An Examination of the Scripted Life
One of the commonalities that my husband and I stumbled on was the tension-filled road trips of our youth. His family would travel hundreds of miles for church events, and he remembered the tense atmosphere radiating from the front. I recalled that my parents would start to bicker before the trip began, leaving me, as the only child in the backseat, to turn up my Walkman and keep silent.
When I think back to middle school, most of my friends started having parents who divorced. At the same time, the popular culture showed off the chore of marriage, with sitcoms highlighting the humor in finding your partner annoying, if not outright hating them. All of that tied up at the end of the episode with an attitude of, well, what can you do about the old ball and chain anyhow?
Maybe millennials have taken that weariness of marriage to heart. A 2020 Pew Research report mediates ominously — well, for me anyway — on millennials starting to turn 40. The report examines that the approach to life, including marriage, might look different than what was seen before, particularly as the median age of the first marriage increased.
From the report: "In 2019, the average man first got married at age 30, and the average woman was 28 when she first wed. This is three years later — for both men and women — than in 2003, four years later than in 1987, and seven years later than in 1968."
Looking at my mom and grandmother, who married at 23 and 20, respectively, those ages check out with my marrying a month short of turning 27. To consider marriage later may mean perhaps a willingness to bide your time, getting some education and financial stability under your belt, or just the desire to enjoy your freedom. Still, along with those things, marriage wasn't nearly in the script for me as it was for other generations.
Much of life for other generations seemed to follow a script, and many times it was written by others or set up only by chance. Here is the town and class that you've been born into. Here's the church you go to. Here are the people you should associate with. Here's are the two candidates for election. Wouldn't it be easier to continue marking off the boxes that earns you the approval of your parents and peers?
When life was scaffolded with pre-scripted notions of who they should be, it makes sense that the older generations might look at our freedoms, and our request for more freedoms, with regret — a regret that is scripted by popular culture to be shown to us only as resentment.
Here may be the millennial thought: Let's rewrite the scripts. Marriage may not be a scene in the play. We might be, stage-left, parenting pets instead of humans. We might find what "enough" looks like for us and it's not for the applause. We might find that the approval that we sought may not be one that we need for our story.
Millennials grew up around the specter of unpredictable change that we had no control over. But marriage is within our control. Deciding not to have kids is within our control. Our happiness can be in our control. Choosing the simple life, unapproved and unscripted, is in our control.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.