t worth your time.
Dating app/hookup culture has given love the kind of immediacy we expect from Uber. I’m ready to leave for the party—my driver will be here in 5 minutes. I’m ready for love—I’m meeting this tall, dark 35-year-old stranger with black hair in an hour. You get a rush of dopamine every time you meet a new person. So, why give this up to look at/talk to/sleep with the same person every day?
Maybe It’s Not So Bad
It’s so easy to say this is a millennial thing. That we don’t respect the institution of marriage. That we’re hell bent on changing everything and doing it our way. But no one’s talking about all those divorcees.
The CDC reported the 2016 U.S. marriage rate at 6.9 per 1,000 people. The divorce rate? Oh, it was a cool 3.2 per 1,000 people. And that isn’t even if with all states reporting data. So, for all those happy couples skipping down the aisle getting rice thrown in their faces, almost half of them are making a less jovial trip to their local family court.
If there’s one thing about millennials, we’re a smart bunch. We’ve seen what can happen when fools rush in. And considering a lot of us are broke, we’ve also seen how much it costs both to get hitched and to get divorced. So what if we’re waiting a little longer, dating more people, learning more about our partners, and building stronger foundations? Isn’t that what we should be doing?
It looks like love was the last thing we millennials needed to disrupt. I’d say mission accomplished.