A beta test, for those outside the computer world, is testing a product before its commercial release. The idea is to work out all the bugs to make sure things go smoothly when it’s ready for launch. So should we beta test marriages in order to avoid divorce? Millennials seem to think so. A recent survey of 1,000 adults found that almost half of Millennials support the idea of a trial period during which they could test drive a marriage to work the kinks out, or walk away if it wasn’t right for them. The older generation may be horrified, as they were infused with the idea that “’til death do you part” as gospel. But people are living much longer nowadays. Lots of generation Y and Millennials came from divorced parents. What’s more, their environment in the technical landscape is constantly changing, so being locked down to one person after marriage seems like a concept from the primordial past. This generation has more choices for dating and in all other aspects than people have ever had before. So 20-somethings are wary, anxious and skeptical of the idea of traditional marriage and so are finding other options, ones that work for their culture and social environment.
Jessica Bennett of Time says that this generation who has seen tremendous changes in society and are poised to see many more, especially in the realm of technology, should be given the freedom to revamp marriage and make it work for the modern world. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this however. Anthropologist Margaret Mead back in the 1970’s forecasted “serial monogamy.” That is marrying one person, getting divorced and marrying again, or being in long-term relationships one after another. Biologist and anthropologist Helen Fisher also believes that two people aren’t necessarily meant to be together forever. Generally speaking the honeymoon period lasts around four years. This equates according to Dr. Fisher with the time it takes to raise a child from infant until it can start walking and being more independent. After that time early humans, Dr. Fisher believes, handed over the children to be raised by the entire village. Men and women therefore were free to pursue foraging, hunting and other relationships. These were serial, short-term monogamous relationships in order to produce children in a healthy manner. Lots of Millennials nowadays, and many others and some divorced baby boomers and gen X and Y, are living together long-term. There are Millennials today shirking marriage altogether preferring long-term cohabitation to tying the knot. Many say they want to avoid the excruciating emotional and financial consequences should they be facing divorce.
There are those proposing open marriages, and others who say practicing a marriage that is “monogamish,” meaning partners can stray over pre-agreed upon conditions, can help to keep marriage going. Some are saying no matter what changes occur this is the beginning of the end of the institution. Others are not so extreme. Author Stephanie Coontz has an idea to help prolong the institution; five year contracts. Couples would consciously decide to “reup” every five years. A transition period in life or a major life event may also prompt a reup. This renewal would include “… new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.” Certainly it’s important to note that America has the highest divorce rate of all the countries in the West. What’s more, research has shown that the longer one waits to get married the higher the chance that the couple will stay together. In the last 40 years cohabitation has increased 1,000%. Many scholars believe that merely changing and updating marriage for the circumstances of the modern world can preserve it. Though these new practicalities may save the institution, it doesn’t help us make decisions in our love life in the first place. In fact, it may make decisions even harder to make. Researcher Melissa Lavigne-Delville says, “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent.” But Lavigne-Delville admits “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.” To learn more about marriage and how it’s changed read, Marriage: A History by Stephanie Coontz.