How Does Your Marriage Stack Up?

Today’s younger Philly couples are not only waiting longer to say "I do"; they’re dealing with a whole different set of issues than their parents—from Facebook-stalking to who gets to pick the love seat. Can marriage survive it? An intimate look at an institution in flux

Picture a man and a woman. Let’s call them Michael and Jennifer. Michael is 30 and has a college degree; he’s worked hard to get ahead at the office and been rewarded with promotions. Jennifer, who is 28, puts in long hours at work, too, and also has a college degree. They’re ambitious. By the time these two meet, they’ve enjoyed single life for several years and dated with abandon. They make each other laugh and fall in love and have sex and plan a wedding (not necessarily in that order). The Big Day might have religious, cultural and family traditions incorporated, or it might just be what they think of as a big blowout for all their friends and kin.

[sidebar]Michael and Jennifer are partners, as we like to pronounce today. If they haven’t yet lived together—and chances are high that they have, because according to a recent Pew/Time survey, more than half of all adults ages 30 to 49 say they’ve shacked up—they’ll then have to merge two very fully formed lives and careers, along with families, friends, contents of condos (pillows, tchotchkes, furniture, artwork), sleeping habits and approaches to household chores. (One modern development: Thanks to iPods, they no longer have to mix music—no one’s fighting over record collections anymore.) When the merger’s complete, they’ve got something they can both live with. They hope.

“You come with all your baggage. It seems almost impossible, doesn’t it?” poses Monica Mandell, director of the Philadelphia branch of upscale matchmakers Selective Search. “The whole concept seems silly.”

This from a woman who’s dedicated to the business of partnering up the Michaels and Jennifers of the world.

WHAT DO YOU think when you picture Michael and Jennifer?

Lucky girl! I wonder what her wedding dress looked like.

Well, those two have a 50-50 shot at making it.

Michael’s taken the plunge. Now he’s stuck with the old ball and chain.

I wonder when they’ll have kids?

How narrow-minded! What about Michael and Michael? And Jennifer and Jennifer?

Whether or not you identify with—or pity, or get pissed off by—Michael and Jennifer, they are today’s most typical young couple, according to a report released at the end of last year called “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” based on a joint study by Time magazine and the Pew Research Center (the Washington think-tank arm of the Philly-based Pew Charitable Trusts).

They’re older than their parents were when they got hitched. One or both of them probably have parents who divorced. They both work. They’ll most likely have children. And they’ll both continue to work. Though the country they live in is still debating the legalization of same-sex marriage, they themselves are as likely as not to be for it. The Pew/Time poll found that 46 percent of 20-somethings think “the growing variety of family arrangements is a good thing.”