Millennials have a lot of decisions to make as they reach adulthood: what college to attend, what major to declare, what career path to pursue. Who to marry often gets set aside for later, according to BYU family life professor Brian J. Willoughby.
Willoughby and fellow family life professor Spencer L. James conducted a BYU study that found 50 percent of U.S. millennials believe they have a soul mate, and the “FOMO” is paralyzing their relationships. The idea that someone better than the person they are currently dating may be out there is keeping millennials from making decisions.
Willoughby conducted a longitudinal study using surveys and interviews with millennials for three years. The study followed people in the Midwest, some of who were transitioning and graduating college.
Willoughby’s research centers on the trends of people waiting to get married, fewer people in this generation getting married than ever before and the declining marriage rate.
“A lot of people assume these trends must mean that young adults don’t care about marriage,” Willoughby said. “That really couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
The trends show 59 percent of millennials are single and have never been married, according to a Gallup Analysis. Millennials are delaying marriage longer than any previous generation.
“For 34-year-olds, just over half (56 percent) are married, and of these, 83 percent have children. But a substantial number (46 percent) of those who have never been married and are well into their 30s have children,” according to Gallup Analysis.
Willoughby said young adults consider marriage to be just as important, if not a little more important, than their parents.
“In some ways, marriage has kind of become too important to young adults, and not necessarily too important in the sense that they value it too much, but how they value it is really what’s shifted,” Willoughby said.
Marriage is no longer a cultural obligation, according to Willoughby.
“Now, marriage is much more of an institution of personal happiness and satisfaction,” Willoughby said.
One reason the decision to marry is so difficult for millennials is because they have so many decisions to make.
“We give them all this freedom, and they’re kind of choking on it,” Willoughby said. “They’re very anxious about it because they’re worried they’re going to make the wrong decision.”
There’s not always a lot of information available, nor is the decision to marry one that can be easily undone, according to Adam Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Provo.
“It probably creates a lot of anxiety for people who are used to being able to have instant information on all of the best options available,” Moore said.
BYU married couple Ava and Hunter Jacobson believe in making decisions and sticking with them when it comes to finding a marriage partner.
“You can’t accomplish anything in life unless you learn to take a step forward,” Hunter said.
While some feel marriage limits freedom, Ava felt another sense of freedom came from getting married.
“We could kind of just decide anything we wanted to do, so if we wanted to travel, we went,” Ava said. “We didn’t have to wait and try to hype up our friends about it to go somewhere.”
Keeley Brewer, a 21-year old Oklahoma City University student, offered a perspective outside.
Brewer said marriage isn’t in the cards for her right now with her plans to get her master’s degree.
“I don’t think we need to rely on a significant other solely for those relationships,” Brewer said. “We’re able to pursue things like traveling and moving around and picking up and doing as we please.”
Brewer said she wants to be able to commit enough time and attention to her career and not shortchange her future spouse.
Millennials fall into the idea that the decision to marry will be less difficult when they are older and more stable, according to Moore.
“That never happens because there’s never really a moment in life when you have everything figured out and you’re ready to get married,” Moore said.
Brewer is one of the 50 percent of millennials who believe there is a soul mate out there for her.
“I may have already met him,” Brewer said. “I may or may not, but I believe all this comes down to timing, as well.”
Ava said she doesn’t believe in soul mates.
“I think people think, ‘I have to find my one person,’ but the truth of the matter is, if you’re willing to put in the work, anyone can be your soul mate,” Ava said.
Moore said he isn’t surprised by the research because millennials live in a world where everything can be customized to their exact specifications.
“It’s not surprising that people would believe they can customize a spouse to their exact specifications,” Moore said.
Millennials might delay marriage because they are looking for someone they can overcome challenges confidently with, according to BYU manufacturing engineering student Larsen Webb.
“I think it’s because there’s no sense of urgency,” Webb said. “I think it’s because we’ve seen our parents go through hardships and we see a lot of people who are married who aren’t super content.”
Regardless of why millennials are delaying marriage, millennials have very paradoxical views about marriage, according to Willoughby.
Willoughby said an example of this would be how millennials will say there is no right time to get married. Later they will contradict themselves, saying there is an age too young or too old.
Millennials feel paralyzed with so many choices, according to Willoughby’s research.
The choice to marry isn’t the most important one, though, according to Moore.
“People believe in ways that you stay married is by making the right choice in terms of the person you marry,” Moore said. “But what they don’t understand is that it’s really all of the choices you make after you get married that matter the most.”