Marriage trends have changed. The number of people between the ages of 20 to 34 who have never married has increased from 57 percent to 74 percent from 2000 to 2015, according to Pew Research. This is great news because according to a 2018 study from eHarmony, people who wait longer to get married are typically happier with their relationships overall.
Just last month, a new study showed the U.S. divorce rate dropped by 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, because millennial women in particular are waiting to say, “I do.” Beyond that, an unprecedented number of young people will stay single to age 40.
For some, women especially, forgoing vows and rings is very much a choice. Because marriage and wedding-planning are still hallmarks of our romantic society, however, every couple who intentionally stays together without tying the knot is subject to questions from friends, family and total strangers.
It’s not that they’re cynical about commitment, but rather fully modern about how they want their long-term love to take shape. Here, six women in long-term relationships detail their reasons for staying unwed.
Christie, 30, from New York City: “Relationships are evolving into this beautiful choice, and they’re no longer a societal obligation. Love is on the rise and as companionate relationships become the new reason to merge lives, and sometimes assets, the contracts that once filled our deep need for security, are now less necessary. After many generations of watching marriage, I understand the benefits as they relate to the perception of safety and security that we all deeply desire. However, I look at my partner and know that with time, we all evolve, and the power to choose that person each day is more powerful than any contract that would bind our assets. I guess I am not anti-marriage, I am just questionable of the construct as it exists today. As human rights have evolved, so have the expectations surrounding love, freedom, and the perception of security.”
Andrea, 55, from Northern California: “I’m a gay woman and I’ve been with my partner, Barb, for 25 years. I met her when I was still married to my ex-husband and she was with her ex-girlfriend of eight years. My divorce was not ugly, but it definitely wasn’t an easy experience. While we have a home and two beautiful children together, Barb and I never really wanted to get married. We feel that just the act of getting married might “curse” the relationship. When our friends ask us why we don’t get married — which they do all of the time — we just say, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’”
Marni, 45, from New Jersey: “I’ve been with my boyfriend for 16 years and I’m not planning on marrying him, because I do not want to marry his debt. I’ve managed to mostly get out of mine and I do not want to be responsible for someone else’s financial issues. When people question me, I just tell them that we are happy as we are now; you don’t need a piece of paper from the government to be committed.”
Mélanie, 37, from New York City:“It’s not that I’m against the institution of marriage, just that I find it unnecessary. That might sound cynical to some, but I’d argue it’s a romantic notion. I truly believe in love and long-term commitment. I just don’t think couples need to marry to prove their undying affection for each other. The best way to prove your eternal commitment to another human is simply to stay together. When you’re fixated on a specific goal like marriage, it turns dating into a sort of game governed by strange parameters, like what constitutes ‘marriage material’ and what doesn’t. Dating should be a process-of-elimination search for someone you can love forever, not someone you deem suitable for marriage, whatever that means. I think the emphasis on getting married and having a ‘dream wedding’ makes people lose sight of what they should be looking for — someone to spend the rest of their lives with, not someone to walk down the aisle towards.”
Rachel, 42, from New York City: “I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost seven years, living together for five and a half. We bonded early on over the fact that neither of us is interested in getting married. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve joined ourselves in all the most significant ways. We share a home and expenses, are listed in each other’s wills, and have discussed our joint plans for our future. I don’t want or need the government involved in my relationship, and resent the idea that a piece of paper is thought to convey anything about a relationship’s value, longevity or importance.”
Brianna, 28, from Michigan: “I have been with my partner for nearly eight years. When I first met Steve and the subject of marriage and children came up, as it typically does when beginning a more serious phase of a relationship, I was surprised and relieved to hear how our expectations were in sync. Neither of us wanted children of our own, and preferred to focus on our education and careers instead of planning a wedding. Our choice not to get married was not difficult and no one made a sacrifice here; simply put, I love my partner and we have our commitment to each other and are very much invested. I just don’t want to be married. I don’t feel connected to the religious term or ceremony that a wedding represents. Our relationship takes as much work and commitment as any married couple would experience, and has. It’s sometimes difficult for other people to accept — we certainly get questions — but thankfully, our families both know us well, and don’t have to be convinced of our choice. They can see we are happy and have combined our strong and independent personalities in a union that works for us both.”
Jenna Birch is the author of The Love Gap, as well as the co-founder and CEO of the new dating app Plum. Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every other Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “YAHOO” in the subject line.
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