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30 percent of couples still meet through friends, and 15 percent of people may never get married

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Because How I Met Your Mother is ending tomorrow night, The Wall Street Journal decided to do a story about how people actually met your mother (i.e. their significant other), and it turns out that 30 percent of people still meet their S.O. through friends. (I’m in this boat.) That’s based on this paper from Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University, and has been the leading way that people meet romantic connections since the end of World War II. The explanation is probably pretty simple in your head, but here it is as well:

Why do social circles exert such influence over the life partners we meet? “Friends are the people we are closest to, the people we spend the most time with as adults, and therefore the people most likely to introduce us to others that we might be interested in,” says Dr. Rosenfeld. And since Americans now marry later than ever before, they are more likely to be living with friends (rather than parents) when searching for a spouse.

The amount of people who meet their eventual spouse at work is up to around 10 percent, which has been trending up gradually since the 1960s (when women entered the workforce more). Obviously there are “dipping your pen in the company ink” complications here that often make it hard to even start these types of relationships, but it still accounts for about 1 in 10 couplings (I believe all this data comes from “straight” relationships; I’ll try to do another post later this week on women-women and man-man partnerships).

Now here’s something interesting: apparently 80 percent of those under 45 believe there’s a “soul mate” out there for everyone, but the overall rate of “will never marry” is about 15 percent — it was five percent in the 1960s — and 40 percent of women today have never married. I guess I’d chock most of that up to greater female choice — honestly, the idea of a choice about having kids was only really a choice for the last 100 years or so, and maybe even less than that — which is a good/great thing.

The numbers are similar among men, though; only 26 percent of males 18-to-33 are married. For Boomers, that number was about 51 percent at given times. Could marriage be declining as an institution? Probably not, and hopefully not — it’s generally considered a booster of economic stability. (There are other theories that because marriage is typically between two people of the same socioeconomic bracket, the institution doesn’t do anything to shift or advance society. Believe whichever angle you’d like.)

The most important thing to remember with all of this — same with having kids, or getting a dream job, or really anything — is that research/studies/big data around anything are just numbers; everyone’s life is their own journey from Point A to Point Z. It happens at different times for different people. When I was 26-27, a ton of my guy friends were coupling off and marrying; I probably went to five weddings of good friends completely single. I’ll be honest: it was depressing, and I thought for a long time that I’d be kind of the basketcase of that group. Ultimately, I found a great person and it worked out (although like anything, there are still challenges). At some of those weddings, I had no hope and no idea what would happen. (Now sometimes I feel that way on the post-grad-school job front, so I can only assume that will work out too, in some way I don’t know yet.) So whether you’re in a box that’s “30 percent” or “26 percent” or “15 percent,” whatever … it’s just statistical analysis. That’s effective, but can’t always capture the true individual journey.

 

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