Marriage High Expectations

Judging by statistics, marriage is more popular today than it has ever been. In America today, 84.8 percent of the men and 84.5 percent of the women between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four are married. Because marriage is a social institution that has been with us for a long time, we have some widely accepted understandings about what a marriage ought to be. We can say that most Americans see marriage as the deepest, most vital partnership in a person's life. We tend to look to it for an experience of growth and vitality that we hope will be richly rewarding to both husband and wife. These high expectations with regard to marriage derive from the traditions of romanticism, Western Christian teachings about monogamy, concern for the preservation of private property, and the high esteem with which our culture regards personal freedom.

What seems to be happening in America today, however, is that, while we may be in some ways expecting greater things of marriage than we have in the past, we also are willing (or forced) to settle for much less. Study after study sadly suggests that marriage today typically is a quite colorless affair. These studies suggest that at least a near majority of us have settled for marriages of convenience that are at best merely comfortable because they have become routinized and demand little of the partners. If our understanding of what is happening is correct, the image that more and more young people are acquiring of marriage is not a good one. On the college campuses coeds talk of not marrying at all because of their distaste for housewifery and domestic roles. Young men and women are deferring marriage longer and longer before taking the final step. Our impersonal society generates a high level of loneliness and a foreboding sense of separation. A part of our apparent eagerness to enter into marriage, therefore, may be seen not as the result of an attraction to marriage but as an attempt to escape from the loneliness and impersonality of our technologically driven society. Americans thus tend to come to marriage with high expectations and great needs at a time when the institution of marriage is being subjected to enormous social pressures which make it difficult for persons to realize these expectations in marriage.