by Andrea Puckett

In 1973, my parents got married. My mother was 21 and my father was 26. My mother only dated one man her whole life and was a virgin until her wedding night. My parents dated three years before they were married and endured a long distance relationship while my father was finishing up college. They were married seven years before they had me and my mother at 28 was thought to be too old, by her friends, to have children. Today, they have been married for over 30 years and are still a happy couple.

That was my model for a heterosexual relationship that I grew up with. Until I was 19 I really thought I would follow in their footsteps and would fall madly in love with the first guy I dated. However, I got a rude awakening when the first guy that I dated rejected me and told me that I would be great in a few years when I had more experience. I was crushed not only by his rejection but because my notion of a heterogeneous relationship that I had grown up with didn’t really exist today. I discovered that I would have to kiss many frogs to find one guy that I even liked.

In College, I began dating and having relationships with my male friends. I found a lot of fun times but nothing like the experience that my mother had. By the age of 21, I lived with my boyfriend in a monogamous relationship. My parents really hated the idea that I was living with a man out of wedlock and that we were sexually active without being married or even thinking about it. Eventually, they accepted the idea and supported my decision even thought they made it known that they would not have made that decision.

In 2005 America, in most social groups, it is not a stigma for a person to live with another person in a relationship and not be married. Unlike my family whose parents are still in a loving relationship after 30 plus years, many of the twenty-somethings that live with people or date for extended period of time often are reacting to the high divorce rate in the United States. They don’t want to end up like their parents who ended up divorced and got married out of obligation or did what they thought they should do.

Marriage and Tradition
Today, the traditional notion of marriage is not the same for every couple. It is almost unrealistic to expect women to be virgins on their wedding night with the age of first marriages increasing to the late 20s to early 30s. I have friends that believe that they are really traditional and maintain the image around their families that they don’t sleep with each other and are not going to live together before marriage. For some, this keeps the parents happy because they come from a different perspective on marriage. However, what they forget to mention is when their parents are away they stay with each other and act as a monogamous sexually active couple with separate residences. Also, I have friends that live with each other for years in a committed relationship and feel that marriage is just a legal binding contract.

There are all forms of marriages that involve homosexual and heterosexual unions. However, unlike when my parents started their relationship, the social norms around dating have loosened. Dating is more about finding someone to have a fun time with than finding a soul mate. Most people I know don’t even go on formal dates but just begin hanging out with people and then a relationship develops over long hours of playing Play Station 2 or watching movies. Also, you have people that just have buddies they have sex with but do not have a relationship with. Many of these people have tried traditional dating and don’t want to be alone but don’t see a future developing with the person that they are sex buddies with.

21st Century Wondering
In the twenty-first century, people are waiting longer to settle down. People can afford to start families at older ages because of the advances of fertility drugs and that gives people options. Also, with more women working, the idea of having to have a husband for financial support no longer is a necessity. Many women are having families and supporting them on their own. One of my college professors was 40 when she adopted two children from Russia. She told me she waited for Mr. Right but he never came so she adopted.

The key to modern relationships is having a choice and being in a society where what is thought of as traditional relationships takes on a new meaning. People have different perspectives. Modern dating is a choice. The Pill and other contraceptive choices have given women a choice in producing families and the ability to have professions outside of the home have liberated women with the option of when to create families on their own terms.

The world is not the same one that my parents grew up in. Mr. Right is often Mr. Right Now and finding Mr. Right is often not a life step but a process. There are many different forms of socially acceptable relationships but all you can do is find one that works for you and develop a caring relationship and label it what you will. With the extended use and availability of fertility drugs who knows what is too old to settle down? Our generation is different than our parent’s generation, but like them we are figuring out relationships one day at a time. What worked for one generation may not work for this generation and I am glad that we have options to create the family we want and the freedom to explore all options.