Marriage is so relentlessly valued and promoted and celebrated, it is easy for people to feel like they are missing out on something if they are single. And maybe for some single people, they really are.
The problem is that in popular writings, and even in scientific articles, the focus is overwhelmingly on what is good about being married and bad about being single. But no life choice is entirely positive or entirely negative.
Whenever I see stories that are one-sided, I flip the script. So, for example, when writers or pundits try to persuade single people that they are missing out on the joys and benefits of married life by living single, I pose the reverse question. What are married people missing out by not being single? Or, what would single people be missing out on if they were married?
One big advantage single people have is that they get to make the life decisions that are best for them. That’s true for both little things (everyday decisions about what to have for dinner) and the big ones, such as whether to move or stay put. Another example of a big decision is whether to keep working as you approach retirement age. A recent study suggested that married people seem to be influenced in important ways by what their spouse wants them to do. Only about 16% of the spouses were neutral. The married people who had spouses who wanted them to quit working did in fact stop working sooner than comparable single people did. Those whose spouses wanted them to keep working did in fact continue to work longer than single people did.
Here are some questions single people can ask themselves about how their lives might be different if they were married.
- Would you be able to manage your time and your interests in the way you do now?
- Geographically, would you be living where you most want to live (within your resources)?
- Would you have pursued your passions in the ways you do now?
- Would you have the same personal community that you have now? Perhaps you have friends, relatives, neighbors, mentors, coworkers and other people who are important to you, and to whom you devote as much or as little time and attention as you like. You have friends, and you can, if you want to, spend more time with them because you do not have friends-in-law. (What are friends-in-law? Suppose you are a part of a couple who socializes with another couple. Maybe you really only like one person in the other couple. But you are stuck with their spouse, because you are doing that thing of going out with couples. The spouse you don’t like is a friend-in-law. So are friends of your spouse that you hang out with even though you don’t particularly like them.)
- Would you have the same potential to indulge in sweet solitude, spending time on your own when that is what you prefer?
- Would you have a place of your own, or a part of a place that is organized and adorned in the way that best suits you, including the option of not organizing it or not adorning it at all?
- Would you have the job you wanted most (of those that you could obtain) or would you have the job that you would have to settle for in order to accommodate a spouse’s wishes?
I’m not trying to say that single life is best for everyone. It isn’t, just as married life is not best for everyone. Instead, I’m trying to encourage you to be skeptical when one way of living gets promoted a little too relentlessly. Flip the script to understand what you are not being told. Often, it’s a lot.