Millennial Think Tank: Marriage and Relationships

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We decided to tackle the Millennial perspective of marriage and relationships after it came up in another hangout, and it was clear that our panel had a lot to say about the topic. We knew we were onto something when we had so many people request to be on this one that we had to turn quite a few away.

Our panel this week included:

  • Joe Cardillo,  an older Millennial, Content and Analytics specialist.
  • Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research
  • Judy McCloskey, an older Millennial, actor, director at 2nd City, and social media Community Manager.
  • Tiffany Daniels, an older Millennial working in Government & Community Relations
  • Albert Qian, a young Millennial working in Silicon Valley.
  • Laura Petrolino, an older Millennial and Client Services Director at Arment Dietrich
  • Brian Fanzo, an older Millennial and Chief Digital Strategist & Partner at Broadsuite 

Of this panel, two are married, one is divorced, and all of them had clear opinions of what marriage meant to them. So we started there.

What do you think marriage is?

Albert: Marriage is a lifetime commitment. A friendship elevated to a higher level, and it requires a specific mindset to succeed.

Brian: Married for 11 years – Brian sees two married people as teammates in life, managing kids, bills, and in his own case, 4 layoffs over the years.

Hessie: Hessie believes marriage starts off as friendship, but her definition has changed. It was a fairy tale in the beginning.

Joe: Marriage is an economic contract that’s poorly written. It can be re-written.

Judy: She doesn’t think of it as a fairy tale. It’s a living and breathing thing. The person you marry should be a friend who will clean up puke with you at 2am and help you be a better person.

Laura: Agrees with the teammate perspective. Marriage is a commitment to someone who makes you and your life better. It’s got a really good ROI.

Samantha: Thinks that marriage is team based, and is an economic contract that is for the betterment of your social status.

Tiffany: Agrees with the teammate concept. You should have the fairy tale pieces, but those things fade. If it’s not a person you want to be with.. if it’s someone you don’t want to kill when things are tough.. that’s a good thing.

When I heard the word TEAMMATE repeatedly, I kept thinking of equality. It appears to be a shift from how my parents’ generation’s views love. Considering that this generation has witnessed such tough economic conditions, it shouldn’t surprise us that many of them are looking for someone to lean on in the tough times.

Personally, I was touched by Brian’s description of his marriage, having moved often and faced layoffs and challenges, it definitely appears that he and his wife have a strong connected-ness. His children are the most important part of his life, and what I heard when he talked was centered around love and strength.  Hessie heard something very different, and she keyed in on the pragmatism. Words like ROI and teamwork sounded more like a business deal to her.

Judy answered that with:

I think the business speak is realism to combat the broken fairy tale concept

I asked – where did the fairy tale come from? In my grandparents’ time marriage really wasn’t a fairy tale. It was practical and it was tied to social status. My parents and my generation were raised on views of marriage as more of a fairy tale, finding ‘the one’ and living happily ever after was the goal.  But when you listen to this panel one has to ask: Are we returning to a more pragmatic view of marriage?

Laura also sees a freedom now that didn’t exist – unlike the track that previous generations were meant to follow, people now have a choice. Marriage isn’t assumed, it’s chosen. It’s like a career decision.

Interestingly, other than Joe, our sole divorcee (who didn’t rule it out but was skeptical), every member of our panel wants to get married, but there are conditions that must be met.  Albert, living in the competitive environment of Silicon Valley, would like to get married some day, but thinks he has to make a lot more money and move to another happier place to live before thinking about it seriously.

Is Marriage a Social Benefit?

I was surprised when Samantha stated that her marriage was a career benefit, making her seem more settled.  Brian’s story of getting a terrific job when he was 22, partly based on the fact that he was married and therefore seemingly more mature and less risky a hire, made sense to me.

But in the world I grew up in, women seeking a job or promotion had to deal with the elephant in the room: a company asking when will she have a child? What will that do to us from a practical perspective? How much will maternity leave cost? The idea that women are less hire-able in their child rearing age is something our panel sees as very real. Samantha actually said that she  “combats” the idea that she may have children first with the fact that she’s getting her MA and up for her PHD.

This is an issue we will come back to this coming week when we tackle marriage and relationships again.

Is Marriage Necessary?

This question brought up a variety of answers, and it was clear that our panel sees marriage as a very individual choice. Joe sees it as totally unnecessary, and as more of a hindrance than help to a healthy partnership. He doesn’t think the standard idea of marriage is helpful. He sees it as an economic contract that sets up unfair and unrealistic expectations. The idea that you would tie your economic worth and individual opportunity to another person is something he is cautious about.

One thing I had to point out after Joe named a number of options as alternatives to marriage is the fact that ONLY marriage provides certain financial protections for the partner left behind if one passes.

Judy referenced her Fear of Missing Out.. the fear that she’ll marry the wrong person.  She described the constant challenge of squelching the feeling that “maybe he’s good, but there could be someone better.” What if I’m missing out not necessarily on Mr. Right, but Mr. Better. We had to ask if social media amplifies this FOMO, because there is ALWAYS someone else. And we’ll come back to it this week.

How do your parents’ marriages effect your view?

Albert’s parents have been together for 37 years. It was a very step-by-step, do one thing after the other kind of process. He is a first generation American and doesn’t see himself having the same length of marriage as his parents.  I pressed Albert on the fact that he watched a ‘successful’ marriage growing up, and he said that Asian parents are very unemotional. It’s a supportive marriage, but he doesn’t see their emotions. He thinks his marriage would be very, very different based on the fact that he was raised in this culture, with very different expectations.

Samantha’s parents have a fabulous, fairy tale family and they love each other deeply; it makes her decision to marry at the age of 22 understandable.

Judy, who did not know her father, only heard stories of how fabulous marriage was. She instead uses her aunt and uncle as an example; they have a very happy and realistic relationship. She wants to get married, possibly, but is more concerned that she wouldn’t find the same person.

Who is the RIGHT person?

Laura, who has a fabulous parenting example, shared Judy’s concern that she just might not find the right person. When Joe pressed them both to define what the ‘right person’ was, Laura had a direct answer:

It’s a person who makes me a better version of me. Personalities that make you stronger.

Judy viewed her relationships up to this point as ‘trying people on.’ She’s learned about the traits in a partner that work better for her. She’s not going to force the issue and marry the wrong person. Dating is a testing process, and she thinks people should date a lot.

I had to go to Brian on this one, since he could not have dated too much prior to his marriage at 22. His answer:

I don’t think I was every looking for the right person. I can’t figure what I want tomorrow, I was focusing on who could make me better today, and who could make me better tomorrow. We had 5 years of traveling the world, and now I have 3 daughters who are my world. That happiness is equal to romance before kids.

Who wants to have kids?

Laura was our sole definitive NO when asked this question, and Albert, our resident pragmatist, weighed the financial cost of having children and isn’t sure. Does he want to deal with the headaches, raise them in the fear filled society, buy a house, and be trapped in debt?

Brian couldn’t help but jump in and talk about the joy that his children bring, and how he doesn’t worry about the financial things because ‘life happens;’ his children are the single greatest thing in his life.

What about children out of wedlock?

Brian, our happily married father, was adamant that he didn’t judge anyone for having children without being married.

Waiting to have kids after years of marriage got a BIG vote from Brian, Laura and Albert.

Brian got married in a Catholic church to appease his catholic parents. Religion / spirituality still has some place in his life…

We reject establishment, but I’m not sure we reject tradition.

Tiffany is a preacher’s kid.. and she knows many people who are willing to live together, but they want to wait to have children until they’re married.

Although our panel takes marriage seriously, they still think a lot of Millennials don’t. They think many people marry ‘because it’s fun.’ Our panel still sees a socioeconomic difference in how seriously marriage is taken.

How much has changed about the perception of marriage?

There is definitely a shift in how our panel sees marriage; their views are deeply rooted in pragmatism. As much as that may be a change from the two previous generations, I’m not sure that it’s such a strange perception when you look at the course of human history.

What was obvious is that this is a subject that needs to be explored much more deeply for us to understand how Gen Y will approach relationships and marriage, not simply out of human curiosity, but because marriage itself impacts our economy tremendously. If we are seeing a seismic shift, it will affect all of us for years to come. That’s why we are returning next week for Millennial Think Tank: Relationships, Traditional Values & Gender Roles?
Photo credit: K e K u via photopin cc.

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

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