Chances are you met your mate, dated for a while, fell in love, got engaged, then got married. It’s the “courtship narrative” we were brought up with. But it’s not the case anymore. For many, “this narrative has been disrupted, without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a ‘relational wasteland.’” Sadly, in this super-connected society, true emotional connections are becoming more difficult.
Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project a the University of Virginia, writes in The Washington Post about young people who are Lost in a World Without Courtship.
Why the change? Sexual activity is starting much earlier than in previous generations, but the average age at which people marry is later. This leaves a hormone-filled gap—during which our culture (including parents and churches, according to Wilcox) provides little guidance. Casual sex generally fills the gap, with no discussion of love, and often no dating or courtship. (It’s not uncommon to hear about “sexual favors” being performed casually in elementary and middle school.) Even after graduating from college, many 20-somethings go out in groups and “hook up” as they wish, rather than go out on dates. Occasionally, a couple creates a “relationship,” but marriage is not the next step in their narrative.
Wilcox says young people have evolved their own narrative, and the next step is cohabitation. “For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage.” From 1960 to 2007, cohabitation increased forteenfold. “Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce…and can poison one’s view of the opposite sex,” says Wilcox, adding that engaged couples who cohabit are generally not adversely affected.
The bigger problem for society is when cohabiting couples decide to procreate. “Cohabitation is no place for children,” says Wilcox. Three-fourths of children in such unions see their parents split by age 16, while one-third of children with married parents see them divorce. He says marriage is society’s best tool for binding the parents together in the common interests of the child. Children in single-parent homes are considerably more disadvantaged—financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Wilcox suggests the ideal age to marry seems to be in the early to mid-20s. Teen marriages have a much higher divorce rate, and those marrying after 27 are at risk of being too set in their ways or having unrealistically high standards. (Kathleen Quiring has just written a series on why early marriage can be a positive trend in her opinion. Read the series at Project M.)
What’s your story? How did you meet your mate and fall in love? Do you think courtship, romance, dating and love are dying out with the young? How do you think marriage will be affected for the next generation? What do you teach your children about love and sex?