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Linda & Richard Eyre: How about actually dating, then actually marrying?

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 12:30 p.m. MDT

We live in a time when two of the greatest delights and sources of joy of all time are being abandoned: dating and marriage. What can we do about these unpromising and unhealthy trends?

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We live in a time when two of the greatest delights and sources of joy of all time are being abandoned: dating and marriage.

Too many kids "hang out" or "hook up" or move around in groups but don’t actually date.

You know dating, where one guy and one girl actually go out, have fun together, communicate and get to know one another? It’s happening less and less.

And marriage? “Why bother” seems to be the new conventional wisdom. “Just cohabitate and maybe consider marriage later, after we are financially secure, after we have a house, after we have had all the adventures we want, after we are finally willing to settle down and limit our options.”

“After all,” the thinking goes, "marriage is a coin toss, with a 50 percent chance of divorce. So why try it? And we can’t afford kids.

“And why date? Isn’t that a throwback to the 1950s? Get to know someone by hanging out, and if you are attracted to each other, move in together and try everything out. Don’t give up your options too soon and don’t take the risk of actually getting married or having kids — at least not for several years.”

The problem is that this kind of thinking is based on false paradigms. A solid majority of first marriages do not end in divorce, and it’s the very high failure rate of second and third marriages that gets the divorce rate up around 50 percent. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that it costs more than $300,000 (inflation adjusted) to raise a child includes assumptions like adding a new room onto your house for each new child.

Real, one-on-one dating is the best and most enjoyable way to get to know another person deeply and intimately. And marriages that happen before cohabitation last longer and have a better chance of enduring than those that happen after cohabitation.

Struggling together financially in the early years of marriage is OK. In fact, it's more than OK. Most married couples will tell you that those lean early years were wonderful, at least in retrospect. The idea that you need to own a house with a paid-down mortgage and have high incomes before you can marry or have a child is nonsense. Why not share the challenges of getting established and comfortable rather than each doing it alone? If you are going to be poor for a while, as most of us were, why not be poor with a partner?

Too often, millennials (the generation born since the mid-1980s) see commitment as the culmination and the capstone rather than as the beginning. A modern life sequence is now "hooking up," cohabitation, obtaining financial security, having a child, getting married and then being fully committed.

One of the problems with this order of things is that it rarely completes itself. It is too easy to get derailed partway through the sequence.

What happened to the old wisdom “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”?

Commitment should be the beginning, not the end. Commitment should be right there, early, stemming from real dating and falling in love, and it should lead to marriage and to struggling together and to having kids.

Commitment is what gets us through the hard times — together — and commitment is what gives security, both to marriage partners and to children. Commitment is what allows hard times and trials to draw us closer together rather than pull us apart.

Three cheers for commitment. Three cheers for doing things in the right way and in the right order. We have great hopes that we will gradually see more of both.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.

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