Why young adults should rethink the role of marriage in their lives
I was talking to one of my mentors over the weekend, and a very interesting topic of conversation blossomed.
Having very particular intrigue about the younger generation and our perspectives about all things life, my mentor shared with me that when she’s around young adults, she likes to ask them how they are thinking about the big commitments in their lives: what career to go into, where to live, whom to marry and so on.
Most of them, or rather us have thought a lot about our career plans. But her impression is that many us have not thought a lot about how marriage will fit into our lives.
The common operating assumption seems to be that professional life is at the core of life and that marriage would be something nice to add on top sometime down the road.
According to an analysis of recent survey data by the University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox, 75 percent of adults ages 18 to 40 said that making a good living was crucial to fulfillment in life while only 32 percent thought that marriage was crucial to fulfillment.
In a Pew Research Center survey, 88 percent of parents said it was “extremely or very” important for their kids to be financially independent, while only 21 percent said it was “extremely or very” important for their kids to marry.
It’s not that I meet many people who are against marriage. Today, as in the past, a vast majority of Kenyans would like to tie the knot someday. It’s just that it’s not exactly top of mind.
Fewer people believe that marriage is vitally important. In 2006, 50 percent of young adults said it was very important for a couple to marry if they intended to spend the rest of their lives together. But by 2020, only 29 percent of young adults said that.
Many people have shifted in the way they conceive of marriage. To use the sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s language, they no longer view it as the “cornerstone” of their lives; they view it as the “capstone” — something to enter into after they’ve successfully established themselves as adults.
Partly as a result of these attitudes, there is less marriage in Kenya today. The marriage rate is close to the lowest level in Kenya’s history.
As I confront my peers, and generally young adults who think this way, I am seized by an unfortunate urge to sermonise.
I want to put a hand on their shoulder and say: Look, there are many reasons you may not find marital happiness in your life.
Maybe you won’t be able to find a financially stable partner, or one who wants to commit. Maybe you’ll marry a great person but find yourselves drifting apart.
But don’t let it be because you didn’t prioritise marriage. Don’t let it be because you didn’t think hard about marriage when you were young.
Knowing I am one of the many young people who prioritises her career over anything else, My mentor advised me to obsess less about my career and to think a lot more about marriage.
She emphasised that I respect the truism that if you have a great career and a crappy marriage you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career you will be happy.
She added that I use my youthful years as a chance to have romantic relationships so I’ll have some practice when it comes time to wed. And quite honestly, I believe her. I believe that even if you’re years away, you should read books on how to decide whom to marry.
On my end, this is not just softhearted sentimentality I’m offering. There are mountains of evidence to show that intimate relationships, not career, are at the core of life, and that those intimate relationships will have a downstream effect on everything else you do.