Marriage was never at the top of my priority list. Maybe it’s because I’m the child of divorced parents. Or it might be that I’ve always been more focused on my career and professional aspirations. Whatever the reason, marriage didn’t mean a lot to me growing up, and—to be totally honest—I don’t know if that’s changed even as an adult.
Of course, like most women, I’ve thought about marriage and what it would be like. I was open to the idea assuming I met the right person, but I avoided implementing a strict timeline. I was especially wary of committing to anyone in my 20s, a time that’s all about defining and exploring your identity. How can you know who you want to spend the rest of your life with when you’re fresh out of college, navigating the real world for the first time, and barely know yourself? That seemed ill-advised to say the least. I could’ve been on my own for decades if that’s how long it took to find my match. I often imagined being the perpetually single friend who “just didn’t feel like settling down.”
Then I met my fiancé.
He came along much sooner than I anticipated. We met when I was 17, but we didn’t start dating until I was 22. Even though I knew early on in our relationship that I could envision a very real—and very married—future with him, we held off on tying the knot to focus on, well, life. In two years’ time, we made our way across the country, moving from Arizona to Nebraska to Washington, D.C. We transitioned between apartments and jobs, and we made jet-setting our pastime of choice.
Marriage was virtually an inevitability for us, so we saw no point in rushing to walk down the aisle. It would happen eventually—did it really matter if I was 30 instead of 22?
As it turns out, yes. But not in the way you might think. Millennials are the scapegoat of our time. We’re frequently accused of “killing” just about every industry and concept you can think of, from chain restaurants to home ownership. And according to new research, we might also be responsible for killing divorce.
University of Maryland professor Philip Cohen found that from 2008 to 2016, the U.S. divorce rate dropped by 18 percent. The reason? "The overall drop has been driven entirely by younger women," Cohen writes. The study notes that newly married women are now "more likely to be in their first marriages, more likely to have BA degrees or higher education, less likely to be under age 25, and less likely to have own children in the household," all of which Cohen suggests can affect the risk of divorce.
He’s perfectly describing me. And I won’t lie—these revelations do provide some peace of mind. It’s comforting to see scientific evidence that backs up my own personal belief system for putting marriage on hold for most of my 20s. After all, lowering my chances of getting divorced down the road is definitely an added bonus.
I reached out to other millennial women who have pressed the pause button on marriage to learn more about the factors influencing their decision. They opened up about societal pressures, pushing back against noisy family members, and whether these new research findings have affected their choice to put saying “I do” on the back burner.
Confronting the myth of “the right time” to get married
Millennials came of age during the advent of social media, so it’s not surprising that its ubiquity has influenced how we think about—and plan for—major milestones, including marriage. And if you’re not careful, social media can send you down a rabbit hole of engagement announcements and ring photos that could cause an existential crisis. “I started to feel societal pressure to find someone to marry when I was in my mid-20s, largely because I kept seeing my high school and college friends drop like flies to the marriage calling,” Holly Shaftel, a 29-year-old science writer by day and dating coach by night, tells Brides. “One by one, that ‘engaged’ status kept popping up on Facebook, and I wanted to keep up with the Joneses. I was comparing my own timeline to theirs and wondering why I hadn’t met the man of my dreams yet.”
These days, Shaftel refers to that mindset as “totally silly” and has reassessed what marriage—and divorce—mean to her. “Eventually, I met the man that I’ve been with for four years and counting,” Shaftel says. About a year or two into their relationship, she felt it was time that he pop the question. But they were on “slightly different pages” about having kids, so taking the next step is on hold for now. When it comes to Cohen’s research, Shaftel says she has “even more confidence” in their decision to wait. “I think, subconsciously, another reason we haven’t hopped into marriage is that we want to avoid the possibility of divorce,” she shares. “Obviously, you don’t have to worry about divorce and all of its baggage if you haven’t legally bound your love. By being together for as long as we have, we’ve been able to maintain relationship stability that will hopefully continue if we decide to tie the knot. We will have years of practice by then.”
Reconciling cultures and managing expectations
For Vanessa Colosio Diaz, 32, the idea of marriage has always been somewhat elusive. “When I was a little girl, I had a hard time picturing a wedding day,” she says. “I pictured myself in my late 20s and early 30s, wearing a pencil skirt and heels, working and living in a big city. Independence is essential to me, and so is equality in a relationship.” Also essential? Being able to live life on her own terms, regardless of what others might think. “Being from a Mexican-American family, I started to get the marriage question in my mid-20s from extended family,” she shares. “While at a quinceañera, I fired back that even if and when I was to get married, it would be a small ceremony somewhere outside of the U.S. and Mexico. So although they would get an invite, most would not attend—they have mostly left me alone since.”
While Colosio Diaz, an entrepreneur and advocate, describes Cohen’s report as “encouraging,” she says it doesn’t really affect her already established views on marriage and the possibility of splitting up. “It’s great to hear, but each situation is different,” she shares. “I’ve had friends and family go through a divorce, and it is not pretty. I always thought I’d instead find the right person later in life than the wrong person overall, but right for that present time. I’ve been in a few serious relationships, and I learned a lot from each one. I grew as a person, and I found what I was and was not looking for in a relationship.”
Putting it all in perspective
Like many people in their 20s, Marissa Piette thought she had everything figured out. “I am naturally competitive and naively wanted to ‘beat’ my mom’s age at marriage—27—and get hitched by 26,” Piette says. “Funny enough, my parents always encouraged me to wait until my 30s to marry. At the time I thought that was ancient.” Now, at 31, Piette says she realizes “that life partners don't exactly materialize on your timeline” and that having time to yourself is just as important as carving out time to find a potential spouse. “Once I hit 26, I felt that I still had a lot of room to grow as an individual. There were dreams I wanted to chase that I wasn't willing to stop or change out of consideration for another person.”
Cohen’s study reinforces a lot of what Piette, a director of client strategy and development, had suspected about marriage and divorce. “Divorce is front of mind with me, specifically when it comes to whether I want to get married at all,” she explains. “I’ve seen family members have their lives turned upside down by divorce after entering into marriages with full intentions to live out their vows. We’re living longer, we’re more aware of how people change throughout the course of life, and we’re more realistic about the probability of a relationship lasting for 50-plus years. I think about all of these factors when considering marriage or whether a relationship I’m in can go the distance.”