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|Bungee Families - Page 7|
In addition to responding to the challenges of a changing economy, the new bungee family has evolved as a consequence of dramatic shifts in the intimacy expectations and opportunities for emerging adults, who enter into first marriages significantly later now: about ages 26 for women and 28 for men. They're older, but still not so old. Economic uncertainty probably plays a role in relationship instability and reinforces a shorter-term approach to looking for love. Even quite committed young couples speak of waiting until they're more established—settled at work, finished with their schooling, more hopeful about their economic futures—before tying the knot. It's got to be hard to imagine being responsible for someone else, much less supporting a family, when you're living paycheck to paycheck.
We boomers worry loudly and chronically about a new generation of "commitment phobes," but we ourselves have paved the way for breaking out of the traditional, rigid, heterosexual dictates that once sent emerging adults scurrying to marry early and stay that way for life, happy or not. We demanded "freedom," which meant acceptance for cohabitation (whose rates since 1960 have increased more than 1,100 percent), serial monogamy, single unwed parenthood, gay and lesbian unions, and the choice to remain single and childless. About half of us have divorced, remarried, and (quite likely) divorced again. Many boomers have dated our own way through the adolescence of one or more of our kids, who may have parents they never see, half-siblings, stepsiblings, stepparents, and ex-stepparents. They've ridden, without choice, whatever relationship roller-coaster rides we've taken them on. It's no wonder that they may be leery of closing the deal too soon!
Economic hardship, multiple options, and poor models for how to make marriages succeed may all contribute to postponing emotional commitment, but the same factors have made the secure love provided by bungee families even more essential. Emerging adults, like everyone else in the world, need to know that in time of need, someone will reliably and predictably be there for them. Parents traditionally fill this role with young children, spouses or long-term partners for each other, adult children for elderly parents unable to care for themselves. Everyone needs secure love, at every age and stage of life. Friends can provide it, and therapists can, too; there's no rule that only families can take care of people this way. But the culture has created a kind of secure-love dead zone for emerging adults living on their own. Without committed partners, stable jobs, health insurance, or established communities, and with a peer network going through a similar upheaval, they may desperately need parents who tell them, "I am still here for you when you need me."