In 2020, getting married became an act of rebellion and imprudence. Scores of weddings were either postponed or profoundly circumscribed. But it didn’t take a virus to damage the marital impulse. Matrimony has been slowly developing herd immunity in the West for forty years now. According to the Census Bureau, only 35 percent of twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-old American men were married in 2018, a steep slide from 50 percent in 2005.
Given the longstanding privilege accorded to marriage within Christianity, I wondered whether the faithful would long resist the turn away from marriage. After a team of researchers and I interviewed nearly 200 young adult Christians in seven nations, the takeaway was clear. Marriage is slowing among Christians, too, from Mexico City to Moscow, Beirut to Lagos. In an era of new options, more choices, greater temptations, high expectations, consistent anxiety, and endemic uncertainty, nothing about the process of marrying can be taken for granted—even among those belonging to a faith that has long encouraged it. In an era of independence, intentionally becoming interdependent seems increasingly risky.
Fear of Marriage
One might think that Ander, a twenty-five-year-old Spanish physician-in-training preparing to marry another doctor after years of dating, would exhibit more confidence. Nope. I asked Ander what he’s afraid of. “Not to be free,” he said. “Tied to someone. Compromised. Things you don’t know that you don’t know. Maybe we’re okay now, but not later.” When I asked him what exactly he feared might happen, Ander observed, “Differences arise in a couple. The other person is different than you thought they were.” I pointed out that they had dated for six years and wondered aloud, “Isn’t that long enough?” He replied, “I feel like I don’t know her that well after six years.”
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