By Naomi Schaefer Riley
“Poly-Cocktails,” I learned last week, doesn’t refer to tropical drinks or even complicated ones. Rather, it’s the name of a Lower East Side party for people who are done with monogamy.
This revelation, care of a Rolling Stone article that’s been making the rounds, is mustered as evidence that Millennials think differently about sex and marriage than past generations. To the point where, gosh, well-dressed, educated young men and women are having open relationships.
The article practically gushes about its subjects: “Leah and Ryan, 32 and 38, respectively, don’t fit … preconceived ideas [about open relationships]. They’re both young professional types. She wears pretty skirts; he wears jeans and trendy glasses. They have a large, downtown apartment with a sweeping view.”
Wow, even people with money want to have sex with people who aren’t their significant others?
The author goes to great lengths to suggest that this is not your parents’ (or grandparents’) open relationship. Move over, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Forget about the key-swapping parties in “The Ice Storm.” This is the New Monogamy, “a type of polyamory in which the goal is to have one longstanding relationship and a willingness to openly acknowledge that the longstanding relationship might not meet each partner’s emotional and sexual needs for all time.” How mature.
Note to Rolling Stone editors: Plenty of married couples acknowledge this. But they also acknowledge that having their “needs met” may not be the only or the most important reason to get married and stay married.
“There will always be an avant-garde,” says William Tucker, author of the new book, “Marriage and Civilization.” Yet the statistics (largely absent from the Rolling Stone piece — why let facts get in the way?) suggest that middle- and upper-class Americans (those most likely to make up that avant-garde) are actually the most likely to marry.
Which is not to say that nothing’s changed. The average age of marriage has skyrocketed over the past half-century, which has meant several changes for Millennial relationships.
First, when people do get married today, they’ve typically been living on their own for more than a decade and are less likely to take advice from their families than, say, someone marrying at 21. Second, they’re more likely to have sampled the other options and have a longer list of things they’re looking for in a mate.
One’s 20s have long been a period of experimentation, Tucker notes. And, thanks to the pill, it can be experimentation without major life consequences — i.e., a baby.
Indeed, when the pill was first introduced, he reports, people talked of birth control as something that “would allow men and women to do a better job of finding the right person — people wouldn’t be forced into marriage before they’re ready.”
Yet there’s little evidence that the pill has vastly improved our choice of marriage partners. The divorce rate certainly hasn’t dropped.
In other words, the New Monogamy, which is really one long not-completely-faithful relationship after another, isn’t improving the prospects for what most young adults still say they want — a happy and faithful marriage. ...