Here’s a simple quiz. Check one of the following:
- I was born in 1979 or before.
- I was born in 1980 or after.
If you checked A you may be part of Generation X, the generation born between 1965 and 1979. I am part of this generation. A website that compares the characteristics of generations describes Gen X like this:
They often had both parents working, were exposed to daycare and divorce, and became known as “latchkey kids.” They are a well-educated generation with many having tertiary qualifications and are resourceful, individualistic, self-reliant and skeptical of authority. They often have a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
Now, if you checked B, you may be part of Generation Y, the generation born between 1980 and 1995. My husband is part of this generation. The same website describes Gen Y, known as Millennials, like this:
Millennials are very technology wise and are comfortable with ethnically diverse groups. Their values are similar to Veterans in that they are optimistic, confident, sociable, and have strong morals and a sense of civic duty.
Another site makes the following comparisons between the two generations:
- The pessimistic Gen-X’ers and the optimistic Millennials
- The individualistic Gen-X’ers and the team-oriented Millennials
- The pragmatic Gen-X’ers and the idealistic Millennials
The other day a friend of mine made an interesting observation: “I’ve seen more and more of my 30-something female friends be pursued by guys in their early 20s. Those guys seem more willing to pursue. I wonder if it’s the generational difference.”
That’s when it struck me: Are Generation Y guys (and women) more optimistic about marriage and family than Generation X? After all, Millennials were the “Baby on Board” generation. Regardless of whether or not their parents stayed married, these kids were instilled with a high view of family life. Gen X, on the other hand, is the first significant “divorce generation.” As a result, it casts a suspicious eye on all things marriage and family.
For better or for worse, each generation seems to carry its own baggage. And this got me thinking, “What if the problem of young people not marrying is coming to an end?” Perhaps the problem is influenced more by generational attitudes and mores than other factors such as the moral decline of society, media and a lack of interest in spiritual things.
When I was dating my 23-year-old husband, I remember Candice Watters telling me that Kevin was in what she considered to be “the valor years.” She told me she had observed men in their early 20s being especially courageous when it came to pursuing women. And, she felt, that as men aged into their 30s and beyond, they lost some of that ambition.
But perhaps age isn’t informing those men’s actions as much as their optimistic, team-oriented, idealistic view of marriage.
Remember that great article in The Wall Street Journal, “Did I Get Married Too Young?” In it, the author, David Lapp, who married at 22 (last year), lauds the benefits of early marriage. His perspective is not so shocking when you consider — you guessed it — he’s a Millennial.
Redeeming Your Generation
If you’re Generation X, like me, you may be getting a bit down in the dumps. (It’s OK, that’s how we roll.) But the point is NOT that Generation X is bad and Generation Y is awesome (their words, not mine). From The Gen X Files blog:
The idea that somehow the Gen-X’ers failed and the Millennials will succeed is a fallacy. Comparing these generations’ attitudes during their youth is not as important as seeing how they will work together to change the world. Having the tough, capable and pragmatic Gen-X’ers working alongside the idealistic, team-oriented and enthusiastic Millennials is just the right recipe. We both have lots to teach each other.
Now let’s apply that to Christian singles and their quest for marriage. Gen-X has not failed simply because its members tend to be tough, capable and pragmatic (which is — by the way — how I would describe most single women my age). God has given each of us everything we need for a fulfilling, godly life and marriage (2 Peter 1:3). No generation is left on its own.
Furthermore, just because members of Generation Y are more likely to jump into marriage with enthusiasm does not ensure their ultimate success. They will surely have to apply some pragmatism to their marriages at some point in order for those relationships to survive.
I see this in my own marriage. Being the Gen X’er that I am, I tend to remind my husband of our limitations — financial and otherwise. On the positive side, when his idealism is crushed (which I usually saw coming), I skillfully reassemble the pieces into something good. My expectations tend to be low; his tend to be high. We balance each other out.
Am I advocating cross-generational marriage as the solution? Not necessarily. While looking at the differences between Gen X and Gen Y certainly demonstrates that partners from different generations can form great marriages, two members of the same generation can also thrive.
The key is in recognizing what is motivating us. Several years ago, I wrote about the sad view of marriage portrayed in a popular film. It depicted Gen X’ers … not thriving. In the movie, the main character must make a decision whether or not to marry his pregnant girlfriend of three years:
On the brink of commitment, Michael panics. Viewing his three best friends — one trapped in a demoralizing marriage, another recently dumped and devastated and a third living it up with multiple sexual partners — Michael is terrified that his exciting life is grinding to a halt. He has stepped on the human conveyor belt where each step is planned and nothing surprising will ever happen again.
Do you recognize the lie here? It’s the same one Satan extended in the garden. “God’s wants to withhold something exciting from you. Don’t trust Him. His way is lame.” That is the age-old deception. Take the fruit. Grasp for the thing that seems best to you.
This lie is ever-present but plays out differently for different generations. Generation Y may tend to jump at the fruit, not fully considering or even caring about the consequences. Generation X gets lured in by the appeal of the fruit, analyzes it and eventually gets tired of waiting and decides the fruit is the best they can hope for. Two approaches; same end result.
Is it possible the marriage crisis is ending? (By marriage crisis, I mean the significant decrease in marriages we’re seeing today.) I don’t know. But watching eager Millennials get married left and right (Kevin Jonas, anyone?) does offer some hope. Regardless of whether a solution is on the horizon, both generations need to be alert.
Getting Over Ourselves
Speaking from experience, Generation X is romantically constipated. We’re at an impasse. Both sexes have put up emotional walls that prevent the easy forming of marriages. We’re skeptical of the idea of lifelong commitment and monogamy, and yet, the alternative — living without sex and companionship — is frustrating and unnatural.
To those in my generation: Allow the Lord to reprogram your heart and mind. Ask God to remove ungodly skepticism, self-centeredness and self-reliance from your heart. Repent of negative feelings you harbor toward marriage and family, and ask the Lord to soften your heart to his beautiful plan. Then ask Him to fill you with holy courage to pursue marriage, if that is what He is calling you to.
I recently heard of a man in his late 20s who was praying for a wife. At a Christian counseling class, the young woman sitting behind him began sharing with the class an insight she’d received from the Lord. The young man was captivated. In his heart, he asked: “Father, can I pursue this woman to be my wife?”
My friend, the young woman who had spoken, said, “It meant everything to me that he went straight to the Father for my heart.” The two are getting married this summer.
This kind of story sounds miraculous, but I believe it is the result of two hearts in tune with God and unhindered by fear. This man was praying for a wife and believed that God would provide.
To those in the generation below mine: I applaud your courage, enthusiasm and high view of marriage. These are incredible gifts that will drive you toward God’s beautiful intention for your life. But approach marriage with great prayer and seriousness. You are making a lifelong commitment — not an impulsive decision you can dispose of when something better comes along.
At some point your marriage may not feel like “happily ever after.” At that moment you must ask God to renew your heart and mind and cause them to yearn for His purposes. Remain unafraid of marriage, but commit to depend on God every step of the way.
To both generations: We are not victims of our generational attributes any more than we are captives to sin. Psalm 33:11 delivers this profound message: “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” We know that marriages and families are part of His plan. Our call is simple: Seek His heart and discover His purposes, then live them out in our generation.
Copyright 2010 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.