Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Top 8 Reasons Not to Marry

Values, identity, and justice motivate the not-married life

Long-time readers know how much I detest those “why you are single” stories that point fingers at the supposed flaws of people who are not married. It is time to flip the script, and list some of the most important, non-singlist reasons for not marrying.

I started thinking about this most recently when the New York Times published the story, “Gay couples, choosing to say ‘I don’t.’” Many of the reasons gay couples offered for not marrying are also embraced by heterosexual couples (and singles) who are just not getting swept up in the relentless matrimania.

Here’s my list of Top 8 Reasons Not to Marry, which includes some of the reasons noted in the Times as well as a few of my own.

#1 Number one on my list of reasons for why people do not marry is that they are single-at-heart (scroll down after clicking). Living single is how they live their most meaningful and fulfilling lives.

#2 Other single people are open to marrying but they won’t marry just for the sake of marrying. They have standards. That doesn’t make them “too picky;” it makes them wise.

The next two reasons are based on arguments about injustice:

#3 The injustice argument that is most familiar and has been around the longest: Marriage is not so great for women. Historically, women have been oppressed in marriage. Even in contemporary marriages, women still generally do more of the housework and the child care (when there are children) than men do.

#4 The injustice argument that still has not gotten the attention it deserves: Marriage is unfair to single people. From the matrimania that confers unearned status to the laws that grant undeserved benefits, protections, and privileges, marriage creates a caste system. No one should be proud of that.

Other reasons not to marry follow from values and aspirations; for people who endorse such reasons, the values of marriage seem too small or too constraining.

#5 Marriage can impose an unwelcome self-definition.  The Times story offered several examples of this perspective. One came from LGBT activist Paula Ettelbrick who once said, “I do not want to be known as ‘Mrs. Attached-to-Somebody-Else.’” Catharine Stimpson, previously a dean at NYU, told the Times that getting married would undermine her “edgy nonconformist streak.” John D’Emilio, author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (among other important works), believes that same-sex marriage is elitist.

#6 The marriage mentality overvalues one particular relationship and undervalues a wide range of other relationships, some of which are more egalitarian. The overvaluing is practiced by married people who look to their spouse to be their Sex and Everything Else Partner (or Seepie, as I called it in Singled Out). The undervaluing happens when everyone else other than the spouse gets back-burnered, including long-time friends.

#7 Another reason is a set of practical concerns: People simply do not want the financial or legal entanglements that marriage entails.

#8 Finally, there’s the data-based argument: Marriage has failed to pass the empirical test; too many marriages end in divorce. Less widely recognized is that the many purported benefits of marrying, from greater happiness to better health, are greatly exaggerated or just not there (as I argued in Singled Out and have continued to show with my critiques of each new study purporting to demonstrate such benefits).

[Note: Thanks to Jeanine for the heads-up about the Times story.]

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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