What hap­pened to mar­ry­ing for love?

Re-think­ing your hap­pi­lyever-after.

Cosmopolitan Middle East - - CONTENTS -

She has no health in­surance and no time to pur­sue her cre­ative pas­sions, and she owes her ther­a­pist Dhs3,000. Then she gets a text. Hey… wanna get mar­ried? The sender is a high school friend named Justin, who’s been in Ash­ley’s so­cial cir­cle for years. They never ac­tu­ally dated, but Justin comes from a wealthy Euro­pean fam­ily, but with no job that will spon­sor him for a visa, he’s try­ing to avoid be­ing cast out of the king­dom. Hence the deal he is propos­ing: mar­riage (and a green card) for him; cash for Ash­ley. At first, she laughs. She writes back to name her price as a joke (“100K?”). But then Justin starts to seem dead se­ri­ous. Hours later, ly­ing awake in bed that night, Ash­ley thinks of his In­sta­gram feed and the sto­ries she’s heard about his lux­u­ri­ous, mys­te­ri­ous life full of trips to France and China and mul­ti­mil­liondirham wed­dings in Italy. Mean­while, she’s beg­ging her par­ents out in New Jer­sey to help her buy a plane ticket to Florida for her best friend’s bach­e­lorette party. Justin is of­fer­ing a cou­ple grand up front, with on­go­ing, as-needed Ven­mos to help pay her rent and credit-card debt. She doesn’t even have to live with him. She’ll just get her mail for­warded to his place to make the union seem le­git. Our hero­ine faces a choice. Keep wait­ing for love, or start ne­go­ti­at­ing? She needs the funds badly. And she wants the In­sta­gram-wor­thy travel. When Justin agrees to help her see the world, Ash­ley writes back: K, let’s do it. His lawyer drafts up the forms. Weeks later, they meet at city hall in jeans and sneak­ers to sign the pa­per­work, with her two best friends act­ing as wit­nesses. Ev­ery­one in­volved seems to find the whole ar­range­ment hi­lar­i­ous. But all’s well that ends well. These days, Ash­ley is a hap­pily mar­ried new­ly­wed – ex­cept that love has noth­ing to do with it. In­stead, she’s thrilled about the bills she can now pay and that her anx­i­ety level has gone down. The way she sees it, she has man­i­fested the per­fect so­lu­tion to her prob­lems (and she knows what you’re think­ing, but it’s not like she could’ve got­ten ahead on her own any­time soon any­way, what with her debt and rent pay­ments). Now she and her hus­band meet for din­ner once a week; he brings along her mail. She’s gone on his health in­surance, and she’s even plan­ning a trip some­where warm, like Aruba. It’s not the end­ing she ex­pected, but it’s mak­ing her very happy. And she’s not alone. All over the world, young peo­ple are rewrit­ing what mar­riage looks like – and what it can do for them.



For most of hu­man his­tory, mar­riage was a prac­ti­cal in­sti­tu­tion based on deal mak­ing be­tween fam­i­lies, says Stephanie Coontz, au­thor of Mar­riage, a His­tory: How Love Con­quered Mar­riage. “It was a way of or­gan­is­ing co­op­er­a­tion and cir­cu­lat­ing or ex­tend­ing re­sources,” she says. “You’d get a spouse who could help run the fam­ily farm or busi­ness or whose in-laws could help you gain valu­able po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions.” Only in the late 17th and early 18th cen­turies did ro­man­tic love start to be­come con­nected to mar­riage at all, as the rise of mar­kets and pay­ing jobs al­lowed peo­ple to make their own money and de­ci­sions. The pop­u­lar ro­mance be­tween Britain’s Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert in the 1800s helped ce­ment the bur­geon­ing trend. Still, for most peo­ple, more sen­si­ble con­sid­er­a­tions ruled the day far into the 20th cen­tury. “As re­cently as 1967, two-thirds of col­lege women said they’d con­sider mar­ry­ing some­one they didn’t love if he met their other cri­te­ria, many of which re­volved around fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity,” says Coontz. Only when women started to achieve eco­nomic equal­ity did mar­riage be­come more a choice than a ne­ces­sity. Fast-for­ward to now, when spouses are ex­pected to share the same in­ter­ests and ful­fill each other emo­tion­ally for decades.


If that sounds like a lot of pres­sure, it is – and the ideal of the love mar­riage has started to crack un­der it, as a new gen­er­a­tion that trum­pets equal­ity and self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion is look­ing at mar­riage once again as less of a starry-eyed meld­ing of souls than as a prac­ti­cal way to get ahead. “There’s a cul­tural shift around mar­riage and what it means,” ex­plains Jil­lian Turecki, a re­la­tion­ship coach in New York. “It doesn’t have the same weight to younger peo­ple as it did to their par­ents. They’re cyn­i­cal about ro­mance.” Mil­len­ni­als were, after all, raised by par­ents who di­vorced in droves (the divorce rate among peo­ple ages 50 and older roughly dou­bled be­tween 1990 and 2015). But it’s not just about cyn­i­cism: Ash­ley and her co­horts may be the most fi­nan­cially com­pro­mised gen­er­a­tion. The typ­i­cal fe­male col­lege stu­dent grad­u­ates with an av­er­age of ap­prox­i­mately Dhs100,000 in stu­dent-loan debt (if they study abroad), only to en­ter a work­place where women ages 25 to 34 still earn roughly 10 per cent less than their male coun­ter­parts. And that’s if they get steady jobs. Nearly half of young peo­ple now work free­lance gigs, which come with flex­i­ble hours but zero health in­surance (not ideal when you carry al­most Dhs20,000 in credit-card debt, like the av­er­age mil­len­nial does). That’s why these days, some women are own­ing up to their prac­ti­cal re­quire­ments. “Women in my gen­er­a­tion have the sense that it’s so­cially ac­cept­able to marry rich,” con­firms Annabelle*, 28, a free­lance writer. “So­cial me­dia makes it look like wealth is ev­ery­where.” A friend of hers re­cently at­tended a lav­ish wed­ding where the bride, 26, mar­ried “this guy from stupid money who was un­faith­ful be­fore they got en­gaged. But she couldn’t imag­ine go­ing back to the run-of the-mill mid-20s life­style she had be­fore. I think she had three room­mates.” At the wed­ding, says Annabelle, a fa­mous rap­per was flown in at 3am to per­form. The pho­tos were epic. Jane, 31, a per­sonal as­sis­tant from Long Is­land, re­cently watched a friend’s wed­ding un­fold in real time on In­sta. “It was huge,” she mar­vels. “Rose pe­tals ev­ery­where.” The groom was “a trust-fund baby”; the bride “a dancer with stu­dent loans.” The cou­ple di­vorced a mere six months after the cer­e­mony. “She got money from the prenup though,” says Jane, “so she got what she wanted.” As baby mak­ing be­comes more fraught than ever, with women bom­barded with fear­mon­ger­ing news about their de­clin­ing fer­til­ity, some who would oth­er­wise stay sin­gle or keep look­ing are rush­ing to tie the knot. “I feel no pres­sure to be a wife,” ex­plains Jill, 28, an as­pir­ing TV writer and restau­rant host­ess. “The only rea­son I want

a man at all is that I’m on a bi­o­log­i­cal clock. The next per­son I date se­ri­ously is the per­son I need to have a baby with. And if I’m in my early 30s, I will def­i­nitely be in a po­si­tion to over­look their flaws in or­der to have chil­dren.” She adds: “I al­ways joke that the per­fect way to do it is to have a child with some­one, then get di­vorced. Then you can take va­ca­tions and have an au­to­matic babysit­ter.” In some “pro­cre­ation mar­riages,” cou­ples pair up solely for the pur­poses of hav­ing a baby. In oth­ers, they stay to­gether past the union’s ex­pi­ra­tion date in or­der to have an­other kid (one baby daddy is eas­ier to co­or­di­nate lo­gis­tics with than two or more). “Women are wait­ing longer and fo­cus­ing on their ca­reers, so at a cer­tain point, they may set­tle for the good-enough ver­sion of mar­riage be­cause they re­ally want to have a child,” ex­plains Me­gan Fleming, PhD, a re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist in New York. But some who have watched older peers strug­gle with in­flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments and in­ad­e­quate ma­ter­nity leave may also be get­ting more re­al­is­tic about what it takes to raise chil­dren (and how much of that work still falls on women). “Money is im­por­tant,” says Annabelle. “There’s this whole new wave of fem­i­nism, but I want to be a mother, and in an ideal world, I won’t be work­ing five days a week. We’re pro­gress­ing as a so­ci­ety, but it’s still hard to have it all.” And for oth­ers, a trans­ac­tional mar­riage may be just a way to score that pic­ture-per­fect In­sta­gram life. “There is a so­cial pres­sure not to be alone,” says Eliz­a­beth, 27. “One of my friends got mar­ried be­cause she was bored. Re­la­tion­ship ex­pert Rhonda Richards-Smith adds that “get­ting mar­ried can be a sta­tus sym­bol.” (Es­pe­cially when it’s ubiq­ui­tous on In­sta: 9 out of 10 wed­ding guests ages 18 to 24 now post about friends’ and fam­ily mem­bers’ nup­tials on so­cial me­dia; more than 60 per cent of wed­dings now in­clude a cus­tom hash­tag.) “A lot of mil­len­ni­als want to find the short­cuts,” adds Annabelle, who says that In­sta­gram has cre­ated a toxic at­mos­phere around the idea of the per­fect life. “It sets up this ex­pec­ta­tion that things wouldn’t be as hard as they are.” And some­times, the prac­ti­cal union is tech­ni­cally not a mar­riage at all: Seek­ing.com is all about prac­ti­cal­ity, not love. “I think you sell your­self short when you are only get­ting mar­ried for fi­nan­cial gain,” says Richard­sSmith. “It doesn’t pro­vide the ful­fill­ment you need long term.” But in to­day’s world, with the av­er­age age of first mar­riages con­tin­u­ously climb­ing (it’s cur­rently 27 for women, up from 20 in 1970), part­ners have more es­tab­lished sup­port sys­tems by the time they tie the knot – and may need less from their spouse any­way. “The idea of a soul mate is out­dated,” Turecki says. “You can’t ex­pect a part­ner to be ev­ery­thing for you. It’s im­por­tant to have a full life out­side the re­la­tion­ship, with friends and work and self-care.” Fleming adds that even peo­ple who marry for love are go­ing into it more clear-eyed than ever, with a full aware­ness that the dopamine rush doesn’t last, so other fac­tors must also be in align­ment. (And when love does fade, ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble: “More than ever, peo­ple are rene­go­ti­at­ing what mar­riage means,” she says. “There’s flex­i­bil­ity around op­tions that were once nar­rowly de­fined.”) Per­haps that’s why mil­len­ni­als who were raised on women’s em­pow­er­ment don’t nec­es­sar­ily see the trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship as retro or anti-fem­i­nist but rather an old tool be­ing put to mod­ern use. For Ash­ley, it was a proac­tive way to help man­age her anx­i­ety and work to­ward a more fulfilling ca­reer. Jill, on the other hand, got burnt out on the- scene and dab­bled in Seek­ing.com, look­ing for some­thing more purely trans­ac­tional. But she found that the men she met couldn’t keep up their end of the deal. “They wanted too much of me emo­tion­ally,” she says with a sigh. “They wanted me to hang out with them for a whole day. And I had stuff to do.”





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