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Hard to Say 'I Do'
The younger generation are willing to say 'I love you', but hesitate to enter marriage because of uncertainty about their future and emotions.

A man holding flowers waits for his girlfriend at the entrance to Starbucks. Nowadays more young people prefer to remain single.

Rarely will young people refuse to fall in love, but as for marriage, this is different.

Researchers have found that local youth are waiting longer than ever to walk down the aisle.

In Shanghai, over 500,000 people remain single although they've reached far beyond the legal age to marry.

Statistics from Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau find that the average age for first marriages among local men is now at a record-high of 27 years, and many women are waiting until they are over 25 to say "I do". On average, both men and women are delaying the decision to marry by five years in the past decade.

The traditional concept that everyone must marry has weakened with a reduction in social pressure. And the idea of pursuing serious relationships without marriage is gaining increasing popularity.

Marriage phobia is becoming a common term in China's big cities.

"But obviously, most of them are not really phobia sufferers," said Zhang Haiyin, professor from Shanghai Mental Health Center.

"They have their reasons for not marrying, but if you look closely at these reasons, you will find most have resulted from a misunderstanding of marriage."

Zhang has categorized those suffering from marriage phobia into three groups, which he thinks are representative of the current youth.


"One characteristic of modern society is that people are being driven to be more self-centered," Zhang said.

When this type of thinking becomes too strong, they are unable to even share the same space with other people, to say nothing of contracting marriage partners.

Michael Li is a typical example. After graduating from a famous university in Shanghai, Li found a job as a civil servant. It wasn't long before he developed a dislike for such serious work.

He quit the job, and made a romantic choice - becoming a freelancer. Li has traveled and written a lot. The work has also provided him with the opportunity to meet different girls, and he has fallen in love many times. But the idea of marriage and living with another person under the same roof is something he found especially hard to accept.

"I don't want to be restrained," Li said. "I can't stand having to report everything to another person, even trifles like dinning out with my friends. I enjoy my current freedom. I don't want to lose it."

This kind of thinking is common to the youth brought up in only-child families, Zhang pointed out.

"When the children come from families where they were coddled too much, they become accustomed to having their every whim indulged, and it is easy for them to develop a self-centered mentality," he added. "Still the economic burden, the household chores, and to be loyal to their spouse - all these things are not what they expect."

Risky Decision

Huang Jie (not his real name) is another one who has said no to marriage.

Huang now has a girl friend, and they enjoy their time together, he said. But who knows about the future? Marriage is a life-long commitment. It means that the two people have to live together for the rest of their lives.

Huang feels that it is natural for two people who live together for a long time to become bored with each other. But marriage restrains people from making other choices, especially after the family has a child.

"Even if our love fades, we would have to continue together," Huang said. "If we chose to divorce, then why get married at all?"

To him marriage is a risk.

"I have to bet all my happiness. If I lose, I lose my happiness, maybe for the rest of my life. It's too risky," he added.

Such a pessimistic attitude is especially obvious among those who have experienced disappointments in their love affairs, which makes them lose confidence in marriage, Zhang pointed out.

Childish Thoughts

The third group of people are mainly those who are too immature to accept marriage.

Mandy Li, a 29-year-old woman, is one of them. She has run away from her wedding ceremonies three times. Every time when the wedding ceremony drew closer, she began to feel nervous and upset. And her emotions spun out of control on the eve of the wedding.

"When I thought about all the time I would spend doing household chores, and taking care of my husband and child after marriage, I began to feel uneasy," she said.

"It would not be long before I became a wrinkle-faced old woman without any charm."

Experts point out that it is natural for people to get nervous before their wedding, but Li's anxiety is too childish. However, such "childish" thoughts are quite popular among the city's professional women.

Legal Protection

"Nowadays, as it becomes easier for people to have a sexual relationship without wedlock, marriage seems less important," said Ye Bin, a professor from East China Normal University.

"Making love while refusing the commitment of marriage is a purely selfish act, irresponsible and ultimately destructive."

To be committed to marriage, people must accept responsibility. It is a promise to do something, a pledge to pursue a certain course.

"The responsibility involved in the wedlock protects the love between the couple, but it also seems like a handicap to the modern youth who want a free life," Ye continued.

As the old saying goes: marriage is like wearing shoes. You won't know whether they fit or not until you put them on.

If you refuse, you may avoid the blisters caused by poor fitting shoes, but with bare feet, how can you protect yourself when the land in front of you is full of sharp objects?

(Shanghai Star July 7, 2002)

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