J is a New York-based professional. She is a self-confirmed and proud crazy cat lady in a long-term relationship with an even crazier cat gentleman.
How did you arrive at the decision to not get married? How firm are you in this decision?
Short answer: Experience and observation. Very.
Long answer: I was previously married for about five years. My ex was more invested in the idea of marriage than I was. I figured, “Why not? Let’s see what happens.” It was like field work, but, in a way, better funded. We amicably separated over the issue of Children. After completing an advanced degree and landing a well-paying job, he decided he, indeed, wanted some kids, while I adamantly did not and still do not. Marriage did not change our relationship except for insurance, taxes, and, probably, it may have rendered us more desirable as tenants. Marriage provides an illusion of stability and responsibility, and, in some ways, does provide financial security through access to resources like healthcare, which was very helpful as we were taking turns obtaining our respective degrees.
I am now in a loving, committed, supportive relationship with a man who equally dislikes the idea of parenting. We mutually intend to make this relationship a lifer. He wanted us to get married at one point, but I didn’t see why and he couldn’t justify his position except to acknowledge that he’s got some irrational “old-fashioned” ideas. My argument was that if we were religious and part of a faith-based community, there would be a social benefit, but we’re not. We’re not part of a social sphere in which most of our friends are married. Very few are.
I hate the idea that somehow marriage forces individuals to behave more responsibly to each other. I would like to think that we have evolved beyond that point, though evidence may suggest many of us just aren’t there yet. So, you need a wedding band and blow-out orgy of sentimentality, performance art, and bad taste to which you invite your friends and family so as to publicly commit to not being a selfish jerk?
The “gay marriage” debate solidified the decision for us. Marriage shouldn’t change anything except material outcomes. If you need to be married to behave responsibly, you are not a mature person. If you need it to “show the world you are committed” you are an exhibitionist. If you need to be married to “move forward in your relationship” you completely denigrate all the committed, loving, long-term relationships gays and lesbians and others have forged with each other since forever without the benefit of State-recognized marriage. “Marriage” is a legal construct and should be a legal relationship open to all persons who enter into a contract to become materially and legally responsible for another person or persons. My elderly mother, in essence, should be able to “marry” her widowed female friend in order for the two of them to become responsible parties for the other in the absence of responsible blood relations on her friend’s side. I fully support the idea of legal guardianship. I would assume legal guardianship of my partner if the State offered this as an option. Everyone should have a legal guardian relationship.
Where did you get your thoughts about marriage?
Short answer: Much of my philosophy is undoubtedly derived from observing my parents as well as other adults with whom I interacted during childhood. As I matured and observed the relations of my peers, I modified perspectives formed during youth. My education in the social sciences and being trained to think critically and develop sound analytical methodologies also exerted an enormous influence. I wouldn’t blame the social sciences for making me anti-marriage; they only re-enforced pre-existing views by providing a framework through which to evaluate them.
Long answer that a therapist would likely fish around for: My parents’ marriage was complicated. Two people who obviously loved each other but should never have entered into an agreement to cohabitate. Individually they were terrific parents (my sister and I routinely re-hash their astonishingly great parenting skills), but together as one unit, they were ill-suited. It was a relief for everyone when they finally decided to end the experiment of living together. I remember asking them individually (because, in the end, they couldn’t stand being in the same room together), “What took you so long?” and their collective response was, “We stayed together for you!” I think that if they had lived apart and raised us jointly, it would’ve turned out better for everyone, but, for my father in particular who was raised in a happy, loving, Jewish home, it was really this sentimental ideal that he needed to strive for. He was an extremely sentimental person. The collapse of the charade was really psychologically devastating to him. He felt he was a failure at being a good Jewish man of his generation, though, materially, he couldn’t have done better for us. It was an issue, perhaps, of social status. How he was viewed by others in the community. I’m recalling now the labor and effort that went into our annual family portrait, taken prior to the High Holy Days, and how important these pictures and the associated rites were to him.
In sum, my parents were not able to synthesize the other’s needs into empathetic practice, so, in the end, they were just hanging in to fulfill the contractual obligations of marriage. It worked out very well for them (really, all of us) financially, but not emotionally. I would like to see a world in which everyone had the potential to reap those material benefits conferred by marriage.
What do you say to folks who ask you when you’re getting married?
I laugh. Depending on who is asking, I might ask them why, in their opinion, I might want to do that. I ask, “Why is the current arrangement unacceptable to you?” Our two names are on the lease. We have a joint checking and credit card account. He’s the recipient of my life insurance policy if I get run over by a bus. Our mothers and sisters are clear-sighted women who see our relationship rationally; there is zero family pressure. I’ve experienced a life-threatening illness and he took excellent care of me, made enormous personal sacrifices to do so and we are living with the consequences. What else could someone want or demand from us?
I am more generous toward older people, although I find that, given the opportunity to talk, they are often the most ardent anti-marriage advocates. Both men and women.
Younger people are the ones most irrational about marriage. They often have ridiculous emotional investments in the happy, sentimental marriage myth despite abundant evidence pointing to the contrary. Also, it’s a great method for acquiring goods they don’t have to pay for. You just make a list of shitloads of stuff you want and then compel your hapless friends to purchase it for you. That’s a really crappy way to be a friend!
Why do you think there’s such a stigma against women who aren’t married/choose not to be married? How do you think this stigma has affected you?
I think “such a stigma” may not characterize the prevailing social mindset anymore, at least in white, professional-class, urban America, which is the only America I can speak about with any authority. I’ve lived in the metro New York area all my life with the exception of nine traumatic months lived in Israel. However, I’ve noticed that when visiting rural areas, many women I meet are divorced or separated. Among organized religious communities, it’s different. It’s a totally different mindset that doesn’t operate on the same logic. There’s a submission to a greater imperative than one’s personal assessments and well-being. Just being a decent, ethical individual is insufficient in that context.
More than half (maybe more, I’ve never done a count) of the women I interact with on a monthly basis are not married, some by choice, some by default. In my immediate family, there are now two married couples. The rest are single, some with children, some divorced. In the older generation, almost everyone was married.
Marriage is no longer relevant for many women and men. It’s not integral to social inclusion, at least here in my New York. I mean, in my immediate family and circle of friends, being married renders you a social outsider!
I’ve looked at some of the statistical data. I think, overall, marriage benefits men way more than it benefits women. The marriage industry makes a valiant effort to get women to overlook all the ways in which they get shortchanged by entering into that contract. The “fairytale” wedding garbage. The political incentives to remain married or get married for children’s sake, which, I think, are founded on a seriously flawed (intentionally?) misinterpretation/misrepresentation of statistical data. Yeah, our parent’s marriage worked out super well for my sister and I, but there are a lot of other variables that likely boosted our chances of educational and financial success more than our parent’s misguided decision to tie the knot and stick it out until the situation became unbearable.
The only time I feel stigmatized is when I observe policies that privilege married couples. “Spousal hire” policies are outdated and should be abolished. They’re irrelevant. That would be one of those material outcomes I mentioned earlier. It’s a benefit built upon the foundations of discrimination.
What are your feelings on the word “spinster”?
The only times I hear or see “spinster” used anymore are (A) ironically (like with the word, “bitch”) or (B) by older people, like my mother, who also insists on addressing anyone older than herself as “Ma’am.” It’s unclear if this practice is just relegated to people I know and interact with regularly, which is a very limited population. I acknowledge that despite living in an incredibly diverse cosmopolitan environment, my social circle is pretty limited. Anyone who reports otherwise is most likely falsifying data.
It seems like the word is a relic and carries with it the connotations of another era that had different values and limitations. I am curious about this question. Who apart from the anachronistically-inclined aged uses this word?