It’s a fairy tale everyone has heard. The princess falls in love with prince charming. The couple gets married, and they live happily ever after.
But a modern fairy tale may read quite differently. Perhaps, the princess and the prince want to move in together first. Or maybe, she would like to start her career before settling down with a family. Prince charming might realize he should protect his assets from her evil stepfamily and ask the princess to sign a prenuptial agreement. And if the two still got married, would it end in divorce?
There is a reason Walt Disney chose not to tell that version – it’s a terrible bedtime story. But adults know that marriage is complicated and the institution has evolved from what it once was in American society. Divorce remains common and cohabitation is much more prevalent. Time magazine and the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that revealed four out of every ten Americans under the age of 30 believe marriage is obsolete. It displayed a wide range of views that reflect similar sentiments held by Kent State University students. Some cannot wait to walk down the aisle, while others don’t see it as a priority.
A Social Institution
For the past two years, Kent State University professor Dr. Maureen Blankemeyer has asked her Interpersonal Relationships and Families class if marriage is still relevant. Her results in the Spring 2011 semester were similar to those of the Pew poll. Out of 110 of her students, 41.8 percent said marriage is no longer necessary for everyone. The other 58.2 percent believe it is still necessary. Dr. Blankmeyer was not surprised that the majority still wants to get married. She says, “I don’t know if it’s so engrained in us that that’s what you do. You grow up. You get married. You have children. It’s largely societal pressure or family pressure.” Because the millennial generation was the first to see a high water mark in divorce rates during the 1980s, Dr. Blankemeyer says it’s logical that they would have less faith in the institution.
An outdated tradition
On her left hand, Kent State University Junior Elona Gersher wears a diamond engagement ring, but she’s no less adamant that marriage is an archaic institution.
As a child, she was raised to believe women must marry at a young age. Her mother had married at the age of 17, and she expected her daughter to do the same. Bending to family pressure, Gersher married a man she had only known for three months. At the age of 20, she had her daughter, Jasmine. But two years later, she made the decision to get a divorce.Now 29-year-old Gersher says the experience did not make her bitter. Instead, she says her experience gave her a more meaningful understanding of relationships.
“Marriage is a piece of paper,” she says. “It doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t make you more faithful. It doesn’t make you more loyal.”
A larger number of individuals are choosing to live together before getting married. According to the Pew poll, cohabitation jumped 13 percent between 2009 and 2010. Gersher says for her cohabitation is the best of both worlds. She and her boyfriend, Nathan, have lived together for nearly six years, and they now have a son, Damien. Although she and Nathan are engaged, she says that doesn’t mean she is headed down the aisle again anytime soon.
“Family and other people were putting pressure on us,” she says. “They were like, ‘You have a kid together. You need something more than just boyfriend and girlfriend.’”
She’s not opposed to eventually marrying, when her kids are older. She wants them to understand the concept of marriage and let them have an active part in the decision.
“It’s better to have your parents be happy together than force them to be stuck together,” she says.
More than a piece of paper
Ultimately, America remains a marrying country. The Pew poll found that although nearly 40 percent of people think it’s becoming obsolete, 70 percent of Americans were married at least once, according to the 2010 Census. So why do many still chose to make the commitment? Each couple has their own reasons. Annie Horning, a Kent State University special education major, and David Pfeiffer, a turf grass science major at Ohio State University, met in high school study hall, but even then they knew they were going to end up together. Last September, the couple made it official. Pfeiffer met Horning at their favorite hiking trail and popped the question.
Because she is only 20-years-old and still in school, Horning’s parents had reservations about the engagement. But neither Pfeiffer nor Horning wants to wait. Their reasons for getting married was clear – love.
“We really value marriage,” says Pfeiffer. “We’re really not selfish people. We want to live together and always have someone with us. We’re meant to be together. We’re best friends. We developed that relationship first.”
As devoted Christians, Pfeiffer feels strongly that the two shouldn’t live together before marriage. Horning agrees, but she says there’s more to it than that. For her, marriage is the first step to building a family. “It’s the more traditional way – if you want to have kids, you should be married,” she says. “Show them that stability.”
Dr. Blankemeyer says that’s a common sentiment held by those who are getting married. They typically want their children to have their same last name.
T.J. Shattuck, a junior paralegal major at Kent State University, and Jessica Enos, a junior nursing major at Kent State University, got engaged on Christmas Day. The two say they can’t wait to spend the rest of their lives together. But they’re also going into it knowing that marriage isn’t always easy.
“You eventually get past the love and get past the laughing,” says Shattuck. “What happens when things aren’t going right? When I think of the perfect couple, I don’t think of Cinderella or Prince Charming.”
‘Til death do us part
So is marriage headed toward extinction? Dr. Blankemeyer says no.
“There are things in our society that are going to impact it,” she says. “But I don’t think necessarily that were going to be a non-marrying society anytime soon. We’re still going to be marrying types.”
She predicts that the total number of marriages will decrease, but ultimately it will never be in the minority. We are, for better or for worse, a marrying society.
Disney’s version of marriage may need a modern polish, but chances are it won’t be getting one soon.blog comments powered by Disqus