Why did I get married?

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(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Every year around Valentine’s Day I’m always fascinated by the deluge of news stories and commercials about love, romance and dating.

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Valentine’s Day, like most other holidays is overall a good idea, it’s an opportunity to share love with other people in your life, whether you have a special someone or not. One thing that does surprise me though, is that for all the talk of love and dating, there is fairly little public or commercial discussion of marriage during this time of year. Isn’t that what all of these cards, candies and flowers are hopefully going to lead to? It seems to me that while Americans are more obsessed than ever with finding and falling into true love, we are less interested than ever in actually getting married.

In 2009 Hampton University’s National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting as well as the Institute for American values put together a fascinating report outlining the major ‘marriage’ indicators in the United States. The research takes a look at and averages five factors that tell the state of marriages in the United States and African-Americans in particular from 1970 to 2008. This includes number of first marriages that are intact, percentage of people saying they are ‘very happy’ in their marriages and number of children born to married couples. The trends are going down on just about every available measure. Whereas in 1970 the nation as a whole averaged 76 percent on all of these marriage indicators, the number is down to 60 percent across the board today and just about all trends in marriage have continued to drop. The two outliers are that the percentage of first marriages that remain intact went from 59 to 61 percent from 2000 to 2008 and the percentage of kids who are living with their married parents has gone from 60 to 61 percent in that same period of time.

Generally I am intensely opposed to the lazy trend amongst many press people to bash and lament the state of Black marriages. However, the report shows that without question African-American marriage trends have dropped like the country as a whole, but by steeper margins since 1970. Of course poverty and unemployment have a lot to do with those trends but for those keeping score the report lists the state of the Black marriage as about 20 points below the national average (39 to 60 percent). However, the news isn’t all bad in the year 2000 over 54 percent of married Blacks reported being ‘very happy’ in their marriages, the highest percentage in the course of the 30 year study, even if the number did drop by 2008. Further, the percentage of African-American first marriages that are intact has actually gone up since 2008 as well, comporting with other reports that suggest marriage in the Black community, between Black people, is actually on the rise overall compared to other races. So while the news isn’t all bad, it still doesn’t address the real conundrum about love and marriage faced by all Americans regardless of color.

How is it that at a time when dating sites like match.com, eharmony, blacksingles and cupid.com are reporting record profits and membership increases every year, the number of people who are actually getting married continues to fall? Of course everyone who is out there dating isn’t necessarily looking to get married, but that is the underlying goal of much of the searching going on and yet fewer and fewer people seem to be getting there. It’s like seeing that there is a huge increase in television sales over the last 10 years but overall television viewership is dropping at the same time. I think that most people want to get married but have no idea how and no idea how to maintain a relationship once they have one. Dating is easy, but marriage is a privilege. Many generation Xers believe that because they are attractive, educated and over 35 that getting married is their birthright when it isn’t. Marriage is a lifelong business and emotional partnership, not everyone wants to get into business with you, it doesn’t work that way. The fact that so many are out there looking yet still not finding suggests that most folks out there don’t know what they’re looking for. So take heart that the Black marriage is doing a lot better than most people may think. But also consider, if so many people are looking and few are finding maybe we should be asking the question ‘why do we want to get married’?

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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