General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Where does the modern pressure to pair up and marry come from?

Asked by wundayatta (58706points) February 24th, 2009

I’ve seen numerous questions here asking about how many people you can date, and whether it’s ok to date if you’re not serious about the person (whatever serious means—sometimes marriageable). To me, this seems like young people these days must feel such pressure to pair up, and move in, and marry. It also seems to be taking over the language of the dating life of recently singled middle-age folks, as well.

People seem to divide relationships up into serious ones, friends without benefits, friends with benefits, and fuck buddies. Just the fact that they have to categorize relationships like this, and at a very early stage of the relationship, speaks to me of some enormous pressure to know where it is going and what, exactly, it is.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume I’m correct that this pressure exists. Where does it come from? Do people put this on themselves, or is it coming from the outside (society, parents, or something else)? Like every relationship must have some purpose, other than fun, friendship or the like? Why do you think things are getting so much more serious these days? Could it be the so-called sexual revolution?

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24 Answers

DrBill's avatar

Part of the natural instinct. We are monogimous pack animals at our essence.

tb1570's avatar

STDs suck.

TheFonz_is's avatar

exactly, we are put here to survive, find a mate and create little mini versions of ourselves..

plus most of us enjoy the creating part ;oP marriage is simply a proclamation of love, of warding off others and of getting half of something we didnt have :)

Please dont let my wife read this :):):):)

steelmarket's avatar

There is nothing new about this pressure – it has been around since adam and eve. In my observation, the pressure in western society is much less than it is in other societies.

eponymoushipster's avatar

from personal experience, banging tail left and right can be quite tiring. Burning money on medicines and such. What’s her name, etc. – hard stuff to remember, for sure.

so that’s one. also, the need to reproduce and find completion.

but mostly the fact there’s only so much grade A kitty out there, and once it’s used up, it’s gone. like oil.

btko's avatar

Didn’t Adam and Eve have children with their own children? That’s not a healthy marriage.

dynamicduo's avatar

It’s encoded in our being to propagate the species, even if we consciously don’t desire it (for instance, I don’t want children, but my body tells me loud and clear that I should want them, whether it’s me thinking a baby is cute or having a haunting dream about being a parent). Time and social evolution (think back 5,000 years ago or more) have shown that the most efficient way of doing this is to form a loose society of people (power in numbers) and to pair up to create a household and produce children. Two people seems to be an ideal number, where the strongest person (often the man) is tasked with getting resources (food, money) while the nurturing person (usually the woman) is tasked with raising the children.

Why not three or more people? Reasons may be a too-many-cooks situation (the mother doesn’t want her children to be raised by others, more people require more resources), or an alpha-male situation (the father doesn’t want to provide for a third male who may have children with the wife). Of course it’s worthwhile to note that many cultures permit and encourage multiple spouses. I personally do not know what the benefits or problems arise with having such a family structure, but I do know that there have been studies that look into this issue further.

Above any evolutionary incentive, there’s the social layer. There’s tons of pressure, culturally, historically, traditionally, to engage in marriage. And up until the past century (not sure of the exact dates, but it varies from place to place), marriages were done for many reasons beyond love: exchanging property, ensuring laws are applied without trouble (which was and still is problematic with a lot of long term couples who are not legally married – consider hospital visiting rights), as a bargaining tool sometimes too. These acts may have instilled the thought that one was simply “supposed” to get married, that it was the next step in becoming an adult.

I’m glad to say that I do not think this way, and thanks to Canada’s solid common-law marriage laws, I have the same rights as a fully married couple without actually having that paper. Which is good, cause that paper means nothing to me, especially considering divorce rates.

wundayatta's avatar

I think I asked the question incorrectly. I wanted to understand if the pressure to marry is different from, say, a generation ago, but more importantly, how it has changed dating behavior from a generation ago. It seems like people are much more serious about what dating is for, nowadays. If they date, that seems to mean they are exclusive with their partner. This was not the case when I grew up. A date didn’t mean you were going steady. Nowadays, it seems like you have to “go steady” from the get-go.

As a result of this changed meaning of dating, new categories of friends have come up to describe non-dating relationships. Friends, FWB, and fuck buddies. These, apparently, must be disposed of as soon as one is “dating.”

It seems to me that this indicates a different kind of pressure on kids these days to marry or at least pair off. I understand this overall genetic pressure to pair off and procreate. That’s not what I’m asking about. I’m asking about this apparent social change in how marriage is pursued, and how that has changed the language of courting.

To me, it suggest some kind of additional urgency to mate that didn’t exist when I was growing up. It also suggests some kind of cultural pressure to define things instantly. It is this. It is not that. You’re a friend (we hang out). You’re a friend with benefits (we hang out and sometimes sleep together, except of course when it’s a Craigslist FWB, which really is equivalent to the next category). You’re a fuck buddy. You have minimal contact and don’t really hang out, but when you both have that itch, you just get together and fuck with no emotional attachments whatsoever.

We never made these distinctions when I was growing up. We were more flexible about what things were or weren’t. That was the early seventies, so it may have been informed by the so-called “sexual revolution.” Still, it seems like there is so much more pressure these days, and I wonder if I am just imagining things, or, if not, why that is.

adreamofautumn's avatar

I actually asked a science major friend of mine this exact question recently. I don’t really have an answer…she says it stems from cave people and their survival instinct. At this point I think it’s just tradition.

ubersiren's avatar

I actually think much of it is our media telling us that it’s the cool thing to do. Getting married and even being pregnant is like the new “little black dress!”

A deeper philosophy that I have is this. I don’t think we are monogamous creatures, but I think we are 1-competitive and 2-rebellious. 1— Whoever can “grow up” the fastest, wins. Who can pop out a baby (procreate) first, wins. Whoever finds a good job and can provide for his/her family the best, wins. Creating a marriage or family is one of the most in-your-face way to show these accomplishments off. Whoever breaks away from his parents’ coddling first, wins. This is all exaggerated by the current trend of marriage. I also think it’s just that- a trend. 2— We fluctuate between straight laced and free spirits with every couple of generations. The conservative parents’ children will rebel by having babies out of wedlock, tattooing themselves, etc. While the flower children’s children will rebel by being… well, Alex P. Keaton. I think there just happens to be a surge of marriage hungry young adults now. But it’ll fade.

chelseababyy's avatar

I don’t think there’s pressure. I just think it depends on the person. I myself have plenty of friends who are just going around and having sex, who don’t care if or when they get married.
I, however, have dated a few people, had my fun, and now I’m with my current boyfriend. Neither of us are looking for a fling, or something short-term. We’re both on the same page, but, marriage won’t be in our very near future. Not for atleast 5 years. We’ve been living together for a year now, and have been dating for a little less than a year. We know what we’re getting in to, we know what the other person needs and wants.

I don’t think there is any pressure. I just think it’s self wants and needs.

essieness's avatar

I would think it’s partly due to internal forces and partly due to external forces. I know I got swept up in it and got married at 24 to I guy I liked well enough (but didn’t really take the time to make sure we were compatible on a deeper level) because my girlfriends were getting married and having babies. Thank God I finally woke up to the reality of my failing marriage, but I can tell you that the influence of the people surrounding you can be quite strong.

dynamicduo's avatar

My younger sister might be someone who you are talking about. She has a man-friend who she has no-strings sexual relations with, and also hangs out with this person at bars or at a show. But they are not in any type of exclusive relationship. Of importance to note is that my sister was engaged at one point to a man she was dating, but broke it off when he cheated. So perhaps her decision to have no-relationship sex was influenced by her previous heartbreak, and her desire to avoid the same pain.

I’m not sure if I support your thought of To me, it suggest some kind of additional urgency to mate that didn’t exist when I was growing up, simply because not much actual successful mating is occurring at all during the time period you imply with “young people these days” (I’ll extend it through to the past decade as well). To me (a Canadian – something to note here since Canada and America have different sexual policies), the creation of these new social categories is a result of the changing majority opinions of sex, the ability to have safe sex and no pregnancies, and the overall trend seen of delaying starting a family until one is older, not due to any type of pressure to have sex nor other urgency put on them. Many people, both young and old have accepted that having sex is not only mating at but also a way to have fun, or recreate instead of procreate I like to say. There’s a lot of data to support this here in Canada—(StatCan does a great job of making relevant numbers available. Teenage sexual relations in general are on the decline), one great link is this super data table summarizing Canadian pregnancies and their outcomes (births are dropping across the chart, abortions are dropping but much slower, and we’ve halved our child mortality rate). More data clearly shows that teen pregnancies in Canada have been dropping more quickly and stands at a significantly smaller percentage compared to America.

This data, to me, supports the theory of “today’s youth are having safer sex with less pregnancies”, which in my mind extends from comprehensive sexual education, the availability of contraception, and society’s gradual acceptance of more sex in the past half century. It is then logical to assume that because people’s concepts of sex have changed, that there may need to be more definitions of relationships added in. Fuck buddy is a crude yet effective word.

You phrase this discussion as a “dating” question. I think this is part of the reason why my answers are not precisely what you are looking for. Many of today’s youth do not see this really as being dating, as dating and sex are not as linked as they were in previous generations. It’s just a new form of friendship that combines sexuality without involving a long term commitment to any future or goals. An interesting question is where this new mentality is coming from. Part of it has to do with the sexual revolution, yes, but there really hasn’t been much of a revolution in the past decade. I think part of the mentality stems from this generation being one of the first generations to come into existence always knowing that they can have full control over whether they produce a baby or not. I think it’s fair to say that overall, the relationship between marriage/family/sex/relationships (and even the definitions of all these words) have changed to the point where we are seeing new behavior and new actions.

tinyfaery's avatar

Well, women are more concerned with life outside of mother and wife these days. The average marriage age is rising, as is the average age of bearing children. I think the pressure to marry is greatly decreasing. Divorce rates do not help the cause. However, the divorce rate does plant in our psyches that marriage might not be the ultimate goal of a relationship.

nikipedia's avatar

I think technology is isolating us, our competitiveness is exhausting us, and we’re lonely and sad and just want to love and be loved.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

You’re right, there is definitely this pressure to “categorise” relationships, and it comes from all kinds of sources.

proXXi's avatar

Marriage has gone from sacrement to contract.

Val123's avatar

@DrBill Well, women have more of an instinctive reason to be monogamous than men…but I think marriage may have been initiated by females for those reasons. On the other hand, in some societies, marriage comes about as a way of controlling women, much as was the case in the US until the 60’s.

lonelydragon's avatar

@daloon I understand what you’re saying. My parents and other relatives of your age have made the same observations. They weren’t very goal-oriented in their dating behavior and they didn’t feel the need to classify the relationships. They also dated multiple people at once, which is practically considered cheating today, even when one is not in a committed relationship. I may be wrong, but it could be that a lot of boomer parents (not all, of course) regret the free-wheeling sexuality of their youth and so they demand that their children practice monogamy in their dating relationships. This was definitely true in my case. Although my mother played the field as a teenager, she grew more conservative with age, and she did not like it when I casually dated two or three guys at once instead of committing to one guy.

Beyond the parental pressures, there is also societal pressure for a number of reasons. First, both married and single people like to see their acquaintances get married, because when their friends are safely married off, then that reduces the pool of competitors in the mating game. Also, in Western society, one’s relationship status is treated as an indicator of self-worth, especially for women. Since it’s relatively easy to secure a partner for a one night stand or FWB, then marriage is viewed as the brass ring. People feel that they need to chase that brass ring in order to prove their worth, even though it shouldn’t be that way.

I hope my answer makes sense. The question of being pressured to marry is something that I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, and sometimes it’s tough to articulate an answer when you’re in the thick of the problem.

Val123's avatar

Actually, reading this question as if I was seeing for the first time, I don’t know that it’s so much instinctive as it has been an absolute necessity, especially for women, up until quite recently.

john65pennington's avatar

Being a baby boomer, here is the way is was when dating someone. we generally would not date more than one person at a time. it was not considered “social” behavior. from a mans point of view, we dated only one person, then asked them to go “steady” and if it was meant to be, finally married. today, its a different ballgame altogether. dating 3 or 4 people at one time is the trend. i guess i followed in my parents footsteps. they were married for 55 years, until my dad died.

Joybird's avatar

Humans are not all monogamous. Current research has proven this. We are of two genetic strains…one monogamous the other polyamorous. And pair bonding in different parts of the world is dictated by the paradigms of that particular culture. It is an American paradigm no doubt a result of the settlers who came here because of religious persecution and who had many taboos around human sexuality…that people remain celebate until marriage and have only one sanctioned sexual partner. Dating in our culture has risen out of this belief. As a result there is much pressure to pick someone to date exclusively and to make a commitment to that person. We have a tendency towards serial monogamy in this culture as a paradigm.
In Europe people tend to date multiple people without exclusivity nor implied commitment for some length of time honing the pack down across a much longer period of time as they get to know more than one person at depth. These relationships may or may not include sex…or may include protected sex with one or two partners. They date multiple people, and date for longer periods of time without pressure to make commitments. And once a commitment of exclusivity is made there is no pressure to marry immediately either. I would attribute this difference in paradigms to Europe being made up of cultures much older than our own…and perhaps therefore maybe wiser in the ways of attraction, love and forming pair bonds.

wundayatta's avatar

@Joybird Do you have any references for the research you are talking about? It sounds suspiciously too convenient to be true. I mean, I would love it if it were true, but it sounds unlikely to find genes devoted to these forms of mating behavior.

I have, since I first started having serious relationships, believed I could have more than one relationship. I’ve never had to test that theory out, but it’s still there. I don’t think it is helped by my other issues. It’s a struggle.

Joybird's avatar

There is no longer any way to access this information @wundayatta. I should have cut and paste it to a file when it came out. Within two weeks all links to it were removed. This was research that was in the headlines for several days within the past year. No doubt it was removed because of the kinds of societal questions it would bring up. There are similar articles about human polyandry but NOT the one to which I refer. And the research would not mean that everyone was polyandrous.

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