Hang out with a few wise women or men and it doesn’t take long for the discussion to turn to how disappointingly matrimaniacal our entire society has become. Weddings, couples, marriage – everyone seems to be in a tizzy about it all (well, everyone who uncritically internalizes cultural trends). In fact, you can even go to a popular and respected site such as Psychology Today and find a headline such as, “Doomed to be single? 5 reasons millennials worry.” There it sits, the author not the least bit apologetic or self-conscious about calling single life something you may be “doomed” to experience.
I wonder how long a title such as that one would remain unchallenged if a different group had been targeted by the degrading language of doom. “Doomed to be Black? Maybe You Could Learn to Pass.” Would that headline stand? “Doomed to be Christian?” “Doomed to Act Like an Old Person?” We immediately recognize the gratuitous insults in those headlines. Any of us would be mortified to be associated with such rank prejudices. (The argument that some people would in fact feel doomed to be in those categories is no excuse.) But as I have been arguing for years – with data – the practice of singlism happens without awareness, apology, or reprisal. So an accomplished author can equate being single with being doomed and never flinch.
So let’s turn the tables. Here are 5 reasons why wise people could worry that they may be doomed to marry, even if single life is really the better, more meaningful, and more authentic life for them.
Because it is such a better deal financially. Economic discrimination against singles is written into our laws and our business practices. It is legal and it is commonplace. It costs people to be single – big time.
Because if they marry, they may get more access to affordable health insurance, and better care from medical professionals. That’s legal, too.
Because married people are subsidized by single people, instead of being the ones doing the subsidizing. From wedding and shower gifts to all the deals that are cheaper by the couple to all of the big ticket items (described above), if you get married, you get stuff; if you stay single, you give it.
Because social life is all too often organized around couples. If you want to be included, that’s more likely to happen if you are married.
Finally, wise people worry that they may be doomed to be married because of all of the propaganda about how single life is a doomed life. They worry that, as wise as they may be, some of the unapologetic derogation of their single life may seep into their psyches, where it could leave them thinking that maybe they really do want to marry after all.
I’m writing this a bit flippantly but there is a serious point here, too. When marriage is too widely celebrated and singlehood is equated with damnation, reasonable people really can begin to doubt themselves. People who really should be single – because they live their fullest life as a single person – are tempted to marry, and some even do. That’s what’s bad for marriage – haranguing people into committing to it when it really is not for them.
Remember those wonderful studies that follow people over the course of their adult lives, asking them every year how happy or satisfied they are? Some of the people who get married will later divorce. When social scientists looked back at their reports of their happiness before the marriage, they found that, on the average, they were becoming less happy in the year or so before the wedding, and then their happiness continued to decrease until the year before the divorce became final. I wonder whether, for some of them, at a certain level they knew that they should not be getting married. It is hard to admit that to yourself, or even consider the possibility, in a society so soaked in matrimania and raw, unapologetic singlism.
I’m single-at-heart, but I am willing to acknowledge that single life is not for everyone. Some people live their best lives married. If that’s what works for them, then they should not feel that their married life is a doomed life. Now, to the author of that “doomed to be single” article – how about admitting the same for people who are single? (For me, the offhanded, “For the moment, let’s leave aside the 25% who say that marriage isn’t for them” just won’t do. “The moment” seemed to last for the entire article.)
Here’s how such an acknowledgment might read: People who are single-at-heart love their single lives. That’s how they live their most meaningful and authentic lives. They are not “doomed” to be single. For them, getting married would be a step down.