Marriage has gone through profound changes over the last five decades, but we continue to speak about it as though it's the same old familiar pattern. To see how much has changed, look at the shift from the forties, when my parents got married, to the sixties, when I graduated from high school, to today.
I got my diploma and headed off to Stanford University in 1968, less than a year after the famous Summer of Love. "The times they were a-changing." The sexual revolution, Viet Nam, drugs—my friends and I were convinced the world would never be the same again. Yet we didn't think about how such changes would affect marriage. We thought it would be about the same as it had been for our parents, except better because we (like most youth of most times) thought we were better than our gray and jaded parents.
Our parents, the World War II veterans, thought so, too. I mean they thought marriage would work out for us as it had for them. They were just glad when we got married. Finally, the kids were beginning to settle down and act like regular people.
In a way, we were. Marriage is very slow to change. Today's young people can listen to their grandparents tell how they fell in love, or what their first apartment was like, and feel that nothing is different. The sweetness of love, the struggles of partnership, the passion of sex—these move, but only within an orbit that is determined by human nature.
Yet in 50 years, marriage has changed dramatically. As a parent, I realize what my parents did not—that my children must marry under circumstances neither I, nor my parents, ever knew. It's sobering to contrast my parents' circumstances, marrying in 1946, with what my own children can expect in the decade to come.1