Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Marriage Angst: Are Single People the Cause?

The answer to marriage angst you won’t read anywhere else

There sure is a lot of marriage angst going around these days. Some of it is directed (projected?) by people who are married toward people who are not.

Ralph Richard Banks' provocatively titled book, Is Marriage for White People?, for instance, frets about all the single Black ladies, and urges them to consider marrying out of their race. Earlier, in his cover story in the New York Times Magazine, "Married with Infidelities," Mark Oppenheimer suggested that with regard to adultery, "We are already a nation of forgivers...[and maybe] we should take some pride in that."  Consider, too, Marriage Confidential. In that book, Pamela Haag explained her belief that marriage "needs to evolve to new forms." She is not just talking about a less inflexible attitude toward affairs but also more open-mindedness about asexuality and arrangements such as polyamory and living apart.

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A few weeks ago, at the Huffington Post, Michele Willens asked this about women who are married:

"Are you too hearing more and more women saying either: they need time and space to themselves; they are happy when their spouses are traveling; they are taking trips with other women or alone?"

Michele Willens asked me what I thought this was about, and after I sent her some thoughts, I kept thinking about her question. There are lots of possible answers, but here's my current favorite: Maybe single people are one of the causes of married people's angst.

That's not the way it is supposed to be. The National Marriage Project and all of the other purveyors of matrimania are busy trying to persuade singles that they will never be truly happy or complete or worthy unless they marry. Perhaps, though, people who actually are married are noticing something different: Single people, rather than sitting at home crying in their beer, are pursuing the life that is most meaningful to them. They are attending to the people who are important to them. They are pursuing their passions. They are settling into their own homes. (Single women are a major segment of the home-buying demographic.) They are creating the mix of time-with-others and time-to-themselves that best suits them.

Maybe that's what's got married people feeling so unsettled. They were supposed to be The Winners. They were supposed to be the ones who had it all, simply by virtue (and many do see it as a virtue) of having married. But with the number of unmarried Americans inching ever closer to the 50% mark - and we're not just talking young people, either - maybe married people can no longer remain oblivious to how the other half lives.

It is ironic, I think. Ask random persons in the street about the threat posed by single people to those who are married, and I bet their first threat to trip off their tongues is the sexual one. It is one of the most popular responses I get when I ask people why they think that couples socialize mostly with other couples. "Because the single person would try to steal someone's spouse," they say.

Maybe it is the married people who want to steal - not the single person, but the single person's life.

 

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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