If you think people project things onto you now, why would a wedding ring stop them?
Women are carpet-bombed with the idea that marriage is their happy ending from their first viewing of Cinderella to the last potboiler Rom Com they saw starring Sarah Jessica Jennifer Kate Meg Julia Whatsherhair. Marriage is also ever-present in the news, whether it’s gay marriage, the divorce rate or sex scandals involving politicians and golfers. It’s on TV 24/7 in the form of “Bridezillas,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” and various reality shows that have turned a sacrament into a raffle.
Now a study titled—I’m not kidding—“I’m a Loser, I’m Not Married, Let’s Just All Look At Me,” tells us that social pressure has managed to make women between 25-35 feel both scrutinized and invisible if they’re not married.
“Heightened visibility came from feelings of exposure and invisibility came from assumptions made by others,” said Larry Ganong of the University of Missouri, who conducted the study of 32 interviews with women, along with Elizabeth Sharp of Texas Tech University. A single woman’s world, it seems, consists mainly of feeling stigmatized by singlehood, worrying about the draining dating pool, and listening to her biological clock thump away like the Tell-Tale Heart.
Having been single all my life I swear on my MacBook that it does not all consist solely of feeling glum at bouquet tosses. And while I’m almost as in love with love as Barbara Cartland, I believe we women are smart enough to know that a wedding ring won’t make us happy any more than a white dress will make us a virgin. The desire to get it right might be part of the reason people are putting off marriage until later. (Plus, according to Time magazine, life expectancy is increasing…and the average marrying age is increasing at the same exact pace.)
If brides in the ’70s, when I was a kid, were decked out like Indian brides or can-can dancers or Dean Martin’s Golddiggers, I might have dreamed of my wedding day like other little girls did, but the idea of dressing as a napkin and going to church did not interest me. Plus, I grew up in an intact nuclear family, and like someone who once worked at McDonalds and is made queasy by the smell of French fries ever after, I knew by the age of 5 that I wasn’t buying that particular Happy Meal. My mom, too, was a great one for ignoring the in-crowd (or any crowd) and so I’ve always easily blown off the social pressures some people feel so keenly and so unfairly.
And so, to the women who so wrongly feel diminished by singlehood, I’d like to pass on the lessons I learned from my own dear mom, who might have called the following list, “You Just Tell That Sonofabitch to Mind His Own Goddamn Business,” or…
Eight Reasons Marriage Doesn’t Matter
1. It’ll cost you
According to Soundvision $72 billion a year is spent on weddings. The average wedding costs about $20,000. A lot of people are making a tidy living off female insecurities around this issue.
The idea of anyone spending that kind of money makes my head spin. $20K? On a party? What are you, Keith Moon? If you want to be the center of attention for 20 minutes before being locked down for life it would be cheaper to just rob a liquor store.
The more romantic options for that money would be to set it aside and every time you have one of those thin-ice days, when you’re looking at each other like the enemy, go away on a dirty weekend. Nothing recharges love like a change of scenery and lots and lots of body fluids. It’ll work whether you’re married or not and can be a form of time-released relationship life support.
PS: This dirty weekend is supposed to be with each other…just in case that wasn’t clear.
2. If you plan ahead, it won’t matter when you’re sick
Nicky Grist, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, says that people should know that marital status or family-of-origin relationships need not have anything to do with who sees you in the hospital or how medical decisions are made when you can’t make them.
“Every adult in America has the right to name who is allowed to make a medical decision for them and even who can visit them in the hospital,” she says, but few people assert it. “Only about 20-30 percent of Americans have written an advance directive that says this is the person who can make a medical decision for me that I can’t make for myself.”
ATMP’s Hospital Rights page will give you information and links for advance directive forms. If you want to feel ironclad you can get a lawyer to do it, otherwise you can use these forms, which Nicky says is, “very very easy and it’s free.”
You can find out more about advance directives and the Patient Self-Determination Act on the American Bar Association website. One question there that caught my eye was whether doctors will recognize an advance directive. David N. Hoffman, general council at the Wycoff Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., says that while a doctor can refuse treatment on moral or religious grounds, it is the responsibility of the hospital to then get another doctor who will respect the patient’s wishes…whether they are given by the patient or through a proxy designated by an advance directive. So you’re covered.
3. Women who never married
Oprah Winfrey, Jane Austen, Joan of Arc, Coco Chanel, Condoleezza Rice and Queen Elizabeth I.
I don’t know Oprah Winfrey but I doubt she participates in bouquet tosses while thinking, “Sure, I can make or break people’s careers with the twitch of an eye but without a ring on my finger I might as well be dead.”
And before you say “I’m no Oprah,” well, Oprah wasn’t always Oprah either, but she didn’t become Oprah by feeling bad about her different life path. There was a great line in the film The Libertine, in which an actress snubs a would-be Lothario with the phrase, “Better my certain glory than your uncertain love.” Our glory might not be certain but self-determination can be a helluva consolation prize.
4. Women who did get married
Kate Gosselin, Britney Spears, Anne Boleyn, Doreen Lioy (to convicted serial killer Richard Ramirez in prison), thousands of couples in a simultaneous, arranged Unification Church wedding, underage girls in arranged fundamentalist Mormon weddings, and two 7-year-old Indian girls to frogs.
Do these things mean that marriage is bad? Of course not. It’s just an illustration that it doesn’t solve everything. Even the frogs went back to their ponds.
5. In sickness and in health
There are various reports, like this one in Time magazine, that marriage can be better for your health, and fair enough, but even those sometimes have caveats—the Time story says more married people are “likely to be overweight or obese” and that “the stress of a bad marriage can undo much of the good that comes with a happy one.”
An Israeli study of 10,000 men found that single men had a 64 percent higher risk of dying than happily married men…but unhappily married men had the same risk (the report is preliminary says UPI). And an Australian study of 2,300 people over 60 found that “divorced, widowed, and single women in older age seem to be healthier than their married counterparts.” Men’s health didn’t correlate to their marital status but the status of women who were separated but not divorced was worse than other groups of women.
Unmarried older ladies lead active, involved lives and that has health benefits. Belinda Hewitt, a researcher on the study, commented that “They are not a bunch of frail and lonely people who are going to be a burden,” and “Maybe being married ties you more to the house and your partner.”
See? If you never marry it doesn’t mean you’ll end up like Miss Havisham. You’ll be busy and active…like the aunts in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
6. Learning from someone else’s past
Hannah Seligson, writing in the Daily Beast, gives a number of reasons why her generation is waiting to tie the knot, including the fact that Baby Boomer divorce culture is making younger generations want to be really really really sure they’re not going to suffer through that fiasco. True enough—it’s not like taking a sweater back to Target. And when you get right down to it, marriage is really the main cause of divorce. Single people never get divorced.
7. It’s taxing
“Our tax code makes huge assumptions about people when they’re married,” Nicky Grist says, “like that they share their income and expenses, and it really penalizes people who have the nerve to say ‘No, we don’t and we’re filing separately.’ The highest tax rate is charged to people whose filing status is ‘married, filing separately.'”
The “marriage penalty” has a long history that Dennis Ventry, law professor at the UC Davis School of Law says goes back to the disparity between states with community property laws and common law states; married couples in the latter were paying higher tax rates until 1948 when income-splitting was extended to all couples. This was seen as unfair to singles, so in 1969 the system was changed again and ended up penalizing married people, specifically those with similar incomes. In 2001 the pro-marriage Bush administration tried to lessen that disparity.
The upshot of all this chaos is chaos—whether you end up with a marriage penalty or bonus “totally depends on the income ratio between spouses,” Ventry says, with those of very disparate incomes generally coming out ahead and those of similar incomes coming out behind. The bigger tax penalty for “married, filing separately,” is, to discourage people from “gaming the system” by filing separately if it might result in a lower tax rate.
The bottom line is some couples gain and others lose by marrying (though Liz Pulliam Weston on MSN Money does say marriage has other fiscal benefits). Plus when you factor in things like earned income tax credits, the fact that we live in a system where some couples aren’t given the option of being able to enjoy potential marriage-related tax bonuses and the fact that we could all be out of a job in 10 minutes and have no income to tax, it’s pretty much a crap shoot. You might as well do what you want.
Which you might as well do in regards to marriage in general. If you live your life according to other people’s assumptions, pressures, and values, it’s hardly your life, is it?
8. Getting married does not stop people from assuming things about you
The feeling of invisibility among these women, the study says, was “likely when others assumed they were married and had children or they had to justify their singlehood.” But getting married won’t stop people from making assumptions. They might assume you just can’t afford that house by yourself anymore. They might assume you’re settling for Mr. He’ll-Do even though you’re still in love with the college sweetheart you always bring up when you’re hip-deep in the Pinot. They might think your biological clock must have gone off in such a deafening way you can’t hear what a jerk your new husband is.
Simply put, if you think people assume and project things onto you now, why would a wedding ring stop them?
Liz Langley is a freelance writer in Orlando, Fla.
This originally appeared on Alternet. Republished here with permission.