How is it possible that Americans are simultaneously getting more traditional about marital commitment and less traditional about non-marital relations? How did we become more judgmental of divorce and less judgmental of people who “live in sin” or have children out of wedlock?

The answer lies in our evolving views of marriage itself.

Earlier generations saw marriage as a sort of foundational milestone, laid relatively early in life, that would help couples go on to achieve familial and financial stability. Today, it is seen more as a crowning achievement, appropriate and available only after lots of other boxes are ticked off first. And this brass ring ought to be indestructible by the time it graces your left hand.

Marriage has, in other words, gone from being a cornerstone achievement to a capstone one.