I Virtually Do: How Social Media Is Changing Marriage

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I’m browsing Pinterest, the social photo-sharing site, and head over to Christina Crescimanno’s page. Her “Future Wedding" board features exquisite photos of diamond rings, elegant hairstyles, and creative party favors. There are well over 100 pins, and while scrolling through them I almost forget the irony: Christina is 20 years old, and for her, a wedding isn’t in the near future.

Photo by Marissa Angell

It seems marriage is still far off for many 20-somethings. The rates of single ladies and gents across the USA are at an all-time high; 44 percent of Americans are currently unattached, compared to 33 percent back in the 50s. And while the average age of marriage was around 22 years old in 1950, that number has now increased to 25 for women and 27 for men. There are a number of theories to explain why women in particular are less eager to get hitched: Maybe they fear settling down, or they’re scared of commitment, or they’re more concerned about getting an MBA than an Mrs. degree.

Still, these reasons haven’t stopped many women from fantasizing about the glamour of the wedding day. Even if it’s more common to opt out of saying “I do,” weddings and marriage are consuming our computer screens through wedding-planning sites like Pinterest and Lover.ly.

So why are we ready to walk down the digital aisle, but not the real one?

Pin This — Marriage in the Media

Head to the Internet to search for wedding ideas, and you might end up staring at the computer for hours. There’s Pinterest, a site for making virtual bulletin boards that isn’t specific to weddings; Lover.ly, which features artistic wedding photos; Project Wedding, with advice on everything from honeymoons to bridal fashion; and MyKnot, where users create personal guest lists and gift registries.

Pinterest launched in 2010 and lets 10.4 million users create digital scrapbooks that display themed images of everything from food, to fitness mantras, to designer dresses. Many people also use Pinterest to organize ideas for specific events, like birthdays, vacations, and (you guessed it) weddings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 80 percent of pinners are women, typically upper-middle-class gals in their late 20s who date men. (Queer wedding boards exist, but they’re fewer and further between.)

But not everyone needs a ring to be invited to the online wedding world. Lover.ly founder Kellee Khalil says a quarter of the site’s users aren’t even engaged. Do a quick “I want to be married” search on Pinterest, and up pop hundreds of boards of girls planning their wedding, even before a man enters the picture.

Which is what Christina is doing. The sophomore at Ramapo College in New Jersey is in a relationship but has no plans to marry soon. Still, head over to her Pinterest account, and it may look otherwise.

“I collect pictures of wedding ideas [on Pinterest] so when I do eventually get married, I can look back on this and know what is out there,” she wrote in an email. “It’s just something girls do on Pinterest. We don't actually believe our weddings are going to be like that, but it’s fun to look at pretty decorations and daydream about what the day would be like.”

Yet fantasy isn’t the only thing Christina pins: “I don't like when people focus more on the wedding day as opposed to the actual marriage. I also have a board for date ideas and how to keep your relationship fun.” She also has boards dedicated to favorite foods, tattoo ideas, and even knitting tips.

Loralise LoDolce, a 22-year-old graduate of Syracuse University, is in a similar situation. She’s in a serious relationship and has a “Someday” board of engagement cards, pregnant bellies, and baby clothes pins. Over email, she told me she uses Pinterest to fantasize about her future without bugging her boyfriend: “My ‘Someday’ board allows me to look forward to being married and having kids without dumping that on my boyfriend or pressuring him in any way by talking about those things. While he knows about this board of mine, he compares my activity on Pinterest to his fantasy football league: They both exist, but neither of us want to hear about the other.”

For 27 year-old Lover.ly user Allison, pinning serves much the same purpose. Allison’s been in a serious relationship for three years and she and her boyfriend have discussed marriage in casual conversation, but they haven’t made any serious plans. “[My boyfriend] doesn’t know that I go on Lover.ly, or that I’m an active user,” she told me over the phone. “It’s sneaky, yes, but it’s also fun to plan a secret wedding without worrying about what others think.”

I Do (Not, For Now) — Why We’re Waiting

Even though marriage rates are going down, we may still revel in the excitement of the wedding day. Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman says it may not be the marriage we’re looking for, but simply the wedding: “The young couples I work with [who are having marriage troubles] admit they get too caught up in the wedding day,” she told me over the phone. “But look — we’re definitely living in a society that promotes romance and marriage.”

Kate Bolick, contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of the essay “All The Single Ladies,” thinks marriage creates a fantasy world that appeals to almost everyone: a world devoid of loneliness. As for the wedding ceremony? That world can be just as provocative, filled with romance and beauty, where women, Bolick wrote in an email, play “princess for the day while drinking champagne and eating cake.”

Moreover, Bolick added, we may feel threatened — and even terrified — by the declining marriage rates. “It’s only natural that we’re going to fetishize a consoling fantasy of tradition exactly as it’s becoming endangered,” she said.

Money may be another huge factor in the rush to put a pin on it. Since 1950, the average cost of an American wedding has increased from $2,000 to $25,000. “It’s sad how much money people need to drop just to make their day special,” my friend and active Pinterest user Danielle Karagannis told me over coffee. “That’s not what love is supposed to be about, right?” For those who can’t afford a Cinderella ball gown, it may be tempting to browse dress photos and fantasize about wearing one instead. Some women also say they use Pinterest to reduce the cost of hiring a wedding planner. But, on the other hand, not every woman spends half the day picking out the perfect-shaped diamond.

Tying the Virtual Knot — The Next Best Thing

For some of the women I talked to, wedding planning just wasn’t their slice of cake. In fact, only a few of the dozen or so 20-something women I interviewed were registered on Pinterest; even fewer said they've made or browsed wedding boards.

“Me and my boyfriend just aren't in a rush!” Christy P. wrote in an email. “I want to get my master's before we even think about getting married… We're still young!” I asked if she’d ever even fantasized about her wedding day and she admitted, “I have a folder on my desktop with a few pictures I've seen of things I like, but I think there are maybe eight photos in there. I'm definitely not the type to be thinking about my wedding when I'm not engaged!”

When I asked one woman over the phone if she had a wedding board, she responded, “What?! Of course not,” as if I’d asked if she had ever robbed a bank.

Perhaps it comes down to passion. I talked about my wedding research with a 26-year-old friend who’s also currently single. “The reason I don't fantasize about weddings is because I fantasize about other things,” she told me. “I daydream all the time about traveling, of going everywhere and anywhere. I have a Pinterest board of cities I know I have to get to. Although the content of my travel board may be different than another girl's wedding Pinterest board, what drives both is the same — I strongly think that passion drives these small obsessions.”

Do you ever fantasize about your wedding day? Search for ideas online? Share your secrets in the comments below.

About the Author
Laura Schwecherl
I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for...

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