From: Michael Weiss To: Jesse Cook-Dubin, Elisa Albert Subject: Is Marriage the New Dating?
Dear Elisa and Jesse,
In the past few years I've noticed twentysomethings with barely any romantic experience swearing themselves for life to people they hardly know. Pop culture may have helped. Reality TV shows about insufferable celebrity couples should come with Vegas odds on how long the ill-starr'd twits can tolerate each other. Ours is the age of the snap judgment, when a marathon of 4-minute mini-dates serves the same purpose as a catalogue of mail-order brides.
Are we seeing the birth of a neo-50's mentality among people our age? Perhaps an anxious response to an era in which blowjobs are the new handshakes? No time like the present to embark on that “starter marriage.” And when did that term enter the lexicon, exactly?
I’ve got a couple eschewed concepts that deserve re-schewing:
Casual sex: When did this become a blight and not a boon? (Don’t tell me the era of STDs: We were using dildos as joists for our treehouses well after the scare years were over.)
Arrested development: A crime for which everybody in the holding cell of his/her 20s ought to plead guilty and just fucking do the time. The only thing sadder than an old man trying to recapture the spark of youth is a stripling running around like a pensioner. (In an ideal world, Anne Geddes would take pictures of Britney and K-Fed dressed as infants.)
Am I wrong to detect a sea change in attitude and opinion? Has marriage become the new dating?
From: Jesse Cook-Dubin To: Michael Weiss, Elisa Albert Subject: Maybe marriage is the new divorce!
Mike, I think you are wrong; marriage is not the new dating.
I should explain that I’m 26, have been married to Rebecca (whom I met senior year of college) since 2003, and we have a delightful two-month-old daughter (whose key-mashing is responsible for any typos).
Even though 23 seemed way too young to get married, I was sure that Rebecca and I were right for each other. Even if we had waited three more years, we’d have been just 26, not exactly any wiser. So why the hell not??
I don’t think that the practice of getting married earlier is as pervasive as Mike suggests. Part of the difficulty in claiming that marriage is the new dating is that almost all the relevant trends cut in both directions.
For example, living together before getting married is more accepted now than it was 40 years ago, and maybe this makes longterm relationships less…frustrating. But it also could make marriage an inevitable result of long-term dating. When a couple has lived together for several years, and they’re both pushing 28, it’s scary to break up and start over. (Maybe it’s the new divorce!)
Maybe your point is just ahead of its time. The generation that’s grown up with the celebrity starter marriage (Britney and Paris as opposed to just the longstanding pattern of celeb serial marriages) is, for the most part, not getting married yet. So we may just see a rise in snap judgments in the next few years. (On the other hand, blowjobs may be the new handshakes, but more for 20-year-olds than 25-year-olds, right? Or maybe my friends are just uncool.)
Mike and I agree, however, that if there is a trend toward earlier marriage, it’s a bad thing. I couldn’t be happier in my own life, and as I said above I was sure that Rebecca and I would make it. (Some of our friends have asked, “How do you know?” If anybody could answer that, life would be a lot easier. But sometimes you have some doubts, and sometimes you’re really certain. I was REALLY certain.)
And I’m glad to be starting a family at a young age, when I feel I have the most energy for baby-raising. But clearly it’s not for everyone. Seeing your 20s as a time to learn how to be in relationships hasn’t made marriages any more durable. Ditto for pre-marital cohabitation.
Still, young people are stupid (cut to image of me, after a couple beers, in a viking helmet, belting “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” in an empty karaoke bar). Mike, let’s not forget that people have been “engaged to be engaged” since time immemorial, at least as far back as Animal House anyway. (“She was going to make a pot for me!”)
From: Elisa Albert To: Jesse Cook-Dubin, Michael Weiss Subject: The Starter Marriage
Well, well. Look who’s been cast as the sour voice of reason. Hi, Jesse! Nice to quasi-meet you.
I should begin by relaying my own sad tale. Then my embittered blanket statements about my peers can at least be placed in their proper context. I got married at barely 25 to a guy I’d been dating for two years. I wanted stability, a rad-ass wedding that would reflect my own awesome individual take on wedding bullshit (Letterpress invitations! Paper lanterns! Flowers in my hair! No veil! No bridesmaids! A vegetarian feast!), the chance to one-up my boomer-divorced parents and all their boomer-divorced friends, and a step toward having roughly 7,000 children whom I planned to raise the way I wish I’d been raised—and who would hopefully fill a void deep in my soul.
The guy in question (my former “husband,” strangely enough) seemed a great match for me. We had the same books, the same taste in music, the same politics, the same lifestyle. We wanted the same things. “Done!” I thought. “Ha! I’m so not ever gonna have to go on J-Date or pay my own bills or plan my own life by myself! Sweet!”
Our relationship was a disaster. The marriage lasted about eight months, if I’m generous with our timeline. The term starter marriage (married less than five years with no kids, and divorced under 35) became popular in 2002 with sociologist Pamela Paul’s book, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. (Incidentally, I was perusing the Sunday Times wedding announcements a few months back—yeah, what of it?—and noticed Ms. Paul had gotten married again! Mazel tov! Hope never dies!)
Anyway, she interviewed dozens of starter-marriage veterans and found that most of those marriages fell into the following categories:
1. People who’d been dating awhile, cared about each other, and just really didn’t want to break up—until after they were legally bound to one another, that is.
2. People who needed to wear the dress and take pictures before Grandma bit it. (a.k.a. the “wedding industrial complex.”)
3. People who felt they were some sort of “power couple” and were swept up in the feeling of being stronger together than apart.
4. People who needed to escape from their parents/families, either financially or emotionally.
One very haunting statistic in the book is that we (generations X and Y) are getting married only slightly older today than our great-great-grandparents did, but that we live DECADES longer than they did. I devoured Paul’s book after my marriage ended (along with a fabulous, albeit self-help-y, tome called Not Your Mother’s Divorce) and recognized my own experience immediately.
Simply put, my 20s were freaking me the fuck out. I felt unqualified to be barreling into adulthood alone, I felt completely at loose ends in regards to my career trajectory, my ability to support myself, and even my post-collegiate social identity. I was lonely. I was scared.
Sex and the City was all the rage and here’s a little secret I think we don’t acknowledge so much: Sex and the City, while women everywhere giggled and guiltily enjoyed it, FREAKED US ALL THE FUCK OUT.
Um, should I spend the next 20 years getting my heart broken and pretending that it’s all in good fun? Or should I marry this dude I’m dating, have a gorgeous party, make my parents and grandparents really, really happy, and spare myself? Which would you choose?
Here’s the thing:
I think getting married before doing the hard, intimidating, not-always-so-fun work of making a life for yourself on your own is pretty much like digging yourself a hole with a nice plain pine box, climbing into it, and nailing it shut. Facing life is scary. Get in the hole, stay there, and wait it out. Done.
I learned the hard way that if I really wanted to live my life and not die at 25, I had to risk being alone. And now, on the other side of the experience, I thank my lucky stars for it.
More on that when you guys have ripped me a new one.