For some of us, functional marriages may seem like urban legends—they might have existed, perhaps during the age of our great grandparents' coming-to-America love story, but somewhere down the line—the 60s, maybe?—they were lost in the mists of time. Divorce rates peaked around 1980 and have fallen somewhat in the last decade and a half, but marriage rates have followed suit. So as recent generations grew comfortable with marriages breaking in two, the trend today seems as if families must fail in order to form in the first place.
The obstacles between Millennials and Greatest Generation–type marriages, once assumed to be the happy default, are many. We're overeducated, underemployed, debt-ridden, still living with our parents, and to hear some pundits tell it, also unable to commit to anything—a job, a religion, and of course, a partner. In 2013, a mere 26 percent of young adults aged 18 to 33 were married, and if that trend continues, a quarter of this generation might remain unhitched long into their 40s, or even later. And there's evidence that the institution of marriage itself is eroding: One study reported that 43 percent of millennials support a form of marriage that would allow couples to dissolve their union after a two-year "trial run."
But ask your local statistician: Have you been on Facebook lately? In the six-month period that encompasses "engagement season" and "wedding season," it feels like I don't go a day without seeing my newsfeed cluttered with twentysomething bridal shower photos, proposal videos, "Why I'm Marrying My Best Friend" proclamations, and, for single guests in attendance, self-help posts for how to attend and survive your first wedding as an adult. It would seem as if there's a culture clash forming, between those who Pinterest-prep their dream day, and others who condemn it with the fire of a thousand suns.
In an attempt to bridge the gap, VICE went in search of engaged and newly married Millennial couples to ask, basically, why? What are they thinking? Are they plagued with the same doubts that follow the rest of us around? Do they think of an expiration date? And what makes them confident enough to stand up in front of everyone they know, and make a promise to each other for the rest of their lives?
Lindy Law Pinkalla, 24, and Christopher Pinkalla, 29
Married Three Months
Christopher: Let's just be real: I feel like marriage is a bit of a flawed institution, and I think for some people it's like, "Why even bother?" It's a little unnatural to be with somebody and sign up for one person to have sex with your entire life, so I think people are looking at that and younger people are like, "Fuck that. I don't want to do that."
I came from a family where my mom remarried four times. My dad also remarried. But I knew that I wanted to take [marriage] very seriously. It's something you gotta work towards, but it's also amazing if you can do it the right way, and for the right reasons. I felt like Lindy was the one, and we were gonna make this work and make it happen. And we were happy in that moment in time, so I don't think I stressed myself out thinking, "Oh, is this the right decision?" It was more of a romantic, idealistic type of decision. In a good way, though. It was sort of beautiful.
Lindy: We tried to plan a wedding and every time we tried, I burst into tears. We didn't have the money and we couldn't get the money for what was expected. Once we decided to elope and do our own thing, I was so relieved. It was raining out. We woke up. Everyone made breakfast. We went out to Point Dume in Malibu. We winged it. None of us rehearsed anything. His best friend married us. My best friend was there with us. A friend from college took pictures. We went back to a beach house and ate Taco Bell, watched Netflix, and listened to music all day. It was perfect. We didn't talk to anyone on the phone that day. We spent it with each other and our two best friends.
I would never just tell people to get married. I don't think it's for everybody, and I think it is really hard and you have to work for it. You have to know [that] if shit hits the fan, you're gonna have to figure it out. But I feel like so much of our generation, when shit hits the fan, they don't want to figure it out. That's where I feel like Chris and I have been different. We have had our obstacles and we've figured it out, and we continue to figure it out.
Stacy Omogah, 24, and Justin Korelc, 37
Engaged Six Months
Stacy: I never thought I would get married young. My plan was to get married around maybe 27, 28. But I guess when you meet the person that you want to marry, there's really no point in waiting. My feelings wouldn't change. I might as well get married now. I never grew up with the cohabitating mindset, so getting married seemed like the right choice.
With our engagement, I waited several months to put that on Facebook, so I could tell my friends and my family first. It's really easy to get sucked into Facebook. I guess that's another pressure because when you post all those things—if you have to break an engagement, or break a marriage—you're going to have to announce the bad, too. Recently I haven't posted as much as I did at the beginning of our relationship, just because I don't need or want everyone to know every part of our relationship.
I'm fascinated when people propose [today], because I see the trend that, more often than not, people are cohabiting or having kids out of wedlock. I mean, you're still doing the same thing, but I feel like when you have a marriage, you know what a marriage is and what you're supposed to do in a marriage. I'm a strong Christian. I feel like by growing closer to God, we're able to be better people for each other. If we weren't becoming better Christians and better people, I don't think we would be able to survive a marriage, especially in this day and time, when things are completely different. There are so many things coming at you every single day, and when you don't have that center for support, then it's really easy to stray away from that.
Justin: I think one of the important things here is, before I met Stacy, I wandered way off the path, and after meeting her, she brought me back to a Biblical belief system of family life and relationship life and the Biblical husband that I'm supposed to be. I think it aligned with a lot of the principles that I already had, but I deviated from the worship center of it.
To be a Biblical husband, there's a lot of ownership in that. You have to actually own what your behavior patterns are in a relationship. You have to fully own what your expectations are as a husband and as a father. There are certain things that you have to uphold and be accountable for in the way that you walk through that marriage commitment and the way that you enforce those behavior patterns to your children, so that they can also see what it is to be a role model and living in those sort of patterns.
Andrea Gilliland, 24, And Colton Gilliland, 26
Married Four Months
Colton: Andrea was living at home at the time [of the proposal], and she comes from a really traditional family, so there was not the option of living together and trying that whole thing out before we got married. I'm not saying that's the reason why I married her—I knew that I wanted to marry her—but I knew it couldn't be a soft transition. Nowadays, a lot of people move in together and test those waters, and if that's good, they move onto sharing a dog, and then they get married. They're scared of leaping into it all at once. In this case, she was kind of forced [to] because of the way she was raised, and I had faith that I loved her enough to marry her. So we took the leap and decided to get married.
Andrea: I am still shocked that we're married. Sometimes I'll look at him and I'll be like, "Oh my God. You're my husband!" I couldn't say the word husband for the first two weeks. It was odd. Of course I wanted to marry him, but the transition overall was really tough for me. I'm very close with my family. I never went off to college. I never had roommates. I never did the dorm. I didn't do any of that. Colton is the first person I moved out with, so that was really hard. He talked me through it, though. There were a couple of tears here and there. The day after our wedding, the apartment just seemed so quiet to me. I just started crying and I didn't understand why, but he talked me through it and was really patient.
Britt Tovar, 25, and Isabel López, 25
Married One Year
Britt:I had been a marriage equality activist for several years. I got arrested for doing a nonviolent, civil disobedience action for Valentine's Day through an organization called GetEQUAL, so I've always been very passionate about marriage equality. At the time when I [protested], though, I didn't really understand the emotional strings that are attached to the institution of marriage like I do now.
I came from a broken home, so it's easy to think about divorce. There's something in the back of your mind that's always thinking, "You're gonna fuck this up, and they're gonna wake up one day and realize they chose the wrong person." That is a constant battle that I'm always having—having to shut that person up, and focus on what I can do to make marriage a good experience. For me, it's scary to think about divorce because I witnessed it, so my fatalistic perspective is always gonna be there, but in terms of "forever," if Isabel wanted to one day be with someone else, or she wanted to leave because she was unhappy, I would have to, of course, let her go. Because the ultimate goal of this whole thing is happiness.
I do everything that I can to make her happy and our home happy, and if she wasn't OK, I wouldn't want to keep her for just me. That seems so selfish.
Isabel: The day we got married, Britt was working at a law firm where they always kept the news on. I was at home and she calls me and says that the SCOTUS ruling had just passed, so gay people were now able to get married. So she said, "Let's do it! We need to go right now." We thought that it would somehow be overturned, and that we would, at least, be able to be married for a few minutes. So I guess, technically, she proposed. That day, I think, for me, there was a little bit of guilt, because I kept seeing couples that were older and had been together for way longer than we'd been together, and they'd been fighting and hoping for this all of their lives. So seeing them and comparing them to our relationship, it was a little guilt-provoking.
Sebastian Mendieta, 23, and Kaitlyn Delaney, 24
Engaged One Month
Kaitlyn: So we're kind of a fast couple. We met in August. Then we moved in together in November. Got a dog. Started talking about marriage in January. Then we actually got engaged in May. Because of our timeline being so sped up, we've had to take a step back and be like, "Do we not want to [get married] because we care about what other people deem is an appropriate timeline? Or are we going to do what we feel happy doing?"
I had a lot of hesitancy at first. I didn't even tell some of my closer friends from high school that we were moving in together, and a lot of them—maybe to some fault of my own—were really surprised when we got engaged. I had friends who were really supportive and nice, but I have some friends who still haven't said anything to me. It hurts a lot less than I thought it was going to. Whether it's moving in or getting engaged or meeting each other's families, I think every step of the way Sebastian and I have been like, "This is what feels right." We're proud to do these things with each other.
Sebastian: I come from a divorced household. I actually saw when my mom caught my dad cheating on her. I was about eight years old and I remember being somewhat traumatized, seeing my mother falling and crying. Their relationship was fractured. So I had this distorted outlook on marriage based on my parents, but at the same time, I had really incredible uncles with great wives and I could see that a relationship also stems from teamwork. It's not perfect, but you build to create something. When I met Kaitlyn, for me, marriage was the ultimate way to show ourselves that I'm 100-percent positive this is the person I saw a future with. Whether that's her and I traveling together around the world as best friends, or eventually down the road, raising a family. There's certain things we want to do before that happens, but marriage was just a way to commemorate that very pure love and commitment.
Angela Almeida is a freelance journalist based in Queens, New York. Her reporting can be found in The Atlantic, MSNBC.com, and Elle.com, among other outlets. Follow her on Twitter.