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I check my bank account regularly to monitor the steady depletion of its contents. My bank alternates between three crafty questions to confirm my identity. Three top secret inquiries I created years ago and now can’t figure out how to change. Much to my chagrin and 33% of the time, the ghost of Commitment’s past comes back to haunt me.
Question: “What city did you get engaged in?”
Answer: San Antonio. Behind a Wendy’s.
No joke. Embarrassing, I know.
With no real example of a healthy, steady relationship within immediate proximity, my view of love was heavily influenced by popular media. Fall early, they said. Fall hard, fall fast, and sure – everything else will fall into place.
So I got engaged to my high school sweetheart when I was 20. An amazing guy with a six-pack and working toward an engineering degree. As a sophomore at UTSA, I promised to wait until graduation to get married. A few years and several wedding Pinterest boards later, my parents were separated and working toward a divorce. I was suddenly forced to reconsider what it was I expected and needed from a relationship. I broke things off with my fiancé and took our dog, Poe.
Since then, I have had a handful of relationship-type thingies, a few long-term whatsits, and learned about my ex fiancé’s new wife via Facebook.
I escaped marriage at the tender age of 22 and haven’t stopped running since. My story isn’t a unique one, though, as noted by Time Magazine in an article about millennials and marriage, with the dramatic subheading: “A new report from Pew Research predicts that more folks under 35 will be single forever.” My future looks bright, indeed.
According to the article, the top three reasons people younger than 34 aren’t getting married is: “They haven’t found the right person (30%), aren’t financially stable enough (27%), and are not ready to settle down (22%).” This also notably leaves out an unsure or “other” 21%. What’s going on with our generation?
Searching for the one…mostly just wandering
A disadvantage of this study is the many questions it doesn’t answer, such as, “Why aren’t people finding the right person? Is our generation pickier? If so, why? What qualities make a ‘right’ person?”
I believe our culture has such an idealized view of love and marriage that it is hard to break from the subtle hold society has on our expectations from a significant other. People are nothing if not baggage. Heavy, broken things that aren’t plucked from Disney movies or Jane Austen novels.
For a generation whose romantic lives have been so heavily influenced by technology, it is all too easy to get lost in the best version of someone projected through their online persona. We have such control over our appearance on social media and dating sites that the reality is often disappointing when we are reminded that human means flawed. I, therefore, try not to sugarcoat anything about myself, which is probably why I’m still single.
I have said I love you three times in my life and I have meant it twice. I’m still not really sure what it means, but I do know that it will take a special man to love me unconditionally…so special he may not exist.
As with most writers and musicians, I’m difficult with tendencies toward insanity. I’m busy all of the time and love extended periods of seclusion. My “right one” is patient and understanding but persistent and challenging. He can’t let me win too easily but shouldn’t let me pout when I lose. I get anxious in crowds and move around and chase trains and jump into the San Antonio River in mid-December. He needs to see the magic in that.
Credit scores and college debt
The Time article focuses more on the quantitative side of marriage, noting, “The quality most women want in a husband, somewhat unromantically, is a secure job, followed very closely by similar ideas on raising kids, which was the quality most men wanted in a spouse. The problem is, the report points out, that young men are increasingly less likely to be employed.”
It goes on to say that if adjusted for inflation, the median hourly wages of men aged 25 to 34 are a fifth less than they were in 1980.
Finances have never been atop my priority list. Call me an artist or a hippie, but I have a strange sense that people should be valued first and the money part will work itself out later. Secondly, I am a part of a group labeled “young working professionals,” meaning I don’t necessarily need someone to support me.
None of the males with whom I associated, aside from my ex-fiancé, were of stable income, but had other qualities that outweighed that so-called shortcoming. I like them funny, sweet, witty, artsy and broke, apparently.
There was a guy who wooed me with lots of food and drink, though. I will admit that was nice, but not a game changer.
Keep running, don’t look back, take nothing with you
The inability to settle usually stems from one of two things: being jaded or being too immature.
Maturity takes time. With time, relationships only get harder and people become indifferent. Forming new relationships becomes exponentially weightier as individuals who don’t envision themselves as “ready” push potential partners away to avoid pain or let them in and shut it down when the relationship develops too far. Guilt, shame, and blame are frequent emotions in this space.
I have friends who I have seen greatly affected by this type of thinking. For them I try to paraphrase a section from an Andrea Gibson poem: “Every year, you have more to lose/?but you can choose to bury your past? in the garden/ beside the tulips/?water it until it’s so alive ?it lets go/ and you belong to yourself?again.”
I’m a chronically single romantic who believes in the beauty of marriage, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll get there. And that’s OK. The critical stance this generation is taking on love and commitment is commendable and necessary. Rather than just diving in, we are reevaluating what we want and need. We’ll help the divorce rates in the coming years, I’m sure.