Thema is 43 and lives in Atlanta.
How did you arrive at the decision to not get married? How firm are you in this decision?
Making a decision not to get married is the product of a lengthy and amorphous process, as I caromed off the idea of marriage multiple times during many relationships. When I was 19, I became engaged to a man a few years older than myself. I was happy about his proposal, and phoned all my relatives to inform them of the news who all responded happily. We were living together, and began making wedding plans but the relationship ended after about a year. I realized I was too young – I was still forming myself as a person and the two of us were growing apart as I continued to change as an individual. What followed after that was a string of serious relationships with boyfriends I was in love with but none of which lasted more than two to three years. These relationships occurred during my education at University, through graduation, to my first professional job – all throughout casually discussing the idea of marriage but, really, we just enjoyed our time together. More recently, as I reached the age of twenty seven, my boyfriend and I seriously began to talk about marriage. He was supportive either way – married or not – but it seemed like the next logical step for us both. It was only after deep introspection and contemplation on marriage that I realized I loved him, but I was not in love with him. I quickly ended the relationship; as I did not believe he was “the one” and have not spoken with him since. And now, in the present, my boyfriend and I are happy and have been deeply in love for three years. This relationship solidified my decision, and it is firm: I will never get married. I am a relativist who has faith in change, as change is inevitable. There are no guarantees in love, so why worry about getting married? Never being a religious person, I don’t see the need to pay homage to our love with a ceremony in a public display of affection asking for free gifts from my closest relatives and friends. Nor do I believe in selling out and getting married so the government can give me my husband’s social security check or health care benefit. I have designated those most important to me in my living will and Healthcare POA, so why can’t I do the same with my SS and healthcare benefits? We should be able to form our own decisions and relations which should be respected by those closest to us and the government without the need for marriage contracts.
Where did you get your narrative about marriage?
At first, my visions of marriage as a ceremony came through media and American culture: Bridal magazines, reality wedding shows, and the marriage services of many family members and friends. The allure of a marriage ceremony as once-in-a-lifetime special day event slowly rusted and eventually became a symbol of shallow self-interest. I’m not interested in all that attention. Forming my own thoughts on marriage as a commitment, a lifelong journey, and symbol came from my own chosen values as well as what experiences I have with family and friends. My personal choice is in long term, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. There is no denying that marriage is an ongoing process of hard work. I am not afraid of commitment; I have twice been in long distance relationships that lasted years – that was work. The concept of marriage as a symbol of unity is beautiful. But there are other symbols of unity besides marriage. Coincidentally, my mother and father – who divorced each other when I was five – have each been married three times. Both sides of my grandparents have been together for more than fifty years. As for my friends – many are single, some are married and others divorced, only one is re-married. Regardless, my family has always been supportive of my choices and I hear them approve whenever I show them I am a strong, smart, and independent woman. Now that they don’t expect my future marriage to occur – they are looking to me to choose motherhood.
What do you say to folks who ask you when you’re getting married?
It took time, but by slowly developing my own security, confidence, and self-worth I am able to say to others “I don’t believe in marriage. I believe in family and friends.” This usually prompts in acquaintances a quick expression of confusion followed by a quick cessation on the topic of marital conversation. I do not understand why choosing to be unmarried is so taboo? Once when I traveled to Eastern Tennessee for work, I had a lunch with a few clients. A casual mention that I was unmarried and living with my boyfriend, prompted a woman to state that I was “living in sin.” And, I have previously been told by a male co-worker that I am “too much for one man” – how degrading!
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?
From the religious perspective; it’s not a traditional role for a woman. This can stir up feelings of judgment and probably fear. Unwed women are purportedly mocking the values of the traditional family and also imposing an alternative lifestyle that could be seeped into the minds of their own families or children or communities. Otherwise, I believe an unmarried woman is a target of jealousy and a scapegoat for misplaced anger.
What are your feelings on the word “spinster”?
Honestly, I recall only recently becoming aware of the word “spinster”. I was watching a Korean soap opera online and used the dictionary to look up the term. I feel that since it took so long to truly recognize the term’s existence it has become an archaic word, at least in the Midwest where I am from. I have never been called a spinster, but I would have words with anyone who did.