My parents had been married 36 years when my mom died. They’d never been married to anyone else. My grandparents made it 45 years.

I’ve been married for 18 years – but seven of those years were with my first husband and the last eleven have been with my second husband.  While it was shocking to the entire town my mom grew up in when her parents divorced, no one even batted an eye when I did.

The nature of relationships has changed in the last decade. There’s actually a term for the way relationships develop now, called “serial monogamy.” Unlike the 60s and 70s, when free love reigned, or the 80s and 90s when divorce ruled, the new millennium has seen an explosion of STD-conscious, socially aware, monogamous relationships.

The “new” couple doesn’t always get married, but they do live together. They stay together for five to seven years and sometimes longer. They keep their finances separate and don’t make promises about forever. Kids, religion, money, and education are all still issues, but marriage and getting married is not.

One couple I spoke to said they are not getting married because their gay and lesbian friends can’t marry, so they are protesting the idea of marriage in general. Another couple says that after living through – and barely surviving – the nasty divorces of their parents, the last thing they want to do is even think about marriage, so they enjoy what they have (including a child) and don’t worry about whether or not it’s “official.”

Still other couples say that since the odds are against them staying married forever, they just don’t go there – taking the “forever” pressure off. Marriage, according to one woman, is a “patriarchal method for controlling women” and that modern women may not need or want marriage the way their mothers may have.

It’s an interesting social phenomenon, one that is likely to cause ripple effects throughout society. Divorce rates may go down because less people get married in the first place. Kids may grow up with a very different perception about what – and who – makes a family. Women will maintain a level of independence – emotionally and financially – that may put them on more equal footing (over time) with their male counterparts. Those in the country who push for family values and the sanctity of marriage may find it a more difficult sell to the youngest adult generation – a generation well on their way to redefining family, relationships, feminism, and equality.