Trust the man with the blue boa and the maraca. Photo by West Vita Photography

Two weeks before my wedding, I had a panic attack.

Though I had long wanted to be married, and I loved my fiancé madly, I – like many Millennials – had heard the horror stories of waking up 10 years into marriage and feeling trapped, lost, or dissatisfied. Why was I signing on for this?

The Time Magazine article on the topic and Melanie Robinson’s honest perspective published on the Rivard Report spelled out a lot of what my panic attack was about.

Nothing has quelled those fears like actually being married – and loving it.

Bekah McNeel, no longer panicking. photo by Rachel Chaney Photography
Bekah McNeel, no longer panicking. Photo by Rachel Chaney Photography

The main three reasons to stay single given by never-married participants in the Pew Research study cited in the Time Magazine article are:

  • Too young/not ready to settle down: While I am not surprised that this was the main reason among the 18-24-year-old demographic, I am curious about the 11% of 35-and-olders who also chose this as their reason for remaining single.
  • Aren’t financially stable: This was the lead reason cited by the 25-34-year-old crowd of never-married. Again, this seems about right. That’s my demographic. We graduated from grad school in the middle of the Great Recession. Many of us have a nervous tic aggravated by words like, “Roth IRA,” “investment portfolio,” and any other word describing the perks of a steady income.
  • Haven’t found what they are looking for: This was the leading reason given by the 35+ group. I’m going to let the yentas and aunties of the world address that with the single adults in their lives.

I relate to all three of these reasons.

Marriage is a huge commitment. A bad marriage is a miserable thing. But a good marriage is a great thing. So we don’t need to marry less. We need to marry better. Before we talk about how the Millennial mentality undermines marriage, let’s give marriage a little credit. The article does acknowledge that we are probably not going to be the generation that ultimately eschews for all humanity the oldest institution in the history of mankind.

Here is how marriage waltzed into my life, tossed its rakish brown hair, and said, with a sultry glance, “I think you’re going to be fine.”

Reason No. 1: Too young, not ready to settle down

For me, this was the fear that I was going to miss out on life if I “tied myself down.” What if I wanted to move to San Francisco? Or Stockholm?

Though I wonder if by “missing out” people mean “I haven’t slept with enough people yet,” or “I haven’t hung out alone in enough bars.” If that’s really how someone feels, then they clearly aren’t going to be keen on marriage.

Most other diversions, however, are still fair game.

Married people travel. Married people pack it all up and move to a different country. Married people get tipsy at bars together. They get tattoos together. They go to parties.

And they change together.

That change is another scary thing that turned out to be not so scary. Loving someone and being considerate inevitably matures you. There seems to be a fear of becoming a lame, boring person once you are married.

My experience, and I may be alone in this, is that in marriage my inner lame person was finally free to run wild. And by run wild I mean to snuggle up on the couch and read on a Friday night. Someone loves me for who I am…which gives me the confidence to make the dance party in my kitchen the only dance party I attend all month.

So while we still do all the fun stuff we did before we were married, we no longer have to do the stuff we never liked in the first place.

If you really love ACL, you will probably continue to go. If you really love smoking pot, you will probably continue to do so. But if you should find that you get really into puzzles, you’re free to explore that without fear.

Free together. The McNeels at Big Bend. Photo by Colin McDonald
If you really like hiking through the desert under the 106-degree sun, you can still do that when you are married. The McNeels at Big Bend. Photo by Colin McDonald.

Reason No. 2: They aren’t financially stable

This seems to be about the girls holding out for a guy with a steady job – which is apparently a thing, according to the Pew study. We’ll set aside my initial Beyonce-style response to this (“Get yourself a steady job!”), and just accept the fact that this desire exists.

If it’s a hard worker you are looking for, then, yes, by all means, wait. You want a partner who is going to be a partner, not a freeloader. But that doesn’t always mean a 9-5 job. And it also means so much more than a 9-5 job. Emotional freeloaders are just as draining. And love is work.

At the heart of my personal panic was fear of emotional work and difficulties. But life has hard times, married or not. Don’t listen to the marriage downers who think that marriage made their lives difficult. Marriage did not make their lives difficult. Life made their lives difficult. You need someone who knows how to put their collar up to the wind of hard times and bugger on.

On the other hand, if it’s a fat check and security you are waiting for, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Especially if you do find it. Men (or any people) are not super-reliable providers in the long-term. They get fired. They quit. They follow their dreams. They responsibly put their money in stocks only to have the stock market fail them. Today’s promising young surgeon is tomorrow’s full-time volunteer at a free clinic in the inner city.

Money is a terrible reason to marry someone. That is what I am trying to say.

I, on the other hand, married for good looks. Because those won’t fade.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me...? Courtesy photo.
Bekah McNeel looking for a man (Lewis McNeel) who will provide food at Aster’s Ethiopian in Austin. Courtesy photo.

Reason No. 3: Haven’t found what they are looking for

People told me my standards were too high. False. The living proof of that untruth is sitting next to me on the couch.

I also watch my single friends relentlessly pick their dates to pieces while I think, “You’ve only spent three hours together…at least give him the chance that you are getting the leftovers from dinner.”

There’s a balance. In most cases, when the right person comes along, the Ken Doll with Heart of Gold you were looking for becomes irrelevant. In other – not uncommon – cases, the right one comes and goes unnoticed because he was missing Ken’s plastic hair, master’s degree in ethnomusicology, or love of fine dining.

I think way too much stock is put in admiration. Don’t marry someone because you think they are the most amazing person you’ve ever met. Marry them because you like them. Stop looking for God incarnate, and marry the emotionally healthy sinner you’ve had lunch with five times this week.

Married people hike. Bekah and Lewis McNeel at Yosemite National Park, courtesy photo
Married people hike. Bekah and Lewis McNeel at Yosemite National Park. Courtesy photo

I was going to give it one more year. One more year to find viable dating material in San Antonio, and then I was moving to San Francisco. Or so I told myself.

Fortunately, I never had to find out if I had the moxy to follow through, because Lewis McNeel walked in the door. Ten months later, we were married. Four years after that, we’ve got a house, a baby, and two dogs. We are “grown ups.” And we are Millennials.

Related stories:

Women in the World: On the Frontlines of War and Social Justice

The Disappearing Millennial Marriage

Young Marriage/ Old House: A Dignowity Hill Backyard Feast

Challenge to Texas Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Starts in San Antonio

Wedding Photographer Eager to Celebrate DOMA’s Demise, Marriage Equality

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.