The New York Times wedding announcements are regularly mined by journalists looking for trends in everything from dating to fashion. While the elites profiled in these short articles are hardly representative of the population, they are often on the cutting edge. So reading about the courtship of Emily McPherson, 29, and Warren Holmes, 30, gave me some hope for the future of marriage among the millennials.
The couple met on a ski trip with friends of theirs from Southern Methodist University. She was with her sorority, he with his fraternity:
Though Mr. Holmes admitted to being “head over heels at first sight,” Ms. McPherson did not exactly see it that way, which made his pursuit of her a seemingly impossible goal.
“He tried to win me over on the slopes,” Ms. McPherson said. “When we got back to Dallas, we went on a few dates, but it didn’t progress much further; I did not yet think Warren was up to the job of being my boyfriend.”
Miss McPherson was clearly not going to waste her time with one of the man-children that Kay Hymowitz described in her 2011 book, Manning Up. You know, the kind who sit around playing video games, eating junk food, smoking pot. And good for McPherson. She decided that even if a man is head over heels, that’s not enough to make a real relationship work. And Holmes actually agreed: “I really wanted to date her right away, but I was running around with my fraternity brothers at that time and probably lacked a little bit of maturity… So her assessment was pretty accurate.”
Five years later, though, Holmes had grown up, gotten a job, and run the New York City Marathon to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of his father, who had died of the disease. It only took a few months for the couple to get reacquainted and then, a year later, engaged.
But too few men and women think about marriage the way Holmes and McPherson do. More and more millennials are putting off marriage and if current patterns hold, a significant portion may never marry at all. While some of that trend may be the result of economic circumstances, there are other factors at work as well.
According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, “If marriage rates remain at recession or postrecession levels, the number of millennials who marry by age 40 could decrease as much as 12 percentage points below the level among 40-year-olds today. In an alternative scenario, even if marriage rates bounce back substantially, the percentage of millennials marrying by age 40 will still decrease below the level for any previous generation of Americans.”
But what if more millennials thought about marriage the way Holmes and McPherson did? As a kind of job. Young people today, particularly middle- and upper-class ones, devote a lot of attention to planning their educations and careers, even buying a house. But marriage is something they are more likely to fall into. Some relationship lasts a little longer than others or happens to occur at the right age and suddenly a couple is engaged. What if young people began to think of their relationships more purposefully? What if relationships in high school and college involved becoming better at being in relationships? What if those hoping to marry (generally women) required that their potential marriage partners (generally men) be up for the job? Marriage might become more common, more stable, and even more satisfying.