Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway—no longer necessary. The two of us are educated, young, urban professionals, committed to our careers, friendships, and, yes, our relationships. But we know that legally tying down those unions won’t make or break them. Women now constitute a majority of the workforce; we’re more educated, less religious, and living longer, with vacuum cleaners and washing machines to make domestic life easier. We’re also the breadwinners (or co-breadwinners) in two thirds of American families. In 2010, we know most spousal rights can be easily established outside of the law, and that Americans are cohabiting, happily, in record numbers. We have our own health care and 401(k)s and no longer need a marriage license to visit our partners in the hospital. For many of us, marriage doesn’t even mean a tax break. [...]
To tell you what you already know, the American family is in the throes of change. Gone are the days of the nuclear nest; in its wake is a motley mix of single parents, same-sex couples, and, yes, unmarried monogamists. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, who studies the nature of love, might say that’s a symptom of our biology: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. For us, it’s not that we reject monogamy altogether—indeed, one of us is going on six years with a partner—but that the idea of marriage has become so tainted, and simultaneously so idealized, that we’re hesitant to engage in it. Boomers may have been the first children of divorce, but ours is a generation for whom multiple households were the norm. We grew up shepherded between bedrooms, minivans, and dinner tables, with stepparents, half-siblings, and highly complicated holiday schedules. You can imagine, then—amid incessant high-profile adultery scandals—that we’d be somewhat cynical about the institution. (Till death do us part, really?) “The question,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round, “is not why fewer people are getting married, but why are so many still getting married?”
The feminist argument against marriage has long been that it forces women to conform—as Gloria Steinem once put it, marriage is an arrangement “for one and a half people.” No woman we know would date a man who’d force her into the kitchen—and even Steinem eventually got hitched—but we’d be fools to think we’ve completely shed the roles associated with “husband” and “wife.” Men’s contributions to housework and child rearing may have doubled since the 1960s, yet even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two thirds of the housework. (One study even claims that the simple act of getting married creates seven hours more housework for women each week.) In the workplace, meanwhile, women who use their partner’s name are regarded as less intelligent, less competent, less ambitious, and thus less likely to be hired. We may date the most modern men in the world, but we’ve heard enough complaints to worry: if we tie the knot, does life suddenly become a maze of TV dinners, shoes up on the coffee table, and dirty dishes? “The bottom line is that men, not women, are much happier when they’re married,” says Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies marriage and family.
Do read the whole thing, but watch out for the suffocating narcissistic vapidity, if you do.
Have they thought about the fact that the rather absurd notion that people do best in serial monogamous relationships lasting three or four years each is eventually going to put women on the very wrong side of the age equation, for one? Or do they think that feminism has undone untold centuries of human evolution such that the men they want to partner with ten, twelve, or sixteen years down the line will no longer be attracted to much younger women who are likely fertile and will, instead, be eager to shack up with a never-married woman approaching her late forties or early fifties who may even have a couple of children from her earlier adventures in cohabitation?
Have they considered the reality that the available men in their age group in a decade or so will probably have reams of baggage, including children of their own (and possibly even wives to whom they are still married)--or do they expect to find an abundance of men in their mid-to-late forties who have never been married, who have never had children, who owe no alimony or child support to anyone, and who are otherwise excellent shacking-up material? If they do, they need to quit watching so much "VoSC*** in the City" and start paying attention to real life.
Have they, in their pondering about how awkward it was to be shuttled around at the holidays etc. among formerly-married-but-not-now parents, how difficult it might be for their own children someday? "Oh, Lance is spending Thanksgiving with his dad and dad's newest girlfriend, and Jennifer is with her dad's ex-wife and her new husband, because Jen really bonded with her stepmom back when her dad and his ex were still married, and Paul--my current boyfriend--is visiting his parents in Iowa, but I decided to skip it this year because Paul's grandmother keeps hinting that we ought to get married, and really I've been with Paul three years now, so I'm thinking I'm due for a change." Right. Not marrying the various fathers of one's children is not going to make things easier for one's children than marrying multiple fathers would be--but I don't think these girls really care, as yet, since children are just a pleasant--or not so pleasant--future abstraction to them.
The truth of the matter is that cohabitating really is just "playing house." It's something children do when they don't want to give up their selfishness, their desire to keep their relationship options "open," or the intrinsic childishness that causes them to fail to see what a terrible injustice it is to potential children to bring them into such a tenuous relationship.
Real love doesn't want to keep its options open--it says to the beloved, "I choose you, now and forever, regardless of what troubles and pains life may throw at us, with hope for the future and with joy." Or, in other words, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health...but you get the idea.
***Violations of the Sixth Commandment