It’s a familiar image: two people beaming at the camera, arms wrapped around each other and a diamond ring glinting in the sunshine. Except the photo I saw recently was my best friend announcing her engagement to her boyfriend of two years. At 26 and 28 years old, they are so in love and perfect for each other yet the first thing I felt was relief that it wasn’t me. But let me be clear, my relief is not based on malice, or anti-marriage views, or because I want to be single forever. It’s because as a 27 year old single female, marriage is the last thing on my mind right now.
For many millennials I’ve spoken to, as well as for me, this past year encouraged us to re-prioritise certain aspects in our lives and to use our time wisely. We’ve focused more on ourselves, attempted to work out what we actually want in life and re-evaluated what really matters. And right now, there are plenty of other things which matter more to me other than the sanctity of marriage.
However, this frame of mind is constantly lambasted. Despite the growing trend to get married later in life, millennials are under a constant (and I would say socially accepted) pressure to line up a partner. Traditional social norms apply considerable pressures on us to ask ourselves whether we are at the right stage in life, whether we are doing what we should be doing and ultimately to have it all (house, partner, career, children…). As women, we are regularly invited to panic about our ticking biological clock, especially if we aren’t married by 30, and have children by 35. This attitude reinforces age old opinions that a) we need to get married and have children to be an accepted member of society b) if we don’t we will be the next Miss Havisham.
I recently had a conversation with a group of guys who felt that women aged 27 and above should only be on dating apps to find a husband. Absolute codswallop. And then come the romantic comedies which often reinforce these views. As millennials, we have grown up with Katherine Heigl struggling to find the one but always managing to find him in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a good rom-com, and Katherine Heigl is great, but this genre can breed unrealistic and damaging expectations whilst reinforcing antiquated social ideals.
Social media can also be detrimental in emphasising these archaic attitudes by putting pressure on people to only post the best parts in life. This can prompt us to compare ourselves and our situations to others in a digital world where so much of it isn’t real. Mental health start-up Sanctus reports that 62% of people feel inadequate comparing their lives to those online and it is easy to see why. The morphed reality of social media can be utterly overwhelming and the constant wheel of comparison desperately depressing.
Moreover, getting married or being in an intense relationship during a time of such uncertainty and national crisis is not something I want. Restrictions have imposed serious strains on many relationships, which have had to choose between 24/7 contact or none at all. Lockdown has burst many romantic bubbles. Over 132,000 couples postponed their weddings in 2020 and I cannot count on both hands the amount of couples I know which have broken up over the pandemic. In fact counselling charity Relate reports that millennials’ relationships were hardest hit by lockdown. What’s more, divorce rates have risen consistently over the past 50 years and the pandemic is expected to make no exception to this trend. Eric Robinson Solicitors anticipates divorce rates amongst millennials will increase over the rest of 2021.
So, who can be blamed for not jumping on the marriage bandwagon?
Such is the intense burden of marriage and dating these days that new dating app Thursday only lets users log on once a week (yes it’s a Thursday) with the aim of taking the pressure off being single and dating. Evidently, the social pressures faced by millennials today add further complexities to the labyrinth of life.
But if you have marriage all lined up or if it is the last thing on your mind, it doesn’t matter either way. Because whatever path you choose, you shouldn’t be lambasted for it.
Written by Emma Cole