Countless young single Americans may, on the surface enjoy the perceived freedom that comes without a commitment to one person. If they have an active social life, they often say they enjoy having numerous relationships with varied individuals.
But deep down, when you ask questions that go beyond the superficial, they express their ache for that special relationship with a person they can commit to and connect with for life. As Dan Edmunds writes, “Though we may put many around us, we are alone.”
Many of these singles yearn to be married, but the institutions that provided the opportunity to meet a lifetime spouse have weakened, such as families, churches, and community organizations. For many, this breakdown of community has led to what Edmunds describes as the “breakdown of persons.”
So, why are singles choosing not to get married and becoming more isolated? A recent study by the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute provides some interesting reasons.
While many assume that lack of money or having a stable job in today’s economic uncertainty would be the main reasons people are choosing not to get married, they would be erroneous in doing so. Instead, the number one reason cited by singles for not getting married was what they perceived to be the difficulty in finding the right person to marry.
Regardless of income, a vast majority of singles who desire marriage want their future spouse to be “responsible,” “emotionally stable,” and share the same values about having and raising children.
I would agree these are the traits one should be looking for in a future spouse, and marrying someone who is not responsible, emotionally unstable, or on the same page regarding parenting is a recipe for marital disaster. Unfortunately, with the societal breakdown of the family and the lack of marital and parental role models available to young people today, many singles are finding potential spouses with these traits harder to find.
These role models are found in churches, strong families, and community organizations. Without these institutions, which provide the nurturing environment that produces healthy, responsible, and stable adults, young men and women are finding it more difficult to find a suitable lifelong mate.
Without strong families, it is difficult to find strong and secure adults. It is these institutions that promote the common good and personal responsibility – the very traits that most singles say they are looking for in a spouse.
This is borne out by the second most cited reason for not getting married: not being ready for commitment, of which the percentage of men (34 percent) and women (32 percent) are nearly the same. Fear of commitment often is the result of experiencing broken relationships with a mother or father at some time in one’s development, or the lack of a loving, supportive community.
In fact, 19 percent of both men and women surveyed said that “fear of divorce” was a primary reason they remained unmarried. Thus, these singles want to be married and make a lifelong commitment to a relationship but are scared off out of fear that it might not last, as they have seen played out too many times in our society, even in their own families.
So it might not be the fear of getting married, but the fear of making the wrong decision in choosing a lifelong mate that is keeping people from getting married. As a result, they become emotionally paralyzed about relationships. When I talk with singles, or with friends who were single for longer than they really wanted to be, that is the message that always seems to come through.
The delay in getting married, or not getting married at all, also has profound consequences for our society. The longer marriage is delayed, the less likely couples are to have multiple children, or any children at all. The result will be an increasingly aging society that does not have enough young taxpayers to support the entitlements of a rapidly growing older population. This is a scenario for economic disaster for all.
Finally, marriage is a stabilizing force for men, women, and children. As the survey points found, the number one trait people look for in a spouse is responsibility. When two people get married, their focus, hopefully, becomes on one another and the children they produce, rather than on themselves. Self-gratification fades away as one sees beyond their wants and instead concentrates on the needs of others.
For these reasons, it is essential that we encourage and strengthen the very institutions – families, churches, and community associations – that will produce healthy young adults who will become responsible spouses and parents. As Maggie Gallagher has written, “Something about marriage as a social institution — a shared aspiration and a public, legal vow — gives wedlock the power to change individuals’ lives.”
By creating healthy environments that encourage marriage, singles can form stable lifelong relationships and with that stability strengthen our society – in the short and long term — as well. We can once again be a society of connected, rather than broken, people.