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Changing Roles of Relationships

By Sarah Parker | WNC Woman Magazine – Feb 2012

Amanda Henderson* remembers wanting marriage and children by the age of 25. Now, at 28, she says that she and her boyfriend are in no rush to say “I Do.”

Born and raised in Asheville, NC, Henderson says, “Growing up as a female in Western North Carolina (WNC), getting married is an expected step in life. I went away to college assuming I’d meet my future husband and tie the knot. Slowly but surely, I began to realize that there was no “me” in that equation. What about what I wanted to do with my life? What about what I wanted to be? So, I got an education and traveled the world, and now I am spending time focusing inward on my goals and dreams. We have the rest of our lives to be together, and I think it’s important to have a little ‘me time’ first.”

Amanda is among the growing trend of young people in the United States who are waiting longer to get married. According to data from the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Census Bureau, “The median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years).”

Although the median age at first marriage in WNC is slightly younger than the country and NC as a whole, it has still increased over the last several decades.

There are varying reasons for the delay including public attitude towards marriage, economic reasons, increased cohabitation, heightened divorce rates, and a growing number of young adults enrolled in higher education.

Regardless of the reason for the trend, this can be a good thing!

“Personal growth is one of the best reasons for a person to delay getting married,” says Western Carolina University Sociologist and Director of Women’s Studies Dr. Marilyn Chamberlin.

Error: Image Unable to LoadFor the WNC woman, an advantage of putting wedding bells off for a few years is that, “They are able to learn about themselves and discover things beyond their own community. The ability and chance to explore before you get married, not only who you are, but also what’s out there and available, [in] different areas, different locations, different cities, etc., provides an increased relationship with, and a greater understanding of, yourself,” said Dr. Chamberlin.

There is a new website and community, the first of its kind, that agrees, and they are adding a face and a name to this new Women’s Movement. is “a community of women that believes in pursuing their careers and dreams, having adventures, and living their own lives first.”

CEO and Founder Brenna Smith explains, “The relationship with yourself is just as important as the relationship with others. Women often spend much of their life fostering relationships with other people and caring for them, while putting their own wants, desires, dreams and wishes on the back burner.

Smith continues, “We were given life not with the goal of weddings and procreation, but with the goal to achieve our dreams, see the world, have adventures, and to embrace all the wonders our one life has to offer.”

SheNOW wants women to take several years after graduation for self-discovery, to travel the world, to start their dream jobs and “to live it up.” That time period is their opportunity to take chances and risks that they may never take as a mother with dependents.

“I believe women should set aside this window of time to explore their own strengths, possibilities, feelings, motivations, wants, and needs. Women should have the freedom to choose to marry, and they should do so from a powerful, informed, and free place void of any pressure from society and family.”

Why is this site important for WNC women? Dr. Chamberlin explains, “SheNOW is important, especially in WNC, because there’s a lot of isolation that goes on due to the terrain. This website tears down walls and allows women to connect with other like-minded women from all across the world.”

“More importantly, the site and community is valuable because it provides women with a sense that there are alternatives and options available, and you don’t have to go down one path.”

Dorothy Taylor* of Waynesville, 63, agrees. “I wish ‘options’ had been more acceptable and out in the open back in my day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband, but in hindsight, I think we could have waited several years.”

“I encouraged my daughters, and now my grandchildren, to take time to figure out who they are first. I want them to be complete on all facets (emotionally, professionally, financially, personally, etc.) before walking down the aisle. They know that being completely whole allows them to be a better partner and bring more to their relationship should they decide to marry one day.”

In their recent study, Pew Research Center also found that “Declines in marriages have occurred among all age groups, but are most dramatic among young adults. Today, just 20% of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59% in 1960.”

Wait; does this mean no one is getting married in WNC or the United States anymore? No. People are getting married; it’s just occurring later, and while four-in-ten Americans feel marriage is becoming obsolete, 61% of the population still wants to get married.

“So, obviously there is still a desire to be in a relationship,” said Dr. Chamberlin. “But, what I think is going to start changing in WNC, and beyond, is how we are going to start defining that relationship.”

“One of the things that we don’t do a good job of emphasizing is relationships. It’s probably because we are so focused on end results of anything and everything. For example, some women won’t get in relationships unless they think marriage is at the end of it,” Dr. Chamberlin continued. “So, when it comes to relationships you want to focus on what you are taking from and giving to the relationship rather than what the status is.”

Her advice to all women? “I would just hope that women would make the decision that’s right for themselves rather than what’s right for everyone else around them.”

Historically for women, there’s always been a feeling of you either: A) get married now or, B) you don’t, and end up a “spinster.” It’s 2012 and that image is fading! Women now have a third option C) Marriage? What’s the Rush?!TM

*Name has been changed for anonymity


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