|Dr. Val Farmer|
|Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships|
Sex Without Strings, Relationships Without Rings
June 19, 2000
The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University recently released a report, "The State of Our Unions 2000," prepared by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. It is an alarming summary of how non-college-educated, young unmarrieds in their twenties view courtship and marriage. Their 28-page report can be downloaded from the Internet by going to http://marriage.rutgers.edu/2000.htm
From their research, Popenoe and Whitehead believe that marriage is being undermined by the present singles mating culture. This culture is full of destructive attitudes and beliefs about seeking low-commitment relationships instead of finding a marriage partner. Here are some of the highlights:
Sex is a no-strings-attached casual sex with no commitments beyond the sexual encounter itself.
The rules for relationships are more complicated - spend time together, please your partner, do little things, act with concern for your partner's interest and be trustworthy, honest and sexually faithful. Sex is postponed for a few dates while they get to know each other. Instead of meeting at clubs, they meet through friends, church, work or school.
Though they didn't explicitly state this point, but I feel the lack of child-centeredness among young people of child-bearing age is because of our obsession with our materialistic culture. Getting ahead and having fun is seen as being more satisfying than child-rearing.
The impact of divorce and alternative family structure has had a negative influence on young adults. Many do not have positive experiences of growing up in a happy, intact, two-parent family. It is a difficult leap of faith for young people to choose marriage and children over today’s influence of low-commitment, sexualized dating and a materialistic culture in which they are now immersed.
Turning life around. Popenoe and Whitehead suggest two ways of turning these negative courtship trends and aversion to marriage around. One is the possibility of a concerted social movement to bring about broad-based shifts in contemporary patterns of dating, sexual behavior and mating.
These attitudinal changes would start as a radical countercultural movement and spread to the mainstream in more moderate forms. There is a possibility of linking religious groups with social scientists and policy-makers who share mutual concerns about the importance of solid family life to our society as a whole. This could take the form of public education about the factors that limit mating success.
A second avenue of change is for parents to begin early to talk to children about what to look for in a marriage partner and what it takes to have a good marriage. According to Popenoe and Whitehead, "At a minimum,
parents might wisely consider investing as much time and attention to helping their children think wisely about marriage as they now devote to helping their children think carefully about education and career.