While the comment included a wink, it was still a bitch slap. This was written by a man on a female friend’s FaceBook thread. This woman is heading towards fifty. Pretty, smart, fun, and an adventure traveler, she is a cyclist, and journalist.
“Why aren’t you married?”
I wrote, then erased, a long response. Respectful, but pointed. It’s her thread, her friend. Not mine to put a lengthy comment there. But still:
What on earth possesses anyone to ask that question? The assumption behind this query- and one I’ve been subject to my entire adult life- is that you’re pretty, you’re shapely, why hasn’t someone carried you off to his cave yet? Women never ask me this. Men do.
The other assumption that is occasionally either spoken or implied is that if you aren’t married by a certain age, then surely you’re a lesbian (which of course is intended to be insulting. Really?)
I beg to differ. For so many Millennials this is an intriguing question if for no other reason than many of them are eschewing children- as I did- from an early age. This is sometimes driven out of a concern for our burden on the natural world. In others, they prefer the freedom of a childless life. For me, both apply, and on top of that by the age of three the idea of children appalled me. It’s not for everyone. If you know you’re not going to make good parenting material, then for God’s sake, don’t have kids.
Once the issue of kids is settled, then it’s perfectly fair to ask, why get married at all? Marriage doesn’t define us. Women today are defined individually by their character, competence and their personal achievements. Marriage, once looked at as the ultimate success in life (LOOK I GOT A RING!!!!!) is no longer who we are. It’s a part of life, and not necessarily a have to have.
More Singles Today Than Ever
There are some 110 million single Americans today, with more people choosing to either live alone or eschew marriage. Forty-two percent of us function without a partner according to the Pew Research Center (http://www.newsweek.com/americans-are-more-single-ever-new-study-shows-682290). While many of us would like a partner — witness the popularity of online dating — at least for the company, we don’t need one in order to run a household or have a life. And that’s what’s shifted.
I married, once, briefly. Four years. The man turned out to have a mean temper, an alcohol problem and an unfortunate habit of putting his fist through the wall. Done. Thanks, no thanks. I don’t need that bodybuilder’s fist in my face.
It is a wondrous thing to find love. Period. What form it takes is unique to each of us. Love doesn’t have to lead to marriage, nor the other way around in cultures that still force young kids to marry based on cultural pressures. The urge to merge is universal but the legal binding piece is no longer necessary. Where once it made sense to multiply, now it most certainly does NOT.
Women Couldn’t Function in Society Without a Husband
Just four decades ago American women had to have a man sign for her credit card. She was crippled if she didn’t have a man. Most young women today have no notion of how recent these changes are in our culture. They are buying houses and cars and vacations and wardrobes on their own dime, without a man’s permission. Before the 1970s, women couldn’t run in the Boston Marathon, claim marital rape, have an abortion, keep her job if she was pregnant. They couldn’t report sexual harassment in the workplace or get a credit card or refuse to have sex with their husbands. We were essentially property without rights.
Men are no longer necessary for these important life functions.
Including procreation or pleasure. In the boat scene from Wonder Woman, our heroine Diana informs her new pilot friend Steve that the Amazons had determined that men weren’t necessary for pleasure. OUCH.
Okay, clearly we don’t all feel that way. We would just prefer to have full partners. When the rules have shifted, and we don’t need a second “daddy,” the value of the relationship shifts fundamentally to one of equality.
Struggling with Relevancy
What men are still struggling with today is relevancy. Without this patriarchal, horrific “fatherly role” of giving their wives permission to buy, have property, and be independent to a degree, they have a very hard time figuring out, why me? Only a few years ago, men could and did commit awful acts of sexual impropriety (and still do) without fear of being called out for it. Now they are. Back in the 1970s when we were assaulted, we had nowhere to go. Now we do.
What’s a guy to do? What defines a man any more if not Supreme Head of the Household, My Word is God? Your Female Body Belongs to the Community of Man for Our Pleasure?
Earn our love. Earn it. Be gracious and respectful and fun. Be joyful in your own life without needing to control someone else’s. Be supportive of your love’s accomplishments and don’t tear us down. Don’t be jealous or hateful when we achieve something significant, but understand that it reflects not only what we did but that you were there for us. Let’s collaborate, co-create, build things together. This really is a two-way street. In a genuinely equal partnership, those involved take joy and pride in each other’s victories, and shore each other up through the floods, fires, and fasts of down times.
Be complete in yourself and your life. Bring a whole person to the party. Instead of needing to be the BMOC, share the load. Wash the dishes, make the beds, babysit the kids. These things don’t make you remarkable. They make you a full partner.
Women’s Work? It’s Just Work.
I have repeatedly seen women comment online that friends gush about how great their partners are when they actually help around the house. This is ludicrous. At what point do we stop expecting women not only to be a wage earner but to still carry beast of burden duties in their entirety? Kids and house and cooking and everything else that once fell into the category of “women’s work?” It’s not women’s work. It’s just work. It’s life. Sharing it is an act of love and respect, no matter what gender your partner may be.
During an interview with international ice climbing expert Canadian climber Margo Talbot, she outlined one of the key challenges women have in outdoor sports. When she began her ice climbing career, the men who allowed her to join them used her as their “belay bitch.” They refused to let her lead pitches, climb ahead, build her skills. They were highly competitive and unwilling to let her grow in her sport. When she first climbed with a female partner, she was stunned at the difference. Support, compliments, encouragement, and a good push to take the lead and learn. Which is one important reason Margo Talbot today is one of the best in the world.
Guys wonder why sometimes we aren’t willing to play with them. This is one reason why.
Men my age (I’m 65) seem to not always get this. They yearn for a time when things were better for them. When they were the Man of the House. Witness this administration, the Health Care Plan discussed ONLY by old white men. Women senators and Congresswomen not allowed. This is an attempt to push us back to the 1950s, where men ruled the roost. The enemy of the Far Right is the powerful single adult woman, who owns her own business, her own property, has her own life, and does not defer to men. Marriage is seen as a way to get that damned woman under control. If not marriage, then laws, or taxes that make it impossible for all those women to get their PhDs and Masters Degrees. Get them back in the kitchen where they belong. Education is dangerous.
Today there are still hundreds upon hundreds of laws enacted to control women’s bodies and reproductive rights. Each year more restrictions are introduced. How many laws affect men’s bodies? ZERO. These are just some of the attempts to put women back where we’ve been- without control over our bodies, our lives, our finances, our health, our families. This Administration has been particularly aggressive about pushing women back decades (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/1/30/16947086/trump-womens-health-reproductive-rights). However you may feel about abortion, this trend to take control away from women (who are the community builders) and undermine their health is exactly what America has criticized other countries for for years.
If you want to know the maturity of a country, assess how it treats its woman and its animals. America is barrelling backwards at warp speed.
The Genie is Out of the Bottle
The genie is out of the bottle and we’re not going back in. This is good for the country, the community, our kids. All of us. When women are powerful partners, we are all healthier, happier, the laws are fairer. To say the least, we care a great deal about Mother Earth, which right now deserves a lot attention from all of us.
We have people in power who believe that the 1950s are very much the way things ought to be. We have pockets of culture in America where religious beliefs strongly support this patriarchal model. If this is what you prefer, if this is your comfort zone, have at it. However, the rest of society has moved on. We have realized, very belatedly, that some of the most brilliant people are also women- who can cure cancer, explore the universe as well as Einstein or better, and make the world a far better place. Their place is in the world making a difference. When marriage is used as a cudgel to keep these women from contributing, it’s a statement of fear. What are we so afraid of? Why is the brilliant, high-achieving woman who is ALSO a partner, a mom, a lover, an athlete so terrifying to some men?
Marriage Isn’t the Point
Ultimately marriage was never the real point. I’ve been single most of my adult life and vastly prefer that, and the privacy of my sacred space to having heartbeats in the house. While that can at times be lonely, nothing compares to the freedom of movement and choice I have. Many of my women friends concur. We can get involved, serve our communities with more time, and for many of us, go explore and travel this remarkable planet that we care so much about. Solo. Or, with each other.
Today’s Millennial men typically get this far more than their predecessors. They also choose to get sterilized. They partner in ways men in the 1970s couldn’t imagine. They recognize that marriage doesn’t define them or their wives. It’s simply a statement of commitment. Many forgo marriage completely, but love deeply just the same. They celebrate their badass women when those women climb rock walls or build a multi-million dollar business. They aren’t threatened. If anything, they revel in all that glory.
Marriage Doesn’t Make Us Who We Are
Marriage doesn’t make us who we are. The heartfelt commitment to one another and the personal work to create a working relationship are what make the “marriage,” whether that’s formalized or not. Getting the engagement ring is no longer the biggest event in a girl’s life for most women, and becoming someone’s wife is not the be all end all. The Disney dishonesty of Happily Ever After never existed in the first place. Relationships are hard work. They always were. Getting married- or just starting a relationship- is just the first of millions of shared steps which stay together only through a great deal of work and sacrifice. Making a pledge in front of an official does not ensure our fidelity. Our character and values do.
“Why aren’t you married?” is no longer the question. Whether or not we are living rich, productive, joyful lives IS the right question. If we find someone, all the better. Meanwhile we all owe it to ourselves to live richly, happily, deeply whether or not we have a partner.
This is the real question: “Are you happy?” If yes, ‘nuff said.