By Emily Erickson
Joe is a patron at the bar I regularly tend. He is an 87-year-old Italian man, who, at full standing height, reaches just above my shoulders. He orders a “drambuie on the rocks,” by shouting across the quiet, subdued bar room, and follows his request with a booming, “Thank you!” Joe has hearing aids, but he prefers not to wear them.
Being someone who thrives on conversations with the folks sipping cocktails across from me, I’ve learned quite a bit about Joe in my time as a North Idaho bartender. He was happily married to Evelyn until her passing almost 10 years ago. Evelyn, he described, was “the kindest woman he’d ever known,” also sharing, she “had little boobs, but a huge heart.” (So there’s hope for me, after all).
Joe is a retired veteran originally from New Jersey, who lives with his hound Dukey in the country. He likes the quiet and the wild animals, and loves that Dukey greets him upon arrival by playfully licking his ears.
A few weeks ago, Joe insisted on taking me out on a “date.” He offered to pick me up, but imagining his little shoulders barely reaching the steering wheel, I opted to drive myself. We met at Ivanno’s, and after sipping wine and nibbling on freshly baked bread, the conversation turned to me. In his hearing aid-less voice, he shouted, “WHY AREN’T YOU MARRIED?” Followed by, “DON’T YOU WANT KIDS?”
Feeling my cheeks flush, I giggled at the amused faces of the nearby customers in the dining room with us. Way to be discrete, Joe.
I replied, “I’m still young! And I am in no rush!”
“You’re not that young,” he boomed. Oh, to be the age of socially-accepted brutal honesty.
Joe couldn’t wrap his head around my soon-to-be-27-year-old ring finger hanging emptily off my hand and was fearful I’d miss my chance at wedded bliss by being too picky. But here’s the thing. Like much of my generation, I’m actually in no rush.
According to a PEW Research study, the median age for millenial matrimony is 27 years old for females and 29 for males, up from 20 and 23 years old in 1960, with as much as 25 percent of millennials opting to forgo marriage altogether.
As my dinner date with Joe proved, this new paradigm of postponed marriage is hard for other generations to comprehend, and is largely seen as deviant from what was understood as normal in the past.
Deviance in sociology is as an action or behavior that violates socially accepted norms, and according to French sociologist Emile Durkheim, serves an important purpose in the healthy functioning of society.
Durkheim’s theory of deviance contends that acting outside of what is socially accepted is a necessary element of a society because it contributes to establishing social order. For example, when a person acts criminally, it affirms what we believe culturally to be right and wrong. It also brings people together, through sharing a belief in the behavior as being deviant or undesired (think shoplifting, arson, slow left lane driving, close-talking, etc.)
According to Durkheim, another function of this deviance is to promote social change. It can encourage the dominant society to consider alternatives to the norms and values currently in place. Rosa Parks promoted social change through her act of personal deviance when she stayed in her seat, and perhaps, Millennials are doing the same (if less profound) by challenging the standing institution of marriage in their waiting longer or opting out of matrimony altogether.
In the Psychology Today article “Millennials are Changing the Rules of Marriage,” author Susan Pease Gadoua wrote, “Rather than having only a choice to marry the same old way, or to not marry, let’s get a little imaginative and come up with marital options that would be better suited to a variety of people, including a short-term trial union for younger couples (or) a child-rearing marriage for those who’d like to be nothing more than co-parents.”
Imagine if “‘til death do us part,” became, “until we renew our marriage license in five years,” or if you didn’t lose your economic benefits when your husband is demoted to merely your baby-daddy.
Admittedly, being a lover of classic fairy tales, the idea of shifting the institution of marriage definitely lacks romance, but as our society changes, with Millennials leading the charge, the systems we view as stagnant will inevitably change too. And I can only imagine what Joe will have to say when it does.
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.
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