Reading Time: 4 minutes

Millennials: Why aren’t they married yet?

Thousands of padlocks clipped by lovers are seen on the fence of the Pont des Arts over the River Seine in Paris February 13, 2014 on the eve of Valentine's Day (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)

“So did you have a special Valentine’s date this year?”  That question drives a stake through the heart of most single adults born after 1980.  “Any wedding bells in your future?”  That is the question that keeps most young adults from visiting relatives.   They sit in the car both dreading and rehearsing answers to this question before they come in for Thanksgiving dinner.  It is a crushing question, but it is an interesting one, is it not?

According to research from Dr. Susan Whitbourne and Dr. Jeffrey Arnett on studies of college students and how they grow up, there are historically four indicators of adulthood: having a job, buying a home, getting married, and having a child.  What is interesting is that over the last fifty years the average age when someone completes each of these has risen by nearly ten years.  In 1965 the average age that someone had a job, bought a home, got married, and had a child was 21.  That age is now 30.   That is an increase of 9 years in less than two generations.  So why is that?

Well, according to a recent article in Relevant Magazine if you are older than 50 and had a child in your church’s youth group in the 80s you can pause here and find a mirror.  As Eddie Kaufholz writes in the article, “Way back in the 80’s most churches taught that casual dating was not good, women’s hearts must be guarded, and every romantic relationship should be walking toward marriage.  While well intentioned, this sent a frightening message to teenagers that paralyzed a healthy period of ‘getting to know someone.’  It also forced a depth of commitment that was best reserved for months and years later.  In short, it put the cart before the horse.”

Let’s be honest.  Most children that were teenagers during the 80’s were too busy getting ribbons after every soccer game and receiving gold stars for showing up to class to learn anything about failure and how to forge through difficult circumstances.  Relationships are hard.  They are messy.  And many of today’s young adults never had an opportunity to learn how to navigate through the early stages of getting to know someone.

Another factor that influences what some are calling “extended adolescence” is social media.  It is much easier to limit a conversation to 140 characters on Twitter than it is to look someone in the eye at Starbucks.  It can also be disheartening to look at everyone else’s well crafted and air brushed social profile on Facebook and assume “they would never want to go out with a loser like me.”

Maybe you have a son or daughter that is in their twenties with no apparent interest in dating, much less being married.  Maybe they bristle every time you ask them if they are ever going to “bring someone home for you to meet.”  Here are some ideas that might help you navigate the topic with those children born after 1980.

First, stop asking.  Here is a twenty-five cent theology word.  Eschatology.  It is a part of theology concerned with the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.  Your son or daughter getting married is not their final destiny.  Nor is it yours.  By focusing on goals that you might have achieved when you were your child’s age you are setting up them up for disappointment and an unrealized eschatology.  Their goal is pursuing Christ as Savior…not in bringing you a grandchild.

Second, tell your sons and daughter your horror stories of dating.  Let them know your mistakes.  Tell them how awkward it was.  Fathers, tell your sons how you pursued your wife.  Mothers, tell your daughters how goofy your husband was.  Tell them stories of persistence, trials, breakups, redemption, forgiveness, and faithfulness.  Let them know relationships are hard but so full of blessings.
And on that note…third, acknowledge your generation did not do a good job of representing marriage to this generation.  What message does the 50% divorce rate among boomers send to millennials?  Be transparent and admit the failings of half of the boomer generation and share that you hope your son or daughter will not assume the worst in marriage but rather can learn from boomer mistakes.

And fourth, do not reserve the church when you notice them constantly checking their phone and hear about them meeting someone at Starbucks.  “They’re not looking for a [spouse] right this second, and they’re sure as heck not looking for a savior. They’re looking for a kind conversation, a respectful follow-up, and a nice cup of ethically sourced, fair-trade coffee.” They are looking for an opportunity to learn how to survive in a messy relationship…just like you did.