What If We Never Get Married?
In the summer of 2005 my friend Michelle said, “What if we never get married?” It was a joke, of course. Obviously we’ll get married; everyone does. We were 23 years old.
I’m 36 now, and I’m wondering when “never” starts. I’ve been single for 11 years and, of all the friends I had in my twenties, I’m the last one left unwed. I’ve been dating online (and in real life) for over a decade and have never once had a relationship to show for it. The dating experiences I’ve been through have resulted in significant decisions about my life and how I chose to view and live it. I’ve decided that never starts now.
Women want to get married. I’ll say it out loud. I’ve been writing publicly on dating and singlehood for six years; I hear from a lot of women. And while they thank me for lighting up truths about the unseen nonsense we single and actively dating women deal with, for the most part they still want to know how to make it go away.
The favored solution to being single is, by and large, marriage. If you want to put an end to the terrible encounters, endless let downs, and feelings of failure, just marry them away.
I think there’s another method. And we don’t need anything outside of ourselves to employ it. Women still want to get married, and while I think that’s fine, my concern lies in how badly women want to get married.
We want to get married more than we never want to see an unsolicited photo of a man’s genitals again. We want to get married more than we never want to be ghosted by someone we’ve been seeing for a month again. We want to get married more than we never want to spend hours upon hours upon days of our lives swiping and messaging into oblivion. We want to get married more than anything; otherwise, we wouldn’t stand for the nonsense that is dating for one more second.
If we want to get married, we have to date, and dating more often than not involves being treated with a disgusting lack of regard. I’m not imagining this treatment; I’ve experienced it for 11 years and know plenty of other women, personally and culturally, who have gone through similar situations. It’s a well-known societal joke now: Dating is a nightmare for women, and a toy for men. But really, what are we supposed to do? If we don’t date, we’ll never meet someone. And if we never meet someone, we’ll never get married. And if we never get married... my god, can you imagine?
We can imagine it, but we don’t want to. We don’t want to think about what happens if we stop chasing down this goal, this reward at the end of so much effort. Never getting that reward would make everything we’ve already lived through a complete wash, and you have to be kidding me. And here’s the thing: Men know that. They know we want to get married, and they know we’ll put up with anything in order to try. So they also know that they can get away with anything. And anything is exactly what they do.
I’ve been asked to send sexual texts to a man so that he could masturbate to them, at 7 a.m., before he’d told me his name. I’ve been asked if I enjoy receiving oral sex from men with mustaches as an initial greeting. I’ve been stood up by a man who forgot which woman I was while he was making plans with multiple women online. And we’d already been on two dates.
The message is typically, “Women, here’s how to survive what men do to you within online dating,” rather than, “Men, stop doing what you’re doing to women within online dating.” The assumption is that men won’t bother being better, so women will have to simply learn how to deal. Fuck. That.
I want to get married less than I want to experience any of this. I want to get married less than I’m willing to participate in a culture that’s sold as fun but in reality is an ugly chore. I no longer want to do something I have to “take a break from” every now and then because it has simply become too disappointing, painful, and harmful to my mental health. I don’t want to “deal with” or “survive” dating, when it was supposed to be the thing that would lead me to love. That story isn’t tracking for me.
What would happen if we all thought this way? If women collectively stopped viewing dating as something we simply have to suffer in order to find a husband, and decide instead that finding a husband isn’t a goal we’re willing to suffer for? Would men still behave the way they do when they date? Would they even have the option?
What if we never get married? I’m really asking. I think maybe the answer is less scary than the outcome we’ve been societally groomed to fear. As if getting married suddenly makes life complete and happy and gives it permission to begin. I don’t think life is that linear. I don’t think marriage is that euphoric. I think life evolves and is cyclical, and I think married people think marriage sucks sometimes, too.
I think it’s 2019 and we can go ahead and call this generation of single women just women. I don’t think relationship status is a relevant identifier anymore, either on a mortgage application or around the dinner table. I also don’t think marriage is a trophy life anymore. There are more perks and joys to being single now than ever before — so many that, in my opinion, they put single on par with married. One is no longer better than the other. I think we can be single and lonely sometimes, or married and less free than we used to be. And maybe that’s an Eeyore-esque way to put it, but society has been forecasting gray skies over my entire adult life because I live it alone so I think I’m allowed to throw a little thunder marriage’s way.
I deleted all of my dating apps a few months ago. If you’re a single woman, that sounds scary. How will I meet someone if I’m not online? That’s the way everyone dates now. That’s the way everyone meets now. It’s no longer the shameful, weird, desperate approach it was at its outset. (And by the way, I remember its outset, too—that’s how long I’ve been dating.)
Maybe culling my dating apps means I won’t meet someone, but there are other things that won’t happen, either. I won’t suffer any of the behaviors I was subjected to over 11 years of dating. I won’t have to mentally and emotionally endure blow after disappointing, disgusting blow, constantly reminding myself that I have to keep going, that I can’t give up hope. Because hope is what’s supposed to keep us doing this, right? Hope that one day we’ll meet one person and then we won’t have to deal with any of the madness anymore. I’m not trying to kill our hope. I am trying to murder the madness.
It’s hard to walk away from dating. Being with a man feels good. Attention feels good. Sex feels good. And yes, in deleting all my dating apps I spend less time around men. But I also spend less time thinking about men. I’ve filled that space and time with other things. Creativity, work, wellness—I’ve let my goals for the future literally expand into all the space I used to fill with swiping. It’s shown me how much I am capable of, how many gloriously free hours in the day there are to be happy and productive, and to stop settling for the scraps of life that used to be fed to me through dating. Now that I’ve experienced this change, any man I welcome into my life will have truly earned the space he occupies. One-word text responses six hours later no longer stand a chance.
What if we never get married? What’s really so bad about never getting married? About not pursuing it, at the very least? Spend more time with married people. Learn more truth about how life isn’t instantly okay the morning after a wedding. Learn that single or married, your own happiness is still your responsibility. If you want to fear something, fear missing opportunities to make yourself happy. There are no monsters hiding under your single bed. (But a few might be living inside your phone.)
Fear keeps us dating, keeps us putting up with bad behavior from men who never seem to face the consequences. Ghost, delete, disappear—these behaviors won’t haunt me anymore, and I don’t want them to haunt other single women, either. I want our unwillingness to participate in modern dating to become a consequence for the bad behaviors of men. And unfortunately you know exactly which men I’m talking about. If we weren’t afraid of never getting married, maybe they would be afraid to be terrible.
Maybe I’ll never get married. But I’ll definitely never get another disgusting text from a stranger, either. And I take so much more comfort and happiness in what I know will no longer happen to me than I ever did in the activities I used to engage in pursuing the thing that would maybe happen to me someday.
Until finding a husband becomes less important than the way we’re treated in dating, we will continue to put ourselves in emotional harm’s way. Being married is probably amazing; I don’t discount that. But being single is amazing, too, and I want myself and women like me to shed our societal programming that it’s not.
From my perspective, we can’t rely on men to change dating, either by telling them to behave better or by marrying one. On one hand, I don’t think they’ll listen, and on the other I’m uncomfortable giving them that much power. I believe the way dating changes, the way it gets better, begins—as so many miracles do—within us. If we decide that getting married doesn’t matter, we can stop exposing ourselves to terrible dating behavior. If we stop exposing ourselves to terrible dating behavior, we can change how happy we are with being single. And if we change how happy we are with being single, maybe that changes everything.