Aspects of romantic relationships in American culture


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Description of the kind of romantic relationships popular in American Culture. The aspects are Dating, Cohabitation, Marriage (Ceremony and Meaning), Same-sex marriage, and Divorce.

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Aspects of romantic relationships in American culture

  1. 1. Culture is an important aspect when considering communication. Different cultures havedifferent types of communication patterns, owing to their social norms and societal structure.What is respectful in one culture may be considered rude in another. For instance, thepractice of pre-marital sex or being a ‘single mother’ is not considered derogatory in theAmerican culture, but is looked down upon in the Indian culture. While American culture isliberal and individualistic, the Indian culture is more conservative and communistic.Likewise, Romantic relationships are seen in different ways in different cultures, andAmericans are the most open-minded regarding them. ***Teenage dating among Americans is quite common. Dating is a tricky subject, especiallywhen it comes to teenagers, as good advice is needed for the young teens. However, in theAmerican society, dating is supposed to be fun and memorable. Americans do not considerdating as a crucial issue. They believe that teenagers, being young, are still evolving as aperson, and need to go through different kinds of experiences in life on their own.Dating is considered to be a healthy social norm in the American society because they believethat through numerous different dates, a person will be able to get more insight into theopposite sex, and it will help in their self-development as well. For example, a person who isdating will have to learn about what he/she wants and needs as an individual. For Americans,dating is good for young teens to experience but of course taking a slow and easy course isimportant. According to the American culture, it is good for young teens to date, becausewhen they are getting older, they will eventually evolve into serious relationships. Theybelieve that teens shouldn’t burden themselves when they are young due to the kind ofcommitment they’ll need as a grown up once they are in a serious relationship.Furthermore, the concept of “one night stand” is very common and widely ‘accepted’ amongyoung teens in America. When people are upset or stressed about something, they tend to goto a pub and drink alcohol just to put off things behind their minds. Well, alcohol leads torisky behaviour and that’s what makes them even more prone and vulnerable to a one nightstand (sex) with a stranger or a friend. Most young teens experience this, and while “onenight stand” is so popular in America, the American society accepts this act with safetyprecautions.
  2. 2. Besides, most teens in America tend to ‘show off’ by drinking alcohol and getting drunk.They like to prove that they are more ‘cool’ and dominant in the society, especially in acollege or university environment. In America, the advancement of birth control programmeslaid down by organizations may be another factor for the popularity of dating and sex.Dating process is so lenient in the American society because of the many televisionprograms, dating sites, and other widespread exposure to the sexual content on media. “Intoday’s television programming, sexual content is commonplace, from daytime soap operas(which are quite popular with adolescents) to primetime broadcast. (Turner 2003, p.32). Thismedia culture cultivates the mind-sets of teenagers and causes them to have premarital sexduring their dating period.Also, when American teenagers attain the age sixteen, they are expected to be moreindependent and they are seen to have less parental control over their activities. This makesdating easier for them as they do not have to get permissions from their parents. Moreover,America being a free country, freedom of speech and free sex is practiced widely makingdating more lenient for the American teenagers with less punishment sentencing in thecountry’s laws. ***One of the popular aspects of romantic relationships in the American culture is ‘livingtogether’ or Cohabitation. Cohabitation is as an intimate relationship between two unmarriedindividuals who share the same living space. Traditionally, the circle of relationship for anAmerican is Dating, Engagement, and then Marriage. However, in the recent years, thepattern has increasingly changed to Dating, Cohabitation, and then Marriage. Overtime, theculture in America has experienced many changes at various stages such as in 1920s – thedevelopment of industry and women’s education, 1950s – the development becominginverse, and 1970s – the new civil rights laws and affirmative action policies. Till today, witha very dynamic culture, social norms in America have transformed from what used to beprohibited to what is now acceptable.Today, cohabitation is widely accepted in America. Americans view cohabitation as arelationship of convenience, especially in economic terms. For instance, typically the whitecollar classes work from 9.00 to 5.00 pm while their partners may work in a differentenvironment such as a nurse who works from 3.00 to 9.00 pm, making it an extremely
  3. 3. difficult and frustrating task for them to make time for each other. Thus, by moving intogether and sharing a house, they resolve this challenge and save costs. Besides that,cohabitation is also viewed by Americans as a way to reduce the rate of divorce, especiallyfor those individuals who have no confidence in commitment and tying the knot.Furthermore, behavior of partners in cohabiting relationships is inclined towards trust as theycommit mentally and physically to their partners without assurance, and thus usually try to beunderstanding towards their partners. However, the behavior of partners in cohabitingrelationships is quite different from that of married couples. “Studies have shown thatcohabitation is a less integrated union than marriage” (Zhang 2007, p.01). The level ofresponsibility is also different in cohabitation and marriage. “While cohabiting men andmarried men spend similar time on housework, cohabiting women spend significantly lesstime on housework than married women” (Zhang, p.2).The main reason that leads Americans to cohabitation is the want and desire for their partner.They prefer cohabitation over marriage because many Americans perceive the loss offreedom after marriage. To them, marriage certificate is just a piece of paper or just alifestyle. They feel that by living together, the commitment of love to each other can also beproved, without any potential burden such as merging of financial assets. Moreover,American children are usually required to move out from their parents’ home at the age of 18as parents want their children to be independent and live their own life, which also causes thechildren to cohabitate with their love interest. American media also plays a role in this type ofthinking – for both the parents and children. There are a lot of American TV shows andmovies that promote living together before marriage, and similarly many that show parentsushering children to move away, such as in the drama series Desperate Housewives. ***American weddings are usually simple and classy yet they can also be unique to the marryingcouple. Traditional American marriages take place in a church where the family and friendsof the bride and the groom attend the ceremony to celebrate their union. However, somecouples also conduct their ceremony on beaches, chapels, or even gardens, to make their bigday special and memorable. Whatever location the couples choose, some of the customs andtraditions stay with them despite the exclusive way in which they plan their weddingceremony.
  4. 4. According to American tradition, the bride’s family usually pays for the wedding ceremony,chooses or makes the cake, houses the wedding, designs the dress, creates a good trousseau,and decorates the venue. However, changes in economy have now forced couples to share thecost of weddings (Ingram, 1999). Many studies have shown that women are more heavilyinvolved in every arrangement of the wedding, often referred to as “kin work”, while themales handle other important tasks such as ensuring a home for the new bride, and enoughfinances to keep her safe and happy.Traditionally, there are rituals such as ‘giving the bride away’ since she is considered theproperty of her parents, and her ‘ownership’ is passed on to the groom and his family whenthe officiator asks “Who gives this woman away.” There are several other rituals in thewedding as well, such as the ring exchange between the couple, their first kiss, their firstdance together at the reception, and the attendant throwing rice at the couple in hopes of a lifefull of happiness and prosperity for them.The ideal American wedding is the Judeo-Christian “White Wedding” in which everything isgenerally white – from the bride’s dress to the venue decoration. One of the most importantrituals in an American wedding is the white wedding dress of the bride, usually purchased bythe bride’s family or the bride herself. The wedding cake is also is usually white andsymbolizes caring and nurturance between the couple. The groom and the bride cut the caketogether during the reception and exchange bites of the cake which is the first act of them as amarried couple.Superstition is a basis for most rituals in an American wedding. The most commonsuperstition is that exposure between the bride and groom before the wedding, and the groomseeing the bride’s wedding dress, would cause bad luck in their life. Also, Americans believethat the bridal veil and the bridesmaids surrounding the bride protect the bride from evilspirits.In the American culture, marriage is an agreement between the couple and God for a happierlife together, and the priest is only the medium through which the agreement takes place.Whether it takes place on a beach or in a garden with very few numbers of people, it is notodd for Americans as they believe that the couple has all the power they need to make theirmarriage last through their love for each other and not a lavish wedding ceremony. ***
  5. 5. The American culture believes marriage to be a social institution that defines the relationshipbetween a man and a woman. Nonetheless, over the past few decades, this has changed asmarriage has undergone a process of deinstitutionalization – a weakening of the social normsthat define the partners’ behaviors (Cherlin 2004, p.848). Previously, the role of the womanas the homemaker and the man as the breadwinner in a marriage had been quite clear.However, since the late twentieth century, these roles have diminished as more womenentered paid employment. Unlike the time when married women in America used to behousewives, the current American society supports the viewpoint that both genders are equaland should have equal opportunities at work and home. Thus, women get educated and builda career, but in the process they may also be neglecting their family life.Besides, marriage used to be a major premise to bear children and carry on the family lineageinitially in the American culture. This has changed now though, as childbearing outside ofmarriage has risen to 1 out of 3 births in the United States (U.S. National Center for HealthStatistics, 2003) showing that marriage has lost its significance as a setting for childbearing inthe American culture. This may have been due to the fact that couples are now cohabitatingrather than getting married, or because the idea that a woman needs a man to support a childis fading, as women become more independent in America.Also, this deinstitutionalization of marriage has caused a transition from a companionate toindividualized marriage in the American society. When Americans evaluate their satisfactionwith their marriages, they focus on individualized rewards such as personal choice and self-development rather than the satisfaction gained through being a spouse and a parent. Theirpartner’s satisfaction is not central in their marriage anymore, but their own emotions are.The main gain to marriage for them is the public commitment to a long-term relationshipwhich provides them with security and stability, and reduces their fear of abandonment.Even though the practical importance of marriage to Americans has declined, marriage stillholds a symbolic significance for them. They carry on the tradition of marriage as it has beenestablished by their ancestors, and yet it has evolved from a marker of conformity to a markerof prestige (Cherlin 2004, p.858). However, as opposed to the past where marriage was analliance between two kinship groups in America, it has now become an event centered aroundand controlled by the couple, having little to do with familial approval. A huge number ofAmericans are willing to spend a lot on their wedding ceremonies to make a statement to thesociety that they have passed a milestone in their life. The wedding has almost become a
  6. 6. ‘proof’ of the partners’ personal achievements and of a stage in their self-development. Theynow see marriage as a status symbol, hoping to display their attainment of a stable, secure,and respectable life through their wedding. ***The controversial issue of same-sex relationships has been around for years. Cultures aroundthe world react differently towards same-sex relationships. There are many who support themand many who oppose them as well. The American society is one that is quite liberal when itcomes to this issue.Same-sex marriage is not something new in the American society, as since the 1970’s therehad been quite a few same-sex couples who tried to legalize their marriages, but during thattime they were refused and banned. Until now, only a total of six states – Connecticut, Iowa,Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont – allow and legalize same-sexunions, though same-sex dating is unofficially accepted all over the United States. In today’sAmerican society, people have become more lenient towards same-sex couples and as aresult, these couples have now become bolder to reveal their identity as a homosexual. Infact, there are quite a number of gay and lesbian festivals each year in America, andmovements and organizations to support gay and lesbian rights have also increased there.These are the proof of the level of tolerance American society has towards same-sex couples.However, culture is greatly affected by religion as well, and many religions prohibit same-sexunions, as same-sex marriages are considered a sin by them. American culture is largelypopulated by the Christian religion, which does not really support homosexuality. Example ofa commonly quoted piece of scripture to argue against homosexuality and same-sex marriageis found in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers not male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1988, 1300).”In mid-70’s, states in the USA only recognized marriage between a man and a woman, basedon the Bible, although today the American culture has modernized. The American society hasgrown and become much more tolerant and accepting towards the same-sex couples.
  7. 7. Nevertheless, there are still only a few numbers of liberal and progressive religions that allowand accept same-sex marriages.So, the majorities of the states in the USA do not allow same-sex marriages, though theunmarried same-sex couples are not unusual and are not considered derogatory by theAmerican society. Movements that support same-sex marriage legalization are increasing andgrowing gradually, and they are fighting for the marriage equality of straight-couples andsame-sex couples by law. However, no significant research has directly investigated theeffects of marriage equality on the well-being of lesbians and gay men in the United States,and marriage equality itself is a relatively new concept (Wolfson 2004). Many Americansalso think that homosexuality is a part of human rights, and many petitions are recentlyundergoing review by law in the United States. Ultimately, it cannot be denied that Americais one of the most accepting cultures towards homosexuality in the world. ***As seen, different types of romantic relationships – dating, cohabitation, marriage, same-sexcouples –are very common among Americans. However, America also tends to record a veryhigh divorce rate. According to American Psychological Association (2012), about 40 to 50per cent of married couples in the United States go through divorce. There are several factorswhich have the potential to cause divorce such as young age, less education, less income,premarital cohabitation, no religious affiliation, divorced parents, premarital childbearing andinsecurity, which has been clarified by Dr. William H. Doherty. These factors are only thebasic ones to affect the divorce rates which are still at their peak.The general perspective towards Divorce in American society is quite indifferent. As opposedto some other more conservative cultures, a divorced man or woman is not looked down uponin the American culture. Just like in marriage, people believe in individualism – focusing onself-satisfaction. So, if a partner is not satisfied with their marriage, they are free to file forDivorce, and the American society does not regard them with aversion.According to Paul R. Amato from The Pennsylvania State University (2003), formerhusbands and wives are more likely to blame their ex-spouses than themselves for theproblems that lead to the divorce. On the other hand, Porterfield (1996, p.6) believes thatmarriages end for many reasons. Sometimes two people change and grow apart over time.Their goals, values, and interests simply aren’t the same as they were when they got married.
  8. 8. While some couples might agree to work through their differences and remain together,others decide compromise isn’t possible. They feel they would be more content either livingon their own or in a relationship with another person. This is clearly something ratherafflicting because divorce doesn’t only affect husbands and wives but also their children andthe whole family institution. For children and teenagers, the emotions involved in a divorcecan be complex and confusing. They are likely to feel both sadness about and anger towardstheir parents (Presma and Edelson 1999, p.45). Hence, they have the tendency to suffer a lossof confidence. This shows that divorce causes rather adverse effects in the American society,especially on the concept of family, similar to many other cultures around the world.However, the exclusiveness of the American culture is that the divorce couples in theAmerican society deal with this issue with a rather open mind instead of holding grudgestowards each other. Moreover, they are more interested in focusing on building a new lifeafter the divorce such as getting remarried. They believe in leaving behind the past andmoving forward. According to Eshleman (1998, p. 558) the United States has the highestremarriage rate in the world. According to studies, over 40 per cent of marriages in theUnited States are remarriages for one or both partners. Thus, it can be said that Americansociety is less conservative and their culture does not practice traditionalism, as compared tothe rest of the world. ***In conclusion, American culture is a very liberal culture and it has experienced many changesthrough time. Traditionalism has slowly faded away for the American society over the years,and it has accepted different kinds and aspects of romantic relationships faster than any othercultures in the world. One can even call the American society to be the most modernizedtoday. However, despite their liberal nature, they haven’t completely let go of their traditionalvalues which can be seen in the fact that only six states in the US legalize same-sex marriagestill, or that they still follow certain ancestral rituals in their wedding ceremony. ***
  9. 9. Reference List:Amato, PR 2003, ‘People’s Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course,and Adjustment’, Journal of Family Issues, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 602-626.Baker, B 2010, ‘Same-Sex Marriage and Religion: An Inappropriate Relationship’, e-Research: A Journal of Undergraduate Work, vol. 1, no. 3, p.189-205.Buckley, E 2006, A Cross-Culture Study of Wedding through Media and Ritual: AnalyzingIndian and North American Weddings, viewed 1 October 2012,<>.Cherlin, AJ 2004, ‘The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage’, Journal of Marriageand Family, vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 848-861.Coast, E 2009, Currently Cohabitating: Relationship Attitudes, Expectations and Outcomes,viewed 4 October 2012,<>.Doherty, WH n.d., How Common is Divorce and what are the Reasons, UtahState UniversityCooperative Extension, viewed 5 October 2012,<>.Eshleman, JR 1998, The family 7th edition, Simon & Schuster Inc, Massachusetts.Gemici, A & Laufer, S 2011, Marriage and Cohabitation, New York University, viewed 4thOctober 2012, < >.Hatfield, E, Aumer-Ryan, K, Frey, R n.d., Equity in Romantic Relationships: An AnalysisAcross Self-Construal and Culture, viewed 3 October 2012,< >Herdt, G & Kertzner, R 2006, ‘I Do, but I Can’t: The Impact of Marriage Denial on theMental Health and Sexual Citizenship of Lesbians and Gay Men in the UnitedStates’, Sexuality Research & Social Policy Journal of NSRC, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 33-49.Ingram, C 1990, White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture, London:Routledge.Porterfield, KM 1999, Straight talk about divorce, Facts On File Inc, New York.
  10. 10. Presma, F & Edelson, P 1999, Straight talk about today’s families, Facts On File Inc, NewYork.Shrout, C 2010, What Every Girl Dreams Of: A Cultural History of the Sacred in AmericaWhite Weddings, viewed 3 October 2012, <>.Turner, JS 2003, Dating And Sexuality In America, United States of America.Wolfson, E 2004, Why marriage matters, New York: Simon & Schuster.Zhang, J & Song, X 2007, Fertility Differences between Married and Cohabiting Couples: ASwitching Regression Analysis, viewed 3 October 2012, < >.