Frank Sinatra once famously crooned, “Love and marriage…go together like a horse and carriage.” But how accurate is this beloved song standard in reflecting relationships today? Not very, according to evidence.
Indeed, it appears that love in the 21st century is looking a lot different than it did in previous generations. Not surprisingly, it’s the rising generations, and millennials in particular, that are transforming how we understand love, marriage, relationships, and family.
This article examines marriage in the modern era and the impact of the millennial generation on this ancient practice.
Look Before You Leap
If you research divorce rates today, the statistics may well surprise you. After all, for a while there, it seems as if divorce was rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception for most families in the U.S.
Today, however, divorce rates are on the decline, and experts are attributing this intriguing trend to the dating and marriage practices of millennials. More specifically, the millennial generation, which refers to those born between approximately 1981 and 1996, generally marry at a later age than their older counterparts and are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage than previous generations. This is significant for a number of reasons.
First, it means that millennials are more mature at the time of their first marriage and have had more experience in navigating serious relationships. This is an important contrast to previous generations, who tended to marry nearly immediately after completing their education and who, therefore, may have never been in a serious romantic relationship prior to meeting their spouse.
In addition, for millennials, living together before marriage offers a sort of test-run before marriage. The opportunity to create a family and household together before making it “official” through marriage enables young couples to feel doubly certain in their choice of life partner before taking the leap. Even something as simple as sharing a house and learning to compromise and blend decorating aesthetics and lifestyle habits can provide a perfect litmus test of a couple’s compatibility.
Finally, delaying marriage provides millennials with the opportunity to create a more stable financial footing before making a commitment. This gives young adults time to build their own careers before taking on a spouse.
Tech-ing the Tenderness
For older generations, modern technology can seem wholly incompatible with romance. For millennials, however, technology and dating often go hand-in-glove. Indeed, millennials tend to perceive technology as a primary tool for finding a partner, whether on social media or through online dating apps.
Not only is technology a primary way for millennials to connect with a potential love interest, but it’s also often the forum through which relationships are nurtured and maintained. From text messaging to private chats, young romantic partners may spend weeks, months, or even years connecting online before they meet in person.
This has also given rise to an increase in the use of technology for sexual encounters and for “sexting.” Online platforms are providing forums for millennials to explore sexual interests which, for some, is a more acceptable alternative to physical encounters.
In addition, thanks to technology, geography is no longer the limitation it might once have been. With the click of a button, you can connect with prospective partners across the globe. For millennials, connecting with persons who may live in a different culture or speak a different language is the norm for personal, professional, and romantic relationships alike.
Thus, millennials seem to have a whole world of potential partners to be found on the other end of the digital screen. For a generation deeply invested in principles of diversity and inclusion, this transnational, transcultural attribute of technology in dating means that millennials are increasingly able to manifest their ideological values in their romantic relationships.
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, for instance, more than one in 10 millennials has a spouse or partner who is from a racial or ethnic background different from theirs.
Re-evaluating Traditional Gender Roles
Another important way that the millennial generation is transforming modern marriage is through the dismantling of traditional gender roles. For example, heterosexual couples of this generation are more likely than previous generations to see the male remaining at home to care for children.
Millennial females, on the other hand, are more likely to desire to return to work and pursue career advancement after having children while their child’s father assumes primary responsibility for childcare.
In addition to deconstructing male/female gender roles, millennials are also more likely to embrace the concept of gender fluidity and to identify with the LGBTQ+ community than older adults.
Investing in Health
In recent years, awareness of the importance of mental health has gained prominence in social discourse, and this is informing how millennials manage their romantic relationships. For example, millennials seem to have a more open and accepting view of mental healthcare, including individual and couples’ counseling, than previous generations.
Because millennials came of age in a culture of steadily increasing divorce rates and are likely to have experienced divorce either in their own family or the families of close friends, they tend to be more proactive in nurturing the health of their relationships. This includes prioritizing communication, quality time, and respectful listening.
Love may well be universal, but that does not mean that marriage practices are. Indeed, the millennial generation is demonstrating how truly amorphous relationships can be. These young adults are transforming how we understand love.
This includes deconstructing traditional gender roles, particularly when it comes to caregiving and careers. Millennials are also significantly more likely than older generations to delay marriage and to live with a significant other before making the commitment permanent. This, in turn, has contributed to a steady decrease in divorce rates in recent years.
Millennial relationships also tend to be significantly more diverse than in previous generations, with a significant proportion of couples coming from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. This diversity also extends to gender identity and sexual orientation, with an increasing number of millennials identifying with the LGBTQ+ community.
All in all, this rising generation is revolutionizing the ways we look at love.