My readers, those I have known for years and those I have never met, are a constant source of food for thought (and sometimes food for the belly too).
The man who wrote lamenting that his American born and Italian resident, educated, attractive and financially sound son of 36 was having a hard time meeting an Italian woman with whom to have a meaningful relationship, possibly leading to marriage and family, got me thinking about different cultural attitudes towards relationships.
It might seem strange that the country which hosts the Holy See and that is still politically influenced by what the Vatican says or wants, has the lowest marriage and birth rates in the whole of Europe. If economic factors play a large part in such decisions – it is hard for young couple to find stable jobs/ affordable housing / decent childcare – there are also cultural reasons that come into play.
I have always been fascinated at how American women, especially those living far from urban metropolis such LA and NY, are still concerned with getting married in their 20’s. A single woman in her mid-30’s is often frowned upon. Marriage is what they plan for and work towards from an age when their European counterparts are busy with college, career, travelling. Or just plain busy.
In Italy in particular, there are still two countries: the conservative south, where marriage might still be considered one of the few acceptable choices for women living in rural settings, and the industrial, cosmopolitan north (and I am including Rome in this two-penny analysis) where women like to take their time and enjoy their freedom. They do have relationships which do not necessarily start off with a desire to rush to the altar or to reproduce.
It could be that feminism touched us later than it did our American sisters. My mother is still squarely in the “marriage was the only choice” camp but, if I were to carry on a mini-survey, of my college friends only one got married in her 20’s. A handful in their 30’s after a stab at jobs or careers and, most, never married at all. And here is the other huge difference – living together is perfectly acceptable, with no need to plan anything extravagant or costly and without diminishing the commitment towards each other. If children do come, the family is governed by the same laws that would apply to a married couple. So why bother, many couples ask. Why indeed.
Maybe it will all come full circle with the next generation who will look at marriage with the same unvarnished perspective applied to the full spectrum of choices. For now, Italian women seem content to assert their rights (and they still have far to go to reach full equality in the workforce and society at large) and have put marriage and reproduction on the back-burner. Personally, I would like to see young women look at marriage or the choice to live with a partner as another facet in our life arc, one that doesn’t require diamond rings, internet dating, bank breaking receptions or unattainable expectations. Just love and commitment. And work. And did I mention patience and the fine art of compromising?