Find a stable nine-to-five job. Get married. Buy a house. Fill it with children.
Only a couple of generations ago, this traditional way of life was embraced on nearly a universal level.
The millennial generation, however, is questioning all of these things – and it looks like marriage might be losing ground even more quickly than the rest.
According to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of adults ages 18-29 were married in 1960. By 2011, that number had fallen to 20 percent. Some blame our modern hookup culture. Romance, they claim, is simply on the way out as a societal value. Others cite feminism, explaining that the greater number of opportunities available to today’s women gives us the freedom to choose whether or not we would like to be married – a choice that our grandmothers may not have had. Still others blame economic uncertainty, a lack of suitable partners, or a growing sense of worldwide cynicism.
The truth is likely a blend of many factors – however, one is certainly psychological.
We millennials like to have options. We value our independence and sense of self. We embrace opportunity. We put a very high premium on our personal freedom.
And as such, we are more hesitant than any generation before to make lifetime commitments.
Contrary to popular belief, the millennial generation is not out having wild and indiscriminate sex with tons of strangers. In fact, according to The Journal of Sex Research, millennial students are not any more promiscuous than those in the generation before us. Their research indicated that 31.6 percent of students attending college between 2002 and 2010 reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year. College students from 1988 to 1996 had reported a nearly identical 31.9 percent.
Other quantitative research goes even further in support of this theory. The Washington Post reported that millennials are actually engaging with fewer sexual partners than either of the two generations before. Baby Boomers were reported to average about eleven partners throughout their adulthood. Generation X averaged ten. Millennials, however, can expect an average of only eight.
Hookup culture, it would seem, may still play a role in our falling marital rates – just not in the way that we thought.
Tinder may be keeping us from walking down the aisle – but it’s not because our access to it is filling our calendars with one night stands. Rather, it’s overwhelming our minds with choices. An abundance of options sounds great in theory. In reality, however, it can become more paralyzing than liberating.
As Caroline Beaton wrote in “Why Millennials Are so Stressed—and What to Do about It”, the millennial habit of keeping an eye on our choices can ironically end up limiting our paths to happiness. After all, why settle down and love the one you’re with when there are thousands of others at your fingertips? The problem isn’t an abundance of perfect options – it’s an overwhelming amount of options that are almost-perfect-but-not-quite.
We feel compelled to keep searching. Most often, we don’t even know what it is we’re looking for. We just know we haven’t quite found it.
So, what can we do about this?
We can give ourselves permission to stop searching for perfection. Instead, focus on what is important to you. Keep your eye on your date’s substantial qualities. Choose to give a man who is kind and funny and highly intelligent a pass on his bad table manners. If you love a woman’s mind, spirit, and soul, you can certainly learn to overlook her radical political views.
Or maybe you can’t. Maybe political compatibility is important to you.
The point is to find out.
Make a list of things that you value in a partner, and commit to giving second chances to imperfections that fall outside of those boundaries. As Paul Oyer, an economics professor at Stanford University, suggests, we may need to broaden our scope and stop demanding flawlessness from our partners. “Just as everybody accepts a job that doesn’t have that last little perk they wanted, at some point you have to accept a life partner.”
Kristen Dombek of the New York Times agrees with this premise. “When we find what we want,” she says, “it’s because we stop researching our options and treating our date as data to be mined, categorized, passed over or locked down.” Look at your partner as a whole person, rather than as the sum of their dating profile parts. You might find that their true personality is much more appealing than their Tinder story would suggest.