I have long believed that no one should ever get married before they turn 30, but after reading Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, I’m pretty much convinced there’s no reason to get married at all.
Personally, I’ve never seen the point of legally sanctioned marriage, other than for the benefit of children (I’m child-free), to obtain a registry full of housewares or for tax reasons. And until last summer, the idea of marrying before my gay friends were legally allowed to do so was anathema to me.
Beyoncé’s the one who originally told us to put a ring on it, but a decade later she broke the internet with Lemonade, so maybe it wasn’t the best idea in the world. Frankly, I found the idea that women need to “put a ring on it” rather sexist — she was basically telling us not to give away the milk for free, suggesting that women only trade sex for marriage — not because they might want it, too.
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Let us not forget that marriage, until relatively recently, was a form of slavery for women. We were legally the property of our fathers until we became the property of our husbands — we were chattel. Love and romance might have always existed at the fringes of relationships or in special cases, but marriage was strictly a business transaction, one in which women had no say.
Before the 1960s, unmarried women were thought of as spinsters, weirdos, cat ladies and worse — after the age of 26, women were far less likely to find a husband, and they were shunned and shamed for it. Thanks to a laundry list of political and cultural sea changes: accessible birth control, Roe v. Wade, the sexual revolution and our mass entry into the work force, we’re freer to choose our own path. Traister points out that even though we’re getting there and changing things as we go, the law has not quite caught up to us.
We’ve happily put that ugly part of our history behind us and achieved a tremendous amount, thanks to our feminist forebears. But some of us haven’t quite gotten the memo about marriage and still see it as the hallmark of our lives, our grandest achievement. To wit: the marriage-industrial complex, “Say Yes to the Dress” and our obsession with celeb marriages (and divorces).
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Just like having children, marriage should be a choice, not something we do because our parents did it, because our friends are doing it or because our society is still built for couples (and/or parents). In an ideal world, all marriages would be the result of a loving union between people for whom a legally sanctioned commitment is what they truly want — in their hearts. That “always the bridesmaid never the bride” sensation that many women feel in their late 20s and early 30s is a weird and wholly unnecessary rite of passage — and you can simply reject it if you choose to. The good news is that it fades faster than you think — and a sense of authentic empowerment usually replaces it.
No relationship should be built on the fear of being alone, and marriage too often is. The iconic single woman of the previous decade, Carrie Bradshaw, famously said, “Some people are settling down, some are settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies… ”
Personally, I’m firmly in the butterfly camp, even though it’s meant some stretches of singlehood. I’ve learned to love and revel in these phases, despite our culture’s continuous “shipping” of everyone. Not settling is the best decision I’ve ever made, and every time yet another friend announces her divorce, I am reminded that I did the right thing.
Besides, in my experience, living with someone conveys all the benefits of marriage: regular sex, a snuggle-partner for Netflix binges and hopefully someone that does half the household chores. (However as a woman with male partners, I’ve never been terribly lucky in this last regard.)
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Like Traister, some of my single victories have involved the carrying and/or installation of air conditioners. One of the best moments of my adult life came after hanging a shelf in my first apartment. It was crooked, but so what — I hung it all by my grown-ass, single self. It’s true: in many cases (but certainly not all) the thing women cannot easily provide for themselves is forearm strength.
Traister points out that the marriage-equality movement, whose beautiful slogan, “Love is Love,” filled our hearts last summer while the White House was lit up like a rainbow, began because gay activists sought medical benefits and next-of-kin proximity. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage for same-sex partners is no less moving for this fact — but practical considerations are what motivated it. That’s what I want women to ask themselves — are you marrying for love, for butterflies or because of someone else’s expectations?
Living with another human being definitely confers health benefits, but recent studies suggest that men receive most of the benefits of marriage. Loneliness is truly bad for your health — but being single by no means suggests you have to be lonely.
Whether you choose to co-habitate, marry, divorce or stay truly single forever, taking lovers as you feel like it — just remember that it’s entirely up to you. You’re not anybody’s property, so for the sake of the millions of women who came before you — don’t say yes to the dress unless you’re doing it for the right reasons.
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