I got married when I was 19, mainly because there was no way I was going to risk becoming a spinster like my much pitied cousin Ida, who was still single in her 40’s. I graduated from college with a BS, MS and Mrs., feeling like I was set for life.
I wasn't alone in my decision to marry young, -- the majority of girls in my college dorm also dreamed of getting married (or at least engaged) before graduating from college. We'd bought into the social more's of the time, and back then only 15% of the adult population chose to remain unmarried throughout life. In fact, a survey taken in 1957 at the University of Michigan revealed that 80% of Americans believed people who preferred to remain single were “sick,” “neurotic” or “immoral.” Couples were the norm, and marriage and family life were the ideal. I bought into the whole “picture” hook, line and sinker, and I never considered an alternative.
But boy, have things changed since then. People can marry or not, have kids or not and choose to be gay, straight or transgender. The 2010 US Census found that nearly half of US adults are single. That number includes me, and a large number of my friends, male and female, who are currently single by choice too.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m definitely not opposed to marriage and I have many happily married friends who’ve worked hard creating powerful bonds that nurture and comfort them. I may very well remarry some day too, but right now I’m completely content with my life, just as it is. I’m single because that’s what currently works best for me and feels the most productive and satisfying.
I have a tight network of friends who support me emotionally, and a teenage daughter who needs and gets most of my attention. I’m rarely lonely or bored. In fact, the last time I was deeply lonely, it was because I was in a relationship where neither of us were truly happy.
My single friends run the gamut when it comes to their relationship “status.” Some chose never to marry or have kids, though many had numerous opportunities to do both. Others are widowed, divorced or separated. Yes, we’re single, but that doesn’t mean we don’t “see” people, or have lovers. Being single doesn’t mean being “relationship-less.” It just means that all our emotional fulfillment and connectedness doesn’t come from one, all-important, person or partner.
According to a recent Pew Report the choice to remain single is gaining power with younger people. 44% of Millennials think marriage is becoming obsolete and 67% of them say happiness isn’t related to whether you are single or married.
Erik Klinenberg’s new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, suggests that a preference for single life evolved from women’s lib, and is in alignment with our current “mainstream liberal values of freedom, autonomy, control of one’s time and space, and the search for individual fulfillment.”
Back in the 70's Gloria Steinem was quoting as saying, “A woman without a man, is like a fish without a bicycle.” I was married at the time, and didn’t quite catch her drift. Since then, I’ve discovered that being single doesn’t mean there’s something or someone missing. In fact, living on my own has given me the opportunity for open-ended exploration and self- expression. And, when you're single, you generally get to please yourself first. (Well, not always....I do have a 16 year old daughter.)
Of course, there are some people who judge singles as being selfish, self-absorbed and unwilling to compromise, and that may be true, sometimes. But the idea that happiness comes from outside, and finding the right person and marrying them will bring the ultimate happiness feels very retro, and off-track. According to whom?
Toward the end of her life, I remember my mother, Billie, who was married to my father for 56 years, saying “we’re born alone, and we die alone.” At the time, her statement seemed to devalue her relationships with my father, my brother, and with me, but what I’ve realized she actually meant, was that in the end, we only have ourselves, as individuals. And, whether we make the choice to partner or not, and have kids or not, learning to accept ourselves and enjoy our own company is essential for our happiness, single, or married.
Join the Conversation
What are you thoughts about the decision to remain single?
If you are single do you feel content with your choice?
If you’re partnered or married, do you think “choosing to be single” is a rationalization?