Ask older people what they think about today’s young couples, and they’ll tell you that this generation is doing relationships all wrong.
But relationships aren’t cast in stone. Because they reflect any changes that are occurring in society.
Like until recently, people had no choice but to get married, because it took two to gather enough food for a family, or to look after the herds and crops, or to run the family business.
And in almost every society, you had to be married to be considered a full adult.
Marriage was also an important way of increasing wealth. So, parents insisted on choosing spouses for their children, who brought the right land, business connections or social status into the family.
And it wasn’t just the parents. The whole community often had a hand in deciding who wed who, which didn’t leave a lot of room for romance!
But in urban, westernised societies, that world has gone. Now almost everywhere, men and women have equal rights, and equal access to education and a career.
The pace of change is relentless, and full employment is increasingly uncertain. So, young people want to — and can — stand on their own two feet before they marry. They want to choose their partners for themselves. And if things don’t work out, to be able to divorce easily.
So, the millennials who were born from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s are marrying very differently from their parents. They’re marrying much later because they want to be financially independent first.
And they’re much more careful about choosing a partner because they’ve seen so many relationships fail.
Millennials do less formal dating, instead preferring more casual relationships. They’re much more likely to be sexually inactive than previous generations.
And when they do have sex, it’s often in a hookup or friends with benefits arrangement rather than in a committed relationship.
Critics say their digital world has made them more socially isolated and entitled, and argue that the hookup culture has resulted in a generation incapable of intimacy and commitment.
But maybe that’s not true. Maybe millennials aren’t afraid of intimacy, but value marriage more. Because there’s nothing casual about their approach to sex, dating and romance.
In particular, they want to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before they invest money, time and energy on each other.
Formal dating used to be how courting couples got to know one another but nowadays, starting to date ‘officially’ comes later.
This marks the start of commitment: from casual socialising to a defined relationship expected to lead to marriage. Which means the path to romance has changed completely.
Because for many young singles, casual relationships and casual sex have become the getting-to-know you phase of courtship.
And maybe that’s not all bad. Maybe today’s singles are taking a more thoughtful view of marriage than their critics realise? One that works better in our rapidly changing world?