The very best studies challenge the conventional wisdom that if you get married, you will get healthier and happier. That’s what I argued recently in an article that ruffled some feathers. In one such study, for example, people who got married actually got a little less healthy than they were when they were single, and then their health slipped even more over the course of their marriages.
Some people who objected to my arguments claimed that they were not true and that people who get married really do get healthier and happier. To make that argument, they relied on what I call the cheater technique, so I did not find their critiques convincing.
Another person took a different approach. Hal Boyd, writing for a Salt Lake City paper, did not dispute my claim that getting married does not make people lastingly healthier or happier. Instead, he poo-pooed the significance of health and happiness. What should matter more, he argued, was “answering the higher moral call to expand one’s ability to love and serve while extending that opportunity to others.”
Can you guess who he thinks is better at answering that higher moral call? Yeah, I know – that’s too easy. People who are married with children are Boyd’s moral winners.
Here’s his way of sticking it to single people:
“There are some who conscientiously choose to kill their prospects of marriage in exchange for greater personal comfort or health.
“Too often, however, this means that something sublime is lost in the process.”
By this way of thinking, I suppose, no one chooses single life for the meaning and fulfillment they find there. (Odd, coming from someone making religious references. Has he heard about Catholic priests or nuns, for example?) No, single people are conscientiously (does he mean “consciously”?) killing their prospects of marriage. And we are doing so “in exchange for greater personal comfort or health.” I have talked to thousands of single people in the two decades I’ve been studying single life, and I have never heard even one single person describe their life choices in this way.
But I get it, Boyd is putting us down as morally inferior. We single people need to get married so we, too, can answer “the higher moral call to expand one’s ability to love and serve while extending that opportunity to others.”
Here’s something Boyd doesn’t know: Single people are in many ways more generous and loving and giving toward other people than married people are. People who marry often become more insular than they were before. Their generosity becomes more narrowly focused than it was when they were single.
While married people turn inward toward their spouse, single people are doing more to maintain their ties with their parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors. They are there for their aging parents more reliably than married people are. Sometimes they provide long-term care for people who are not relatives. And when the Bureau of Labor Statistics tallied 10 different categories of volunteering, married people volunteered significantly more than single people in only one of them – religious organizations.
Boyd confuses marriage with parenting (as many others do, too) but, of course, many single people are parents and many married people are not. Even those single people who are not parents often have important roles in the lives of children – for example, as aunts, uncles, teachers, mentors, and role models. When single people think about children, I wonder whether they are more often thinking about the world’s children, and not just their own.
Lifelong single people often have health, happiness, and the meaningfulness that comes with the love and caring and generosity that they offer to so many other people. If I were going to follow Boyd’s mode of argument, I’d say that it is too bad that married people are sacrificing something so sublime.
Instead, I’ll just reiterate something I said before, that Boyd belittled: “Free of the myth that marriage is a magical potion, we can all pursue the life paths that suit us best. Marriage is still there for those who want it.”
[Take a look at my TEDX talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single,” if you are interested. Also, this collection of articles on all sorts of topics relevant to single life is always available. Check out my website, too, if you’d like.]