Why Young People Aren't Getting Married, According to 8 Couples Who Just Said "No"
It may not be uttered aloud, but there's an assumption about unmarried couples, that thanks to ignorance and immaturity, they're missing out on the wedded bliss that awaits them if they'd only jump aboard the marriage train.
But more and more people are happily remaining unwed, all the while maintaining positive, long-term, committed relationships. The marriage rate in the United States has dropped significantly in the past 10 years, while the number of unmarried couples cohabiting, with kids and without, is on the rise.
So many cultural narratives still end with a wedded "happily ever after," but many of couples are happily skipping out on the fairytale wedding and the institution of marriage that follows. Here are just some of the reasons why.
Unmarried couples commit to plenty of things — marriage doesn't need to be one of them.
Outside of marriage certificates, there are plenty of major life decisions we commit to every day.
Jane*, 36, told Mic, "I consider other things to be greater commitments: buying a home together, pooling your finances, having a child together." Indeed, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed that 40.6% of all births in 2013 were by unmarried women. A 2013 survey found that 1 in 4 married couples between the ages of 18 and 34 bought a house together before actually getting hitched.
Nickie, 23, told Mic, "A lot of people seem to think that marriage is the ultimate sign of commitment, but it feels like if you really love someone you should just... stay with them."
There are more rewarding things to pool your money on than a party.
Planning a wedding can be expensive and time-consuming — and it's not always worth it. Frankie, 27, told Mic, "I've been married before, and from the point of engagement until I walked down the aisle, I was very focused on planning the wedding. That was a disaster, though: The moment I was married, I wanted not to be!"
In fact, a 2014 study by economists at Emory University found a link between higher wedding costs and higher divorce rates: Spending more than $20,000 on a wedding increased a couple's rate of divorce 3.5 times.
One possible explanation for the correlation is that the costs themselves put strain on a young couple: With high first-time house costs and student loan debts, there are plenty of other things couples need to spend on — or just want to. "If we're going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather take the family on a round-the-world adventure together!" said Frankie.
Even an informal, affordable ceremony can feel besides the point. "My partner says he'd marry me formally if I wanted to, but he pretty much agrees we don't need a ceremony to prove anything," said Lou, 39. "We both consider ourselves in it for life at this point."
The institution of marriage can still feel like a business transaction.
Nickie told Mic, "I feel like marriage is outdated, like we could come up with a better system for economic exchange, property ownership and child-rearing."
The modern ideal of marriage — a monogamous pairing of two people for love — is relatively new. Up until the last century, most marriages were transactional in one way or another, whether for joining businesses, properties or families. That legacy can leave couples today feeling sour on the institution.
Many couples agree they would get married if there were some immediate reason for it — a green card or other visa, medical oversight, some complicated custody arrangement, a religious situation — but otherwise they feel like it's not worth the bother.
Zulaiya, 35, told Mic, "If a legal situation called for us to get married, we'd probably do it — but shake hands on it, as a business arrangement."
Marriage comes with old-school gender roles, whether we want them or not.
"I don't want to be a wife, I don't want to be Mrs. Anybody!" Jemima, 27, told Mic.
The days when women were expected to fade into their husband's shadows (Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, anybody?) may be long gone. But plenty of sources, like Susan Maushart's Wifework, indicate that whether due to external social pressure or internal expectations, once-egalitarian relationships can fundamentally shift when they become marriages. Data from 2005 found that childless married women did notably more housework than childless single women, with researchers noting "the presence of a husband ... costs women seven hours of housework a week."
On the flip side, a 2007 George Mason University study showed that married men report doing less housework than their unmarried (but still coupled) compatriots. As Newsweek puts it, "Boyfriends Outdo Husbands on Housework."
Jemima's resistance to this fate, she said, could be summed up with this story: "In college, a good friend was marrying his girlfriend of many years and after living together. Before the wedding, he said, 'Everything is going to change now that we're getting married. I'll be a husband now.' I've been haunted by that conversation for decades."
Marriage is a big deal — so you've got to really want it.
Some couples are avoiding marriage not because they don't care for the institution, but rather because they respect it. "My partner and I both believe that getting married is a really big decision and that frankly we aren't old enough to make it," Stanley, 26, told Mic.
That includes an all-too-real understanding of what happens when marriages don't last. "Having a front seat to the implosion of my parents' marriage has given me the inside track to the most uncomfortable truths about family law," said Fredrika, 29.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is expectations and commitment. Most couples told Mic they felt committed to their partners, whether they had a fancy ceremony or not. In some cases, not having a legal tie made the commitment all the more meaningful. Whatever the reason, they're proof that, beautiful though it is, not all couples need marriage to be happy and stay happy.
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.