“The short answer is that I have never been in love with anyone I would want to marry.”
Maribel* is a 49-year-old lawyer who has never married. She has been in some long-term relationships, two of which resulted in near-marriages. In the last decade, however, Maribel has simply had other priorities extending beyond romance. Coupling that with an aversion to online dating (who can blame her?), she excludes herself from the dating scene. “I don’t regret the decisions not to marry in my 20s and 30s, but I thought the kind of relationships I had then would continue into my 30s and 40s and eventually I would be in love with someone I wanted to marry. For whatever reason, that just didn’t happen for me,” she explains.
Maribel may wonder if she is alone. She is not. According to an analysis of the US Census Data, conducted and published by Institute for Family Studies, “In 2018, a record 35% of Americans ages 25 to 50, or 39 million, had never been married….” Compare that to only 9% in 1970, you can see that the phenomenon of never married adults is, well, interesting. However, is it a cause for concern? In today’s modern world, does being never married matter?
I often joke that I was once married for a thousand years, but the reality is I was married for 22. The relationship itself lasted 25. I turn 50 in October, making that relationship half my life. While the marriage soured at the end, it wasn’t always bad. Yet, even when I consider the good times of my past marriage, I honestly feel that any woman who has never married is missing out on absolutely nothing. Try convincing them that.
What about the fucking tax breaks?
My friend Martina* is a fellow member of Generation X, just a few years younger than I. Never married, Martina considers herself a serial monogamist, but she’s never even been close to getting married. Martina doesn’t press the issue of marriage when she’s in a committed relationship. Commitment seems to be more important to her than a marital contract. Still, she feels like as a never married woman, she is missing out on what appear to be benefits of marriage, such as tax breaks and having someone there all the time. “Like, having plans on the weekend. You don’t necessarily know what you’re doing, but you have someone there to make plans with,” she says. “That consistent companionship, I think, I miss.”
It’s true. When you’re married, it’s like having a date every weekend, sometimes even during the week for happy hour. And, society does seem to be set up for couples and families, a sting that Maribel has been experiencing recently. “I travel a lot, and on the occasion where I opt to travel as part of a group, it’s frustrating to always have to pay extra as a single person, unless I want to share a room with a random stranger,” Maribel elaborates. “Also, I’m currently looking for a new house, and in this competitive market, I sometimes find it frustrating that I only have one income and have to make big, arguably risky, decisions all on my own.”
Like Maribel, I was recently house shopping, purchasing one late last year. It was stressful, as my experience occurred at the beginning of the current state of the housing market we’re seeing today. During that time, I often wondered if the process would have been easier had a spouse been there to endure the challenge with me. But, then I remembered who I used to be married to and quickly realized that I would have spent the time massaging his feelings and tending to his anxieties with no one nursing my own. Looking back, I am glad I went through the event solo, feeling that much more badass for it.
There seems to be a preconceived notion among the never married population that marriage provides some level of security and comfort that being single does not. Having been both married and now single, I can confidently say that the assumption is a disappointing illusion.
Even with a marital contract, there truly is no guaranteed security; and often it is the wives who dole out comfort during tough times, as opposed to being the ones receiving it. I have purchased homes as a married woman and as an unmarried one. The stress levels and rewards were equal in both instances, and just because there was a husband involved in the first, his presence didn’t make the process any easier (or harder, for that matter).
Perhaps convincing women who have never married that they are missing out on nothing shouldn’t be my quest. After speaking with women in this category, it appears the burden of change needs to be placed on society overall.
Even though I know it is not true, I sometimes feel like I am seen as not quite an adult because I haven’t been married.
At the age of 42, Beatrice*, a software developer, finds herself never married even though she once experienced a relationship that lasted nine years. “We both had parents that divorced, and so we both were skeptical about marriage,” she explains. Factor in the fact that the couple grew up in some version of evangelical Christianity, so the initial purpose of marriage that they were both taught was not upheld by their own parents. It kind of looked like marriage was just a trap.
“Ultimately, we were interested in different types of relationships. He wanted to be in an open relationship. I tried it and decided nope,” Beatrice continues, “And also, I realized that if we ended up having a child together, that I didn’t feel like he would be in it at the same level as I would be, and I was very uncomfortable with that.”
She continued to have other serious relationships after this, and marriage was sometimes discussed, but none of those options appealed to her. Beatrice is still open to marriage today, desiring to have one core person in her life and be the same for another. However, marriage isn’t an obsession for her. “I know I can have a daily existence without a significant other, so marriage feels less like a trap or an urgent fixation like it had felt before,” she elaborates.
My friend Amy is an online dating expert. She believes that marriage isn’t necessary to have a significant relationship. She’s in one now, living together with her boyfriend. The couple is building a life to accommodate them both. However, she appreciates the idea of a marital ceremony. While she receives no pressure from her family about getting married, she says that just the other day, her mother asked her when she was going to get married. When Amy asked why she was asking, her mother expressed an interest in simply attending a wedding. “I spit out my drink laughing!” exclaims Amy. Additionally, Amy’s father has Parkinson’s. She believes a ceremony would fulfill his wishes. “I want him to be able to walk me down the aisle. I know that’s on his bucket list,” Amy states.
In her early 20s, Amy had two marital close calls, but she was wise enough to see she was too young. Then as her career began to take off, she made that her priority and refused to compromise her dreams for marriage. Later, she got into another relationship, but that boyfriend ended up being toxic; so she dodged that bullet. Today, she feels like she’s created a balanced hybrid relationship for herself that works for her and her boyfriend. “I definitely like having a person, but don’t like it enough to give up myself. I had to find a model that worked for me because being single and being married both have benefits.”
I have two reasons for writing this blog post. One, I truly want women who have never married to realize they are not alone in their situation and feel seen by reading the stories of other women just like them. Two, I want it to be known and accepted that woman who have never married are missing out on absolutely nothing. As a purposely childfree woman, I know that I have skipped over the experiences of motherhood, but because those experiences never appealed to me, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything necessary to complete me. I certainly am not less of a woman for never having given birth.
Luckily, all the women I interviewed understand there is nothing wrong with them, either, though they have never married. They don’t feel bad about themselves at all. Nor should any woman reading this who has never married. That’s important.
While I primarily focused on Generation X women, I couldn’t help but be curious about the opinions of a woman who identifies as a Xennial named Chey. On one hand, I think she’s young enough to not be concerned about having never married. There’s still time for her, right? On the other hand, the pressure to marry is probably the same no matter one’s age.
Chey, who is a small business owner and professional driver, has come close to marriage, but she has no regrets about not following through. “While I am glad I didn’t rush into marriage, after 34 or 35 the good guys evaporate from the dating pool and it gets more complicated and sometimes more traumatic to date,” she reports.
This may seem like a cynical point of view, but Chey’s observation is realistic. Yet, that doesn’t stop her from being open to marriage should the right person come along. But if that doesn’t happen, well, there’s no cause for concern for her either. As she puts it, “I am actually equally as happy being alone as I could be in a good relationship.”