By: Roni Caryn Rabin – nytimes.com – May 29, 2018
The millennial generation’s breezy approach to sexual intimacy helped give rise to apps like Tinder and made phrases like “hooking up” and “friends with benefits” part of the lexicon.
But when it comes to serious lifelong relationships, new research suggests, millennials proceed with caution.
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies romance and a consultant to the dating site Match.com, has come up with the phrase “fast sex, slow love” to describe the juxtaposition of casual sexual liaisons and long-simmering committed relationships.
Young adults are not only marrying and having children later in life than previous generations, but taking more time to get to know each other before they tie the knot. Indeed, some spend the better part of a decade as friends or romantic partners before marrying, according to new research by eHarmony, another online dating site.
The eHarmony report on relationships found that American couples aged 25 to 34 knew each other for an average of six and a half years before marrying, compared with an average of five years for all other age groups.
The report was based on online interviews with 2,084 adults who were either married or in long-term relationships, and was conducted by Harris Interactive. The sample was demographically representative of the United States for age, gender and geographic region, though it was not nationally representative for other factors like income, so its findings are limited. But experts said the results accurately reflect the consistent trend toward later marriages documented by national census figures.
Julianne Simson, 24, and her boyfriend, Ian Donnelly, 25, are typical. They have been dating since they were in high school and have lived together in New York City since graduating from college, but are in no rush to get married.
Ms. Simson said she feels “too young” to be married. “I’m still figuring out so many things,” she said. “I’ll get married when my life is more in order.”
She has a long to-do list to get through before then, starting with the couple paying down student loans and gaining more financial security. She’d like to travel and explore different careers, and is considering law school.
“Since marriage is a partnership, I’d like to know who I am and what I’m able to offer financially and how stable I am, before I’m committed legally to someone,” Ms. Simson said. “My mom says I’m removing all the romance from the equation, but I know there’s more to marriage than just love. If it’s just love, I’m not sure it would work.”
Sociologists, psychologists and other experts who study relationships say that this practical no-nonsense attitude toward marriage has become more the norm as women have piled into the work force in recent decades. During that time, the median age of marriage has risen to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women in 2017, up from 23 for men and 20.8 for women in 1970.
Both men and women now tend to want to advance their careers before settling down. Many are carrying student debt and worry about the high cost of housing.
They often say they would like to be married before starting a family, but some express ambivalence about having children. Most important, experts say, they want a strong foundation for marriage so they can get it right — and avoid divorce.
“People are not postponing marriage because they care about marriage less, but because they care about marriage more,” said Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, calls these “capstone marriages.” “The capstone is the last brick you put in place to build an arch,” Dr. Cherlin said. “Marriage used to be the first step into adulthood. Now it is often the last.
“For many couples, marriage is something you do when you have the whole rest of your personal life in order. Then you bring family and friends together to celebrate.”
Just as childhood and adolescence are becoming more protracted in the modern era, so is courtship and the path to commitment, Dr. Fisher said.
“With this long pre-commitment stage, you have time to learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with other partners. So that by the time you walk down the aisle, you know what you’ve got, and you think you can keep what you’ve got,” Dr. Fisher said.
Most singles still yearn for a serious romantic relationship, even if these relationships often have unorthodox beginnings, she said. Nearly 70 percent of singles surveyed by Match.com recently as part of its eighth annual report on singles in America said they wanted a serious relationship.
The report, released earlier this year, is based on the responses of over 5,000 people 18 and over living in the United States and was carried out by Research Now, a market research company, in collaboration with Dr. Fisher and Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. As with eHarmony’s report, its findings are limited because the sample was representative for certain characteristics, like gender, age, race and region, but not for others like income or education.
Participants said serious relationships started one of three ways: with a first date; a friendship; or a “friends with benefits” relationship, meaning a friendship with sex. But millennials were slightly more likely than other generations to have a friendship or a friends with benefits relationship evolve into a romance or a committed relationship.
Over half of millennials who said they had had a friends with benefits relationship said it evolved into a romantic relationship, compared with 41 percent of Gen Xers and 38 percent of baby boomers. And some 40 percent of millennials said a platonic friendship had evolved into a romantic relationship, with nearly one-third of the 40 percent saying the romantic attachment grew into a serious, committed relationship.
Alan Kawahara, 27, and Harsha Royyuru, 26, met in the fall of 2009 when they started Syracuse University’s five-year architecture program and were thrown into the same intensive freshman design studio class that convened for four hours a day, three days a week.
They were soon part of the same close circle of friends, and though Ms. Royyuru recalls having “a pretty obvious crush on Alan right away,” they started dating only in the spring of the following year.
After graduation, when Mr. Kawahara landed a job in Boston and Ms. Royyuru found one in Kansas City, they kept the relationship going by flying back and forth between the two cities every six weeks to see each other. After two years, they were finally able to relocate to Los Angeles together.
Ms. Royyuru said that while living apart was challenging, “it was amazing for our personal growth, and for our relationship. It helped us figure out who we are as individuals.”
During a recent trip to London to mark their seventh anniversary together, Mr. Kawahara officially popped the question.
Now they’re planning a wedding that will draw from both Ms. Royyuru’s family’s Indian traditions and Mr. Kawahara’s Japanese-American traditions. But it will take a while, the two said.
“I’ve been telling my parents, ‘18 months minimum,’ ” Ms. Royyuru said. “They weren’t thrilled about it, but I’ve always had an independent streak.”
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