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Love means not having to say ‘I do’

In Boston, young and unmarried is now the norm

Ellie Williams (left), who met her girlfriend, Ally Ellison, on Tinder, said “Dating doesn’t have to be super serious.”Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

First came love.

Thirty-year-old Chris Bentson met his girlfriend Lily at an event. They hit it off. He asked her out for drink.

Then came living together.

About three years into their relationship, the couple moved into an one-bedroom apartment in the Back Bay.

Is marriage next? Not in the near future, says Bentson.

"Lifestyle-wise, living together and not being married is a great fit for where we are right now," he said.

Boston's young residents are rewriting the story of romance and relationships, making the city, one of the nation's youngest, also one of the most single.

Across the US, only Detroit and Washington have higher proportions of unmarried 20- to 34-year-old residents.


About 83 percent of young Bostonians have never been married, are widowed, or are divorced, according to the US Census. Fewer are opting for marriage. Instead, many cohabit with significant others, date casually late into their young adulthood, or rarely date at all.

Priorities have shifted, and so have relationship expectations. Today, for Boston's young adult singles, it's less necessary to be defined by a relationship to another person or to define relationships at all, said Lauren Schoeffler, a 26-year-old attorney.

"There's a lot more room for the more nebulous relationships these days," Schoeffler said. "Everyone figures out what works for them and how to make other people fit in their lives in whatever way they can."

Ellie Williams, of Mission Hill, dated casually on and offline before meeting her girlfriend of six months on Tinder.

"Dating doesn't have to be super serious," said 19-year-old Williams. "You can date around and get a feel for who you want to be with."

Today's young adults are tying the knot much less frequently than their predecessors. Only 22 percent of millennials are married, compared to about 30 percent of Gen Xers, 40 percent of Baby Boomers, and 50 percent of the Silent Generation married at this age, the Pew Research Center found.


When millennials do marry, they do it at later ages. In 1960, the median age at first marriage was 23 for men and 21 for women. Today, it is 28 for men and 26 for women, according to Pew.

Delayed marriages are even more common in urban areas — like Boston — where financial concerns rank high for millennials, said Jeffrey Arnett, a professor at Clark University who studies emerging adults.

But that doesn't mean young Bostonians are staying single.

Young adults today are more likely to live with a significant other outside of marriage, like Bentson, than any other generation. Nationwide, about a quarter of never-married millennials are cohabiting, according to Pew.

Two-thirds of millennials said society is just as well off if people have priorities beyond marriage and children, Pew found.

"People feel a lot more flexibility," said Bentson. "They don't feel pressured to have the same lives than their parents. I think for our generation, we're open to different motivations."

Ashley Flibotte, 27, said she's been busy buying a home in Beacon Hill and prioritizing her passions, including skiing and traveling.

"I don't think of dating as the number one priority because I am 100 percent comfortable being single," said Flibotte. "There's so much else going on in the city, and you can do a lot of it on your own."

Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.