If you’re a single woman like me, I’m sure you’ve heard this refrain before. (Replace “sweet” with: fun, cool, smart, pretty, etc–all the same thing.)
I have to admit I’ve puzzled over this for a while myself. I’ve thought, God, not only am I not married, but I’m not sure I want to be. Why don’t I want a thing that everyone else wants and says I should? At times it’s made me feel like a double weirdo.
Here’s what it really means if you’re not married: It means you’re not married.
At a certain age, odds are you’re tempted to think it means something else. That there’s something wrong with you, that you’re incomplete, not evolved, immature, unlovable. That’s because you have bought into the idea that marriage is a litmus test for being a normal, healthy, functioning adult. And that if you’re not married, something must have gone very, very wrong along the way.
Try putting this bias in reverse and you’ll realize how silly it is. If marriage is the great stamp of approval, that must mean everyone who is married is happier, smarter, sexier, and basically better than you in every way. I’m sorry — what? Last time I checked, marriage was not a clearing house for the eternally unflawed. Do you need a reminder of this? And how about this study that found that one in seven of committed couples admit to having settled for someone who is not thelove of their life? There are likely as many people miserable who happen to be married as those who happen not to be.
What Does Marriage Mean?
We polled YourTango readers (where this article originally appeared) and asked, “In one sentence, what does marriage mean?” Some of our favorite replies:
“To trust unconditionally forever!”
“Sharing my life with one person so that we can give that one person our best and our worst and still share love.”
“A strong bonding between two souls.”
“Commitment and patience.”
Notice none of these people said anything along the lines of “a rite of passage that proves you’re normal.” Instead, they identified marriage as a blessing, a bonus, something you’re lucky but not required to have or choose.
Even in my 20s, when everyone around me had bridal fever, I didn’t catch the wedding bug somehow. I figured I might eventually come around to it; that I’d be drawn like an iron filling down the aisle to the magnet of my One True Love. Nope. Of course I wanted love and connection like anyone, but having experienced love, marriage didn’t feel like a foregone conclusion or built-in destination. And fact is, it doesn’t have to be.
Not Everyone is Married
While a quick glance at your Facebook page or your invitation-packed mailbox might indicate that “everyone” is getting married — well, the truth is everyone isn’t. If you happen to be single, count yourself among the many millions living this way. There are 112 million unmarried Americans, representing over 47% of the adult population. And not only have the majority of U.S. households been headed by unmarried couples since 2005, the number of U.S. households headed by unmarried individuals represents about 44% of all households and the majority in 23 states. (source: unmarried.org)
We all crave intimacy, connection, sex, acceptance, approval. I do, you do. I’m in a relationship and I’m enjoying it and that matters a lot to me. But I’m the same person when I happen to not be in a relationship. Love is a wonderful thing. But marriage isn’t for everyone (some people know this from the get-go, some find out the hard way.) And so whether you’ve decided against it or just haven’t found someone you feel like committing to for the rest of your entire life, this is no reason to decide you’re a pariah, some loser outcast, unlovable by anyone. In fact, you may very well have a loving, fulfilling life partner – you just don’t have a signed document to prove it.
Do You Want To ‘Get’ Married Or ‘Be’ Married?
There are people who want to get married and people who want to be married. And this is where you do a self-check: If you’re yearning for marriage because of what you think it’ll say about you and your place in the world, as a mile marker for How Far You’ve Come, or as a kind of diploma that you have successfully matriculated in the graduate program of life, you’re misguided. Maybe you want to do it so people will stop asking you when you’re going to get married, or because you feel you “should,” or “it’s time” and “I should want this.” Again, no.
And don’t get me started on weddings. I love a great party as much as anyone. But wanting to get married so you can have a wedding is just a very bad idea. Because a wedding has about as much to do with your actual marriage as my Sweet 16 party had to do with the rest of my life.
The best reason to get married is that you want to be married. And, presumably, that you have found someone you want to do commit to, unconditionally. Someone you trust fully who is utterly compatible with you. You want to be with this person every day, do your dishes and laundry and taxes together. You want to be bound and acknowledged in the eyes of the law and society and have the official blessing of your family, friends, and a priest or whoever conducts the ceremony. Kids are a separate issue, because not everyone wants them, either.
Maybe you’ll decide to marry; maybe you won’t. Or, you may have already been there, done that — or, like me, are currently enjoying love without the legal work. But please, know that you’re not too “broken” to get married. And know that someone who is married isn’t any better than you. Marriage doesn’t fix people. It gives people spouses. These people still have most of the same problems post-marriage. Marriage isn’t an excuse to stop growing.
So if you’re with someone, and you’re simply not married, and someone asks you “Why not?” with that concerned sideways head tilt, don’t get defensive. Don’t blame yourself or your perceived lovelessness or this story about there being no one out there. You aren’t married yet because you’re not, and when and if you decide it’s the right thing for you to do, tell them you’ll be sure to let them know.