If you have any type of common sense, you should know good and well that there are certain questions you never ask another couple. Questions like, “When y’all havin’ kids?” is intrusive as hell, because you have no idea if they’re already trying but can’t due to serious medical issues. Even if you’re cool with both people, some questions are better left to ruminate inside your own head.
And now, in 2016, you can add any question/statement/critique regarding the length of someone’s engagement to that list.
While the question, “How long is too long to be engaged?” was once the basis for a great debate, it has now become super invasive, especially when it comes to millennials. Now I’m not saying it’s an unfair question to think, but it’s definitely not a question you want to bring up to folks, especially when you have no idea what types of issues lay beneath their "social media friendly" facade.
For instance, I think it’s fair to wonder why Don Cheadle recently married Bridgid Coulter, his longtime girlfriend of 25 years and mother of his two daughters. But if you think the answer to that is simple, chances are you are making a wildly-ignorant assumption. They, along with God are the only ones who know the answer to that question and truthfully, they’re the only ones who need to know. As we begin discussing different non-celebrity couples that are going through extended engagements, the waters become very murky when we break down some of the modern day mess that many couples have to deal with.
First off, people aren’t necessarily coupling at later ages, but they sure as hell are marrying later in life now. According to the Pew Research Center, the average first-time marriage age for men is 29, and 27 for women. In 1960, the average age for men was 23 and 20 for women.
Whether you choose to accept this reality or not, the fact is that our financial well-being plays a huge role in when, where and how we decide to get hitched. For a generation that is facing “qualification inflation” that requires us to be in school longer in order to earn a living wage, marriage is simply not a reality for most 20-23 year olds. And as we leave school with personal loan debt higher than any other previous generation to face an extremely tough job market, getting ahead is incredibly difficult. Add in rising rent payments, a lack of affordable housing and being priced out of the housing market as first-time buyers, and you’ll seeing more couples struggling and living paycheck to paycheck. It really isn't the most ideal situation to say "I do."
But what also needs to be discussed is the fact that being broke doesn’t negate one’s desire to get married the way they want to. It seems like whenever we have these discussions, there’s always someone chiming in with, “Just go to City Hall!” as if our current financial difficulties should immediately strip us of our desire to provide our significant others with the ring we truly want them to have, or the wedding experience we believe they deserve. There’s a time and a place to discuss the concept of frugal weddings, but it’s definitely not to be delivered with a condescending air of superiority towards people who are trying their best to be happy in a society with an ever-growing wealth gap.
And for those of you saying, “Well, if you can’t afford it then don’t get engaged!” please understand that that is exactly what’s happening. Less people are getting married because, for some, it’s not financially feasible. Interestingly enough, those same critics are using this decision as “proof” that millennials aren’t interested in being married at all. Basically, it’s a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose scenario from people who want to impose their values and beliefs on other couples.
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter how long someone decides to be engaged, and the reason that their nuptials are being delayed is probably deeper than you know. So the next time you’re at a dinner party with a young, unmarried couple going through an extended engagement, the only question you should be asking is, “Who made the potato salad?”
Opinions can be costly, but shutting up is free.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com. He's an author of the book "You're Not A Victim, You're A Volunteer." He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.