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By Kevin Paiz-Ramirez, junior, Rio Grande High School
For the Journal
    Are teenagers cynical about marriage? YES conducted an unscientific survey at the Coronado Shopping Center. Read on:
    For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part— do you think you'll ever agree to these conditions? Do you expect to get married— for life?
    Our generation has watched more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, celebrity marriages last as little as two hours and living together grows in acceptance. Those who aren't jaded by the trends and get married before they turn 18 have a divorce rate of nearly 60 percent.
    If your parents called it quits, at least they made statistical history. Since they married, the divorce rate has nearly quadrupled, according to a Census Bureau report on marital status and living arrangements.
    So, where does that leave us? Cynical, doubtful, optimistic that these statistics won't be true of us? Nobody can say for sure how the pendulum will swing— will we bring back "as long as you both shall live" or kick the divorce rate even higher?
    If we're clear about our attitudes, and about the mistakes that might set us up to fail, we might feel less like crossing our fingers when we do say those vows. Marriage counselor Marge Prefontaine believes several factors influence our views of marriage.
    "People are settling for a person for fear of ending up alone, rather than waiting for their ideal significant other," she says.
    Other factors are getting too serious too soon, pregnancy, media influence and, of course, our parents' marriages.
    Sometimes the prospect of heading off to college pushes teenagers into a commitment they wouldn't otherwise make. But that's too soon, Prefontaine says.
    "You should know the person very well and it's also important to really know yourself," Prefontaine says. "It's good to get a little older and experience being in a couple of relationships. There should be a marriage training course in high schools for teens to have a better understanding of it."
    Sometimes it isn't so much a commitment, but an unexpected pregnancy, that leads to marriage. New Mexico ranks third in the nation for teen pregnancy and some students believe they have no choice but to marry when they are expecting a child. Religion, parents and morality all can affect the decision, but the marriage has to survive on its own.
    Having your own parents divorce can affect you in a number of ways. If one parent was particularly unhappy being alone, you could be one of those people who settles for the wrong person to avoid experiencing that loneliness. Or you could stay in an unsuccessful relationship to avoid what your parents went through— and to avoid putting your children through what you experienced. Prefontaine says it's important to deal with your parents' divorce so it doesn't influence your marriage in ways you may not realize.
    "I recommend that (teens) deal with their abandonment issues and get to really know themselves before they commit to a serious relationship," Prefontaine says.
Let's live together
    Sure we know a sitcom from reality, a movie from real life. But does that mean the media don't affect our views? Who could forget Britney Spears' marrying an old boyfriend in Las Vegas, Nev., only to have the marriage annulled hours later? Short-lived marriages— Jennifer Lopez comes to mind— set the bar really low for the rest of us.
    "Marriage is not about finding a person with no faults," Prefontaine says.
    The idea is to seek someone whose idiosyncrasies you can tolerate and enjoy being with.
    Some people think living together is the best way to test the waters. Prefontaine agrees with this much-disputed stance— provided you've followed her earlier advice— you've had some serious relationships, you know yourself well and you deeply understand the person you're going to live with. All of which means you're not a teenager any more.
    "I feel that living together is a very good idea as couples try to get to know the other person in a household environment," Prefontaine says. "By living together, a couple is able to test out what it would be like to be married to their partner— a sort of test for marriage without the responsibilities of trying to keep a marriage together. Many times this stops possible marriages before they can start."
    However, she cautions, studies show that couples who lived together before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who didn't live together first.
    Don't get the wrong idea. Prefontaine believes in marriage— when the time is right, and between two people who are willing to work at it.
    "Teens should really know who they are and commit themselves to stay married for life," she says. "As couples, if you don't grow together, you should seek help. Rather than focus on your own needs, you should have a desire to help meet your partner's needs. In addition to the caring and love, marriage is also the practical details of living together. The most important thing is to relate how much you really care about each other," Prefontaine says.
    So, years from now, will we see our 25th anniversary announcements in the paper or will we have to change the wedding vow? Not "till death do you part," but "till you find someone you like even more."