The XX Factor

The Trouble with Generation-Defining Trend Pieces

When I saw Anna Fields’ Daily Beast post, “Marriage, Red-State Style,” over the weekend, I was relieved. Finally, someone had articulated the amorphous discomfort that had been nagging at me since reading Kate Bolick’s controversial cover story in The Atlantic earlier this month: It just doesn’t hold up beyond New York City.

Bolick’s lengthy piece—for those who haven’t yet committed to a long-term relationship with its 20-printed pages—thoroughly explores the increasingly woolly terrain of modern courtship and marriage, noting, in truly fascinating detail, the emergence of various lifestyles beyond coupledom, ranging from committed singletons to cohabitating friends to single-sex compounds to polyamory and beyond. What isn’t so fascinating, though, is the writer’s generalization that, because women are now more openly exploring new options and men are supposedly on the decline, an entire generation or two under 40 doesn’t want to get married anymore.

As Fields points out, this is simply not true in much of the country, especially in our shared homeland down South. I have watched—generally with a mix of disapproval and concern, on a few rare occasions with approbation—as, one-by-one, my high school girlfriends jumped into marriages at the super-mature ages of 22, 23, and so on. Women who had seemed so driven and talented, so capable of achieving things beyond a comfortable small-town, nuclear family existence, are settling into and, in my not-so-humble opinion, for, just that. I frequently worry about many of them, hoping that my admittedly judgmental and unsolicited predictions about their choices will prove wrong. I also feel for those who haven’t yet succumbed to the pressure of family members who nag and question to the point of tears and self-doubt about marriage prospects before their daughters have even finished college.

Fields has it right: Marriage is definitely still alive in the South, if not in all cases well.

Of course, reading Field’s piece, you’ll notice that she participates in the same reductive reasoning and anecdotal extrapolation that she’s criticizing (for that matter, so am I). The truth is, we could all have been spared a lot of trouble and embarrassing logical fallacy had Bolick avoided making such a grand and necessarily controvertible claim in the first place. That kind of proposition demands that the reader either agrees and praises or, like Fields and myself, disagrees and balks; worse, it distracts from all of the fantastic reportage and storytelling that the rest of the article contains. When I can practically smell the insular Park Slope dinner party where the whole thing was cooked up (“My goodness girls, isn’t it funny how we’re all middle-aged and single and still fabulous?”), I have a hard time trusting the genuinely revelatory stuff.

Bolick isn’t the only offender. Noreen Malone (formerly of Slate) recently had a poignant piece in New York Magazine that describes the terrifying problems facing our “Millennial” age group, including wealth disparity, overwhelming student loan burdens and generally dimmer prospects for a prosperous future. All very worthy stuff, but unfortunately, Malone chose to go with the personal experience-based, generation-defining frame: According to her, we’ve basically given up on the relatively comfortable life we were falsely promised by our “everyone gets a trophy” upbringing and have instead found solace by pickling things in a Bushwick loft. I suspect, however, that most of us, including many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, actually just want a decent-paying job. Or maybe I’m wrong, too.

Can we just agree it’s time to have done with these “My Generation is this Way” trend pieces altogether?