Meghan Smith ‘19, has a lot more than just graduation invites to send out this coming summer. Along with her college graduation, Meghan is planning her wedding. While homework is begging for her attention, Meghan said she can’t help but occasionally let her excitement wander onto catering sites and the long list of venues waiting to be chosen for the special day. “We are actually getting married three years from now, we both want to finish graduate school. But I did just book an appointment with a potential venue for early June” gushes Smith.
With her early wedding plans, Smith is an outlier. As the rates in divorce have declined by about 18 percent from 2008-2017, according to one year estimates from the Census Bureau’s data access site, more and more young adults are choosing to wait a little longer for marriage–or not at all. “It is true, marriage is being delayed,” said Robert Brenneman, chair of sociology at St. Michael’s. “It does not mean it is progress or even negative progress, it just means social change.” The delaying of marriage is a slow trend that has gradually changed over the course of 30-40 years. While marriage may still be in the picture, college students are being encouraged by parents and friends to put the idea on the back burner to have more time to become financially sound. Students tend to focus more on establishing themselves in the field of their career rather than worrying about their potential life partner. Settling into a career can give one a sense of stability, while settling into a relationship with someone may give the sense of being trapped. “We hear a lot more now at the college age to ‘keep our options open’ or ‘don’t get tied down’. In college, we are socialized by peers to be very wary of commitment.” explains Brenneman. Students are often encouraged to be free of any obligation to another’s well-being.
With divorce rates decreasing and marriage rates at a stand still, one wonders if this growing trend of delaying marriage will ever increase marriage rates. Robert Brenneman finds based on statistics, it doesn’t seem likely. “Divorce and marriage will both continue to gradually decline. It’s happening right now in countries like Western Europe and Scandinavia.”
What do the students of St. Michael’s think of marriage? In a recent Defender survey that posed a single question: ‘when would you want to marry?’ out of 58 responses 34 said they would want to marry after college (a few years after); 19 said they would want to marry later in life (maybe closer to their 30s or later) and only four responses said not at all, they’d rather just cohabit with their significant other. While this does not cover the entire student body, the majority of the responses received seems to follow the pattern of waiting on marriage until a few years after college or even further down the road.
For Caleb Roman ‘20, marriage is an open concept. “If I meet someone that wants to commit then I’m willing to engage in that, but if I meet someone that wants more of an open relationship I may try that too,” Roman said. As someone very open to different approaches, Roman finds that it’s not a concrete path. “Marriage is not the only answer. People are in such different places in their lives and the world is very self-centric nowadays, that there are many more relationships than we are defining”.
Some may feel when they find the right person that marriage is the only way to define their status of being together for the rest of their lives. It is a concept that can be the final step in a relationship, but it can also be a step that feels too concrete. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The decision of marriage all comes down to what works for you and your partner. The choice to spend the rest of your lives together does not have to be fulfilled through marriage. “I know people who are in healthy relationships that aren’t defined by marriage. I know some that in the beginning thought they didn’t want to get married. Me personally, I would not want to get married now because I don’t fully understand what makes me happy yet” Roman explains.
For Roman the idea of marriage is something he envisions in his future but maybe not in the traditional sense. Smith, however, had marriage in her sites for awhile. “Marriage was always something I saw in the cards for me, I just never knew when. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen before graduating college. Everybody is different in what they want. For me it was the right person and the right time. ”
While some students might find the idea of such commitment right before graduation to be quite stressful, for Smith it’s quite the opposite. “When he asked it was very natural and very natural for me to say yes. Planning the wedding is actually a stress reliever, it’s fun to look up caterers and potential venues rather than do my homework.”