My now-husband and I had dated eight years by the time we got married. Granted, we started seeing each other in high school, but we still spent almost two years out of college just dating. Then we were engaged for a year before our wedding. So what the heck took us so long? We both wanted to check certain accomplishments off our dream lists before we tied the knot. By the time I walked down the aisle, I had three degrees, international travel experience, and a body of work in art, media, and literature that nobody could ever knock out of my hand and claim as their own. Now as husband and wife in a happy marriage where both spouses are equal, we have drafted a new list of dreams we want to live out together.
But we were also lucky. We went to a great college for our field, worked hard (damn those weekends in the office), and lacked many of the typical burdens faced by our generation. We had a frugal wedding and, at least for our metro area, an inexpensive first apartment. Of course, we didn’t get married at age 22, either—which is when Baby Boomer high school sweethearts most likely would’ve exchanged vows. We are still Millennials and therefore card-carrying members of the Struggle Club.
Here are ten reasons why Millennials are tallying more years with their significant others before saying “I do”:
Related-ish: 11 Signs You Shouldn’t Go On A Second Date
We’re not “saving ourselves.”
Despite religious upbringings, purity balls, and abstinence-only education in many parts of the country, the reality is that most of our generation becomes sexually active well before they get married. The average American loses their virginity at age 17. Even in Utah, which has the youngest age for first-time marriages, the median bride’s age is 23.5. In Washington, D.C., where people wait the longest to get married, the median bride’s age is 29.8. So, yes, there’s quite a gap between expectations and reality. If 24-year-old virgins are rare, then 30-year-old virgins are unicorns. With condoms, pills, IUDs, and other birth control measures, having safe sex outside of marriage is easier than ever.
We’re hustling hard.
According to a 2014 study by the Department of Education, the average American 27-year-old was more likely to be living with the parents than roommates. Forty percent of that same demo had spent at least some time unemployed since 2009. Perhaps most shockingly to Baby Boomers is this: In 2011, a 27-year-old was more likely to be earning under $15,000 a year than they were to be earning an annual salary that exceeded $40,000. These sort of dismal stats make the hashtag #thestruggleisreal a lot less sarcastic and a lot more serious. The Simple Dollar outlines the financial realities our parents faced at a similar age and, boy, did that generation have it comparatively easy.
We have student loans up the wazoo.
The class of 2016 has an average of $35,000 worth of debt. Altogether, American students have a trillion dollars worth of loans. This is one of the reasons why we’re less likely to be homeowners than previous generations. Student loans are crushing us financially (not to mention emotionally.) It’s hard to afford a nice wedding when making your monthly student loan payment alone is an obstacle.
We don’t have careers or we’re changing them.
How many friends do you have who are years out of college and still slaving away at unpaid internships? Maybe you’re one such unlucky duck yourself. By age 27, only 1 in 10 Millennials reports having fulfilled their career goals. Sixty-six percent of those with Bachelor’s degrees are in that nebulous space of working a job that’s on the path to their career goals. But the reality is that few Millennials are getting promoted. If we’re honest with ourselves, we should admit that years and years of professional frustration lie ahead. It might be awhile before we’re financially comfortable enough to pay for a wedding, get a great apartment or buy a house, and raise kids. Some Millennials would rather do away with the stress and switch to a less competitive field. It may mean starting over, but it can mean quicker advancement, too.
We need to boost our savings.
With all of the aforementioned financial stats in mind, it’s hardly surprisingly that most of us have paltry savings. In fact, the average Millennial has less than $1,000 in their savings account. Building a nest is a challenge when salaries are low and student loans are high. Who wants to go in debt for a wedding? Who on earth can afford a lavish honeymoon? Who can buy a house and a mini-van for 2.5 kids on top of all that? Gosh, and that’s not even counting savings for healthcare, family emergencies, and college for our kids.
We want to further our education.
It used to be that being a high-achiever meant graduating from high school. Then earning a college diploma became the marker of success. In today’s circles of the hyper-ambitious, you’re a pipsqueak unless you’ve completed at least some graduate school. Millennials with a Master’s degree earn more and may get promoted faster. Many Millennials don’t feel ready to get married until after they’ve finished their graduate degree.
We plan to live together first.
What shocked out grandparents’ generation is now the norm. As this Bustle story points out, living together before marriage doesn’t lead to divorce (though science shows it’s better to wait until you’re engaged). A 2010 national survey found that 48 percent of women had lived with a S.O. as a first union.
We put thought into gender roles.
Way back when, a young woman would marry an older, wealthier man and pop out babies before she eventually died in childbirth. Today, nearly 40% of women outearn their husbands, women are 33% more likely to earn college degrees than men, and the average age for first-time moms continues to rise. Our generation isn’t simply following the social scripts most of our parents and grandparents did. We’re redefining what it means to be a married couple. Plus, the stigma of being an unmarried woman, or “spinster,” just isn’t what it used to be.
We want to travel uninhibited.
Most people would agree that once you’re married, it’s pretty selfish to peace out for a few months without your spouse just because you want to see another place. But before you’re married, it’s a lot simpler to do Peace Corps or backpack across Europe or teach English abroad. Best-case scenario, your S.O. has something they want to kick off their bucket list while you’re out doing your thing.
We’re cautious about marriage.
All other things equal (and, again, they’re far from it), many Millennials don’t buy the idea of “happily ever after.” After all, when one quarter of them are the children of divorce, why should they? It’s hard to believe that marriage works when your parents’ own marriage, the first marriage ever modeled for you, did not last. You are 40% more likely to get divorced if your parents divorced. It’s not a pretty picture and that’s why it haunts so many Millennials.