I is 26 years old and lives in Washington, DC.
How did you arrive at the decision to not get married? How firm are you in this decision?
I wouldn’t get married if I didn’t believe it would last forever, and that my husband and I would be happy together for life, but how do you come by that kind of certainty? That’s one of the barriers, for me, to walking down the aisle. I don’t want doubts, or a pre-nup, or a back-up plan. But wouldn’t it be foolish to ignore the reality that many marriages end, and if mine does, I’ll need to protect myself? Can you believe wholeheartedly in the future of your marriage and also preemptively prepare for divorce? Can love and pragmatism coexist?
Marriage is an enormous legal commitment. Having worked in family law, I’ve seen firsthand the struggles people go through to extricate themselves from their marriages; I’ve seen people confronting challenges they never thought would come to them. Before you get married, you have to know that not only are you prepared to commit yourself to this person, but also your money, your property, and your children. These might be joyfully shared when times are good, but it’s important to be aware that even if you divorce your spouse, they are still legally entitled to much of what you might consider “yours.” If you don’t want to split your pension with someone, either don’t marry them, or sign a pre-nup. And that’s hard to face, especially at a time in your life when society insists that all you think about is tulle and halls and flower arrangements. It’s not very bridal to think about what happens to your 401(k) in the event of a divorce, but someday it may be very important.
Where did you get your ideas about marriage?
My parents have been happily married for over 30 years, and I come from a large family with a very low incidence of divorce, especially by 21st century American standards. So most of my thoughts about marriage are positive, which may be why it’s often surprising to people that I’m ambivalent about taking that step myself.
On one level, it’s difficult to believe in the promise of marriage when modern marriages seem to break down so quickly, and divorce feels almost inevitable. If your marriage will more likely than not end in divorce, is it still worth doing? These are the kind of questions I find myself confronting, and I think this wasn’t a calculus our mothers and grandmothers felt the need to make. It doesn’t mean that no one can have a successful marriage, only that if we’re all entering into our marriages with an eye towards the possibility of failure, it’s going to mean something different than it did when our parents got married.
What do you say to folks who ask you when you’re getting married?
I tend to be fairly open about my decision to not get married (yet). It certainly isn’t a self-imposed lifelong embargo, and I do plan to get married someday, but I want to do it because I really want to, and right now I don’t feel that need. Also, marriage is a serious business, and I want to give the decision the time and consideration it warrants. Luckily, I have very supportive friends and family, so no one has been rude or judgmental, even when I know they don’t understand or don’t agree with my decision.
What are your feelings on the word “spinster”?
“Spinster” is an ugly word. A spinster is not a real woman, she’s not a complete person, she’s not deserving of dignity or respect. She’s a joke – someone to be mocked and pitied. She’s Miss Havisham, an old maid, a cat lady. There is no allowance for her feelings or preferences, no room for her to be a complete person. Spinster means we don’t see a woman; we see the absence of a man.
You didn’t ask me this question, but as far as how I feel about the word “wife”…
I was surprised to see so many women reacting badly to the word “wife.” As an unmarried woman, I hate the word “girlfriend” (and “boyfriend”), and would much prefer “wife”, which seems to lend a lot more legitimacy to the relationship. “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” seem so juvenile, and perhaps even temporary. These terms don’t define my relationship, but I use them anyways, because I haven’t found a viable alternative. What do you call a couple who have made a commitment to each other, but which hasn’t been recorded on an official form, registered with the government, and marked by the gratuitous bestowal of a Kitchenaid?
It’s time for the English language to provide a term that means “unmarried people in a committed relationship.” Personally I love the word partner (I even prefer it to “husband” and “wife”), because it’s the same for both parties, which seems more egalitarian, but also because it exemplifies what I feel a good relationship should be – a partnership, a team effort, a friendship. For the time being, I don’t use the word “partner” because the connotation tends more toward same-sex relationships, and in the interests of not confusing people, it’s easier just to say “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” But I wish there were a word that more accurately expressed my reality.