There is an interesting side-story to the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement, and to the recent election of Andrew Cuomo as Governor of New York and his girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee.
Both couples are already living together outside of marriage.
Kate has moved in with William at his home in North Wales while he trains to be an RAF search-and-rescue pilot. Cuomo and Lee have dated for five years and live together in Westchester County, New York. The press has taken to calling her the "First Girlfriend" in place of the First Lady.
I recall watching one television reporter in the U.K., when William and Kate's living arrangements were airily mentioned, commenting how wonderful it was that we live in a day when such matters are inconsequential.
He's right. Today, such matters are.
We're just not into marriage.
According to The Wall Street Journal, for the first time since the U.S. began tallying marriages, more Americans of prime marrying age have stayed single rather than tied the knot. According to the Census Bureau, the proportion of married adults of all ages was only 52% in 2009, down from 72.2% in 1960 - the lowest percentage since the U.S. began tracking statistics in 1880.
"A slowdown in marriage rates doesn't mean the end of cohabiting relationships," notes Conor Dougherty in the The Wall Street Journal. "As marriage rates have fallen, the number of adults living together has skyrocketed." More specifically, according to last year's Pew Research Center findings, cohabitation has nearly doubled since 1990.
And divorce? Now even the end of marriage is losing its social stigma and becoming mainstream - even celebrated. Consider the new site launched by Adriana Huffington, founder of the news site Huffington Post, on all things related to divorce (huffpostdivorce.com) with famed movie director and screenwriter Nora Ephron as editor-at-large. Its tagline? "Marriage comes and goes but divorce is forever." The implication is that there is life - good life - after divorce.
Commenting on the site, Life Coach Jill Brooke acknowledged on the Today Show that due to the mainstreaming of divorce and our culture of immediate gratification, many are divorcing too quickly. The pursuit of personal happiness has trumped the commitment to family.
"Even the most casual observer or critic of marriage would acknowledge that the institution is too often held in very low cultural esteem," observes Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. "From television to movies to music, the bonds of matrimony are often lampooned as chains that bind and confine as opposed to the great anchor of stability God intended them to be."
Any good news? According to the Pew study, of all age groups, the youngest (18-29) have the most desire to marry.
One of the more insightful comments on the recent data documenting the decline of marriage came from Ross Douthat at The New York Times:
"…the long-running culture war arguments about how to structure family life (Should marriage be reserved for heterosexuals? Is abstinence or ‘safe sex' the most responsible way to navigate the premarital landscape?) look increasingly irrelevant…This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While [some] Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely."
James Emery White
"Up close with New York's ‘first girlfriend'", Today Show, Wednesday, January 5, 2011 (video), online at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/40922813#40922813
"New Vow: I Don't Take Thee," Conor Dougherty, The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, September 29, 2010, p. A3.
"Are we in a culture of divorce?", Today Show, January 15, 2011, online at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/41089989#41089989
"We're just not that into marriage," Sharon Jayson, USA Today, Thursday, November 18, 2010, pp. 1A.
"Marriage in Obsolescence," Jim Daly, Christianity Today, November 20, 2010, online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/novemberweb-only/55-52.0.html
"The Changing Culture War," Ross Douthat, The New York Times, December 6, 2010, online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/opinion/06douthat.html?_r=1&ref=rossdouthat
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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