“I just couldn't do it, just couldn't,” Katya, a 28-year-old Novosibirsk-born marketing executive, muttered, wiping away a tear.
It was far past midnight on a Friday, she was finishing her third glass of Merlot, so emotions were running rather high. We sat in a downtown bar overlooking the Moscow River with a group of friends, both Russian and Western European. Katya confided to us that this very evening she should have been getting ready for her Big Day, a church wedding with a lavish 250-guest reception to follow, if only she and her fiance didn't decide to call it off just a month before.
“It felt horrible to do this, but I realized I just wasn't ready to get married,” Katya said, sobbing.
Ironically or by a strange coincidence, this girl could not find a more understanding audience. Three out of the five people in the group had at some point of their lives been a runaway bride or groom. Peter, 34, a IT-firm owner from Poland, cohabited with a girl for five years and was engaged for two. The couple did talk about marriage but never got close to doing it and eventually grew apart. Another guy, Greg, 38, a London-based investment banker, bought a townhouse to share with his future wife after proposing to her. They sent out wedding invitations to about a hundred friends and relatives across the world only to cancel everything two months before the date. Maria, a 32-year old public relations specialist, confessed that she, too, was engaged to be married in her late 20s but realized she and her potential other half “weren't made for each other.” Maria also said she and her new boyfriend are talking about buying an apartment together (making sure there's enough room for the future offspring there) – but not tying the knot.
This is the trend I observe more and more among my thirty-something peers.
Those who didn't get hitched early or those who've been long divorced are delaying marriage for good. Many are happily cohabiting, some have kids, others, just like the Hugh Grant character of Four Weddings and a Funeral movie, have turned into “serial monogamists,” living through one exclusive relationship after another, and yet others are “soulmate searching” being in no rush at all to put on a wedding band.
“Who Needs Marriage?” a Time magazine cover read a few months ago.
According to the cover story's statistics (based on last year's Pew Research Center polls), while about 40 years ago nearly 70% of American adults were married, today it's just less than a half. Moreover, 44% of Americans under age of 30 believe marriage is headed for extinction. It turns out Americans' tolerance towards unmarried unions is incredibly high as well. The overwhelming majority (at least 86%) believe a single parent and child constitute a family and nearly as many (80%) say an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family.
In Russia, where sociologists estimate at least 15% of all couples are in a cohabitation relationship (in big cities these figures are much higher) and 30% of babies are given birth to by unmarried women, the institution is also steadily losing popularity. A recent Public Opinion Foundation poll revealed that 63% believe that if two unmarried people live together in a shared household, they should be considered a husband and wife. Some Russian sociologists also predict that by 2050 the nuclear family will disappear completely and one-person households will prevail.
“If anyone, including our family members, found it important, we'd definitely get married,” said Natasha, a 35-year-old Moscow businesswoman who's been with her husband - this is the only way she refers to her partner - for about 17 years and is expecting their second child this fall. Natasha said she never felt any kind of pressure to make her relationship official, and walking down the aisle in a white dress has never been her fantasy either. “We're a family already – why do we need a stamp in a passport?”
Pamela Haag, historian and author of a recently published bestselling book, Marriage Confidential: the Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses & Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, argues that unless we fundamentally rethink marriage – why we do it, if we actually choose to do it, what we expect from it and how flexible we are with our expectations - it might not be there for long.
“Our longer lifespans and shorter attention spans may push marriage toward a planned obsolescence,” she writes. “It would be helpful to enlarge our sympathies, reduce our judgments and stretch our imaginations about what's possible. Otherwise we slip further into unforgiving and rigid pro/con thinking. Or, we fall into the resigned notion that marriage is not worth the trouble.”
I personally think marriage is still worth the trouble. But not primarily as a social enterprise - getting married because one is supposed to do it at some point of one's life. I believe it's the mature emotional commitment, not the social one, that lays the foundations for a lasting union. The increasingly relaxing social canons in today's world leave us room for anything – delaying marriage and childbirth, choosing single parenthood, avoiding all of those whatsoever, etc. But the lack of boundaries and the multitude of choices also give us immense opportunities to be creative in how we build our lives – and our relationships.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.