don't push marriageAmerican culture is saturated with matrimania – the over-the-top hyping of marriage, weddings, and coupling. It’s all over the place – media, religion, the workplace, everyday conversations, and even our nation’s laws. So it got my attention when three separate essays I recently read suggested a more cautious approach to pushing marriage on single people. Not one of the essays was written by someone out to mock or undermine marriage.

In the Economist, an article entitled “Singletons,” was promoted with the tagline: “Living alone is on the rise all over the world. Is this bad news?” Many countries see the rise of single-living as a problem they need to address. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, the government has a Marriage Fund; if you’re engaged, you may be eligible for financial assistance from the fund. In the United States, George W. Bush funneled $150 million a year into the “Healthy Marriage Initiative,” which is still active to this day.

Except for a paragraph peddling popular myths about coupling, the Economist article is worth reading. Here’s the concluding comment on government attempts to bribe, nag and shame singles into marrying:

“So governments should stop panicking. When Cupid’s hand is forced, his arrow is liable to misfire. In early imperial Rome, when the emperor Augustus put a tax on celibacy in response to anaemic marriage rates, he faced a spate of betrothals to underage women, an open revolt from his senators—and a decline in his citizens’ conjugal appetites.”

In a personal essay, author Kristin Tennant, a Christian woman who was immersed in the “prevailing conservative, outdated view of what it means to be a woman,” got married at 22. She married because it “‘made sense’ and it fulfilled this image of the way I thought my life should look.”

Ten years later, Tennant was divorced. Now, she objects to the relentless promotion of marriage, especially as a supposed cure for poverty:

“If we really care about these families, let’s stop cheapening marriage by presenting it as an antidote, and let’s start empowering women to make smart choices for a future they can sustain – with or without a husband.”

When she married, she already had a college degree, a job, and health insurance. What she really needed, she said, was

“a loud and clear message that said, ‘You are capable of so much, on your own.’ I needed to believe more fully in my ability to be successful, to be respectful, and to build a future – without a husband.

Pamela Haag, author of Marriage Confidential, agrees that it’s a bad idea to promote marriage as an anti-poverty program. Marriage is a big risk among the economically vulnerable – for one thing, you could end up supporting a spouse who cannot find a job, thereby stretching already-meager resources beyond the breaking point.

Among the very wealthy, Haag adds, marriages often stumble because there’s too much money at stake. Also, with all that money, you can buy all the stuff and help you need, rather than nagging a spouse to do their unfair share.

Here’s her conclusion to her article titled “The Freakonomics of Marriage”:

“Maybe the way to shore up marriage, for those who want that, is to shore up the American middle class that is marriage’s natural habitat? With living wages, perhaps, and good jobs?”

[Notes: Thanks to Jason McMahan for the heads-up about the last two articles. Also, I wrote about Pamela Haag’s book here and here.]

Wedding rings and bouquet photo available from Shutterstock