Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

On Tax Breaks, Emotional Commitments, and the Myth of the Transformative Power of Marriage

Blinded, and blindsided, by matrimania
Ilana Simons
This post is a response to Marriage Gives the Only Tax Break for Commitment by Ilana Simons, Ph.D.

In her post, "Marriage gives the only tax break for commitment," fellow Psych Today blogger Ilana Simons points us to an important observation made by Laurie Abraham: "There are aspects of our culture that make it seem like marriage is the only way to find emotional sustenance in life." Simons agrees with Abraham, and so do I. In fact, in many posts to my Living Single blog here at PT, and in my books, Singled Out and Single with Attitude, I've described many of the ways that over-the-top celebrations of marriage and coupling permeate our culture, and dubbed it matrimania.

The point that Simons highlights in the title of her post, about how marriage is the only emotional commitment for which there are tax breaks, is also significant. Obscured by all the dust kicked up by the same-sex marriage debate is that there are other ways that people maintain long term relationships that do not involve couples having sex (or supposedly having it). In Canada, two siblings who had lived together for decades and were totally interdependent in every way that conjugal couples are, except for the sex, petitioned for the same rights and protections as married couples get. Their case made it all the way through the Canadian court system, only to get turned down at the top.

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There are friendships that are long-lasting and interdependent, too, yet they come with no benefits or protections. There are single mothers (not lesbians, not related) who live together and raise their kids together (I wrote about one such example in the chapter on single parents in Singled Out), yet if something happened to one of the mothers, her children could be claimed by a relative who hardly knows the children. My understanding (I'm not a law professor) is that the woman who was like a second mother to those children for so many years of their lives could be treated by the law as a stranger.

There are so many ways to live and love that do not involve a married couple at the center of a nuclear family, yet as Simons points out, they are all regarded, in our cultural imaginations, as second best. If they are acknowledged at all.

Living Single readers know what's coming next - the one part of Simons' post that I disagree with completely, totally, and passionately. It is just not true that getting married makes you lastingly happier, that it means that you will live longer or become healthier. There is a great big glaring flaw in the vast majority of studies that try to make those kinds of points, and lots of other methodological errors. I've explained what's wrong with those kinds of claims in Chapter 2 of Singled Out, in the section of Single with Attitude called "If marriage were a drug, the FDA would not approve it," in this post, and in many other posts to this blog in which I critique particular studies and specific claims.

So instead of generating reasons why getting married makes you lastingly happier (since it doesn't), let's see if we can figure out why, despite all the matrimania and the singlism, the vast majority of single people live happy and healthy lives filled with sustained emotional connections. (Yes, studies show that - same references as above.)

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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