Editor’s note: The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, and at its heart is the desire for prosperity and success. But the American Dream is changing. The Aiken Standard looks at why that is in a four-part series concluding today.
The American Dream has existed for as long as America itself, transforming through the years. Marriage and family have been parts of the culture since before the pilgrims landed in the New World.
However, the expectations and values of courtship and marriage have changed since those days.
The “craze” of dating rose in the 1920s, according to magazine Psychology Today. In the 1950s, “getting married right out of high school or while in college was considered the norm,” according to PBS.
Today, online dating exists, and sometimes women court men, according to the magazine.
There are relationships that last a couple months, and there are some that last several years.
Aiken native Katie Binion met Sam Leguizamon in 2009. They have now been dating for more than three years, she said.
One of their biggest challenges is distance. She attends Anderson University, while he goes to Clemson University.
“Since we don’t go to the same school, we have to schedule and plan ahead for when we want to see each other,” Binion said. “But we make it a point to see each other one night during the week and then spend lots of time on the weekends.”
The time they can spend together is very sacred, as they will even turn down other engagements just to keep it.
Right now, Binion is a senior, Leguizamon a junior.
“We have talked about getting married,” Binion said. “We both want to finish our undergraduate degrees first before we get married.”
Lately, people are getting married later in life.
“If we delay early childbirth and younger marriages, we have stronger marriages,” said Dr. Philip Mason, USC Aiken assistant professor of sociology.
Men are now around 29 and women around 27 when they get married, according to the National Marriage Project. This is versus 22 for a man and 20 for a female in the 1950s.
Theories have formed as to why that is.
Expectations of marriage have changed, according to Ellen Miller, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Aiken.
Women have jobs, and there is now a need for a more equal household, she said.
Also, the older a person is, the more financially stable he or she is. As a person ages, he or she gains wisdom and experience, Mason said.
Mandy and Carston Woodhouse of Aiken are now in their 30s.
This December, they will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary.
“I’m really grateful (getting married) didn’t happen for me until my mid to late 20s, because I needed to grow, and I changed so much in that time,” Mandy said. “I’m glad I kind of knew who I was when we met.”
The Woodhouses knew each for two years before they married.
That time has ultimately affected their marriage today, Mandy said.
“We communicated so well,” Carston said. “There were so many things that were healthy about our relationship before we were married.”
Now, “we’ve grown together,” Mandy said.
One day, Binion and Leguizamon and the Woodhouses would like to have children.
Local choral teacher Lorraine Ray has a child – a son named Michael.
She was 28 when she had him. She has been a single parent ever since.
“It was always difficult, more difficult than you think it’s going to be when you go into it,” Ray said.
In the 1980s, when Michael was attending school, Ray said she always felt she was being judged.
Since the 1960s, the number of births to unmarried mothers has more than tripled, according to the Pew Research Center.
According to a survey conducted by the National Survey of Family Growth, more than 50 percent of females and 55 percent of males ages 15 to 44 in recent years agreed that, “It is OK for an unmarried female to have a child.”
Ray said that she would have full compassion and understanding for single women who want to have children.
“It’s a normal way to feel,” she said.
But she said her time was stressful.
“I tried to do it all,” she said. “I had to prove to the world I could do it all.”
Ray’s son is a teacher at Augusta Prep and the director at Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
Around the 1970s and ’80s, divorce rates were at their all-time highs. Since then, “it has been falling slowly but steadily ever since,” according to the National Marriage Project.
“Marriage is still important. We are just delaying it,” Mason said.
Couples choose divorce for various reasons.
One person might outgrow the other. One might become attracted to someone outside the relationship. There could be a death in the family or trouble with parenting, Miller said.
A reason that the rates are not so high today may be connected to the delayed married age, according to the National Marriage Project.
Also, the recession could be a factor, Mason said.
The Woodhouses personally don’t ever see divorce in their future.
“(Marriage) is not always easy. It’s not always fun,” Mandy said. “But divorce is not an option for us.”
Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and lays out pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.