To marry, or not?
April 16, 2021 1:19 PM   Subscribe

People of MeFi who've remained un-married: how has it worked out for you; what have been some of your greatest challenges/rewards; and what advice would you have to give someone who might be headed down a similar route?

Was it a choice, or something you hadn't really thought about ...but here you are. Which begs the question, what was it that made you come to that decision? And if you had to do it all over again, live your life--would you have rather settled down?
posted by hadjiboy to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is this with or without a partner?
posted by firstdaffodils at 1:25 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]

Is this a question about committing to a long term partnership generally? Or are you specifically asking about long term partnerships that don't include marriage?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:39 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]

There are sorta three kinds of not married people, as I see it:
1. People who never had a good opportunity to marry - never had a relationship with a person who would have been a good marriage partner and would have been interested in marriage or had a relationship get that far before it ended.
2. People who are in committed relationships but who avoid actually getting married for some specific reason.
3. People who have chosen to avoid long term committed relationships.

Which of those groups are you interested in hearing from?
posted by jacquilynne at 1:43 PM on April 16 [18 favorites]

To answer one part of the question, at least - I was in a long-term hetero cohabitation for some 17 years; as non-religious people who weren't planning to breed and are too poor to own property, we didn't really see why the government needed to license our relationship. We had shared bank accounts, co-owned cars, etc. The greatest rewards and challenges had nothing to do with our legal marital status. Not marrying was a conscious choice.

However, as we got older and having watched "ER" for its entire run, we got worried about stuff like hospital visiting and who would have the right to decide whether to, say, take us off life support. Our state didn't yet have civil contracts at the time or we'd have done that, but we ended up getting married as a shortcut to some of those rights. We eloped and were licensed by a county representative, and imagined it was cheaper than seeing an attorney about filling out powers of attorney and stuff. We didn't change our names and the only real change was that I was able to save money by putting him on my health insurance. If we weren't so squirrely about trying to find a family lawyer or whatever, we'd have probably done that. We were married for some 14 years. The status really didn't bring further rewards or challenges, and our finally splitting up wasn't related to marital status that I can think of.

If I had to do it all over again I don't know if I'd have encouraged marriage, because we had to get divorced rather than just separating. It cost more than our 'wedding.' But since we again didn't hire attorneys, or have kids or own much, it wasn't too much hassle or expense. Heart-wrenching, but the breakup itself was that.

I'm not sure this is entirely what you were asking, since we were certainly 'settled down' without being married. You might have been talking about 'being in a long-term committed relationship.' I'm sorry if this was non-helpful.
posted by Occula at 1:59 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]

I'm currently engaged in the sad process of getting divorced, so take what I say with a grain of salt. You would do well to separate out the long-term relationship part from the legal and economic relationship, because marriage is fundamentally about the second part, not the first. You are signing a contract with another person with certain legal and financial consequences. If the marriage fails, the failure of the relationship is one part, the legal and economic part is separate. In many regards, marriage is a business deal. So, perhaps you could clarify what part of the question of marriage you are asking about?
posted by pleasant_confusion at 2:21 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this depends ENTIRELY on what audience you want here. If you want anything from the permanently single, I can respond later.

However, I will note that there may be certain legal issues that come up with regards to long term unmarried couples that may mean that legal marriage may be something they should really consider doing. For example, hospital visits, next of kin, inheritance, health insurance, green cards, what have you. I hear there are workarounds for at least some of those things that those who are determined to remain legally unmarried can do, but I gather they're harder to do without marriage, and I'm not sure you can get around all of that. If I'd had a longterm SO during the pandemic, I may very well have insisted on Zoom elopement for those reasons, just to make sure that person was my next of kin if I caught it and was hospitalized/dying. And if you're in an international relationship, especially.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:22 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]

I’m in jacquilynne’s category #3, chose to avoid a long-term commitment. I was married briefly right out of school, both of us under pressure from dysfunctional families. When we split up, a counselor pointed out that “you have a lot of work to do on yourself,” and I took that seriously enough to not want to go off the rails again as to my focus in life. With one exception, I would only connect with partners whom I knew would be short-term (that one exception is still one of my closest friends, but my excuse was the age difference.). Now that I am OLD, and feel like I’ve done a lot of the work I needed to do, I’ve gotten the hang of independence (eg, cultivate healthy companionships), and am fine with the thought of sticking with pets.
posted by mmiddle at 5:03 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]

I'm happy to share my story but I'm not sure if it's what you want.

1. I got married as a kind of joke thing when I was in my 20's. One of those "It's stupid that two cishet people can marry who don't really even KNOW each other but gay people in long term committed relationships can't. Let's get married to prove a point." I had planned to stay married forever, even when me and my husband became romantically involved and then uninvolved. However, he actually met a person who he wanted to be Real Married to and we got divorced. I maintain that I never really wanted to be married, though it was NICE to get to tell people that I was married and have it mean they would get off my back in terms of bugging me about it. See #3

2. I was in a long term partnership that I thought would last a long time. We didn't really believe in marriage and didn't want kids. At one point I lost a job that came with health insurance and talked to him about whether we could get kind of "For the insurance" married if I was in a jam. He got this deer-in-headlights look that should have really tipped me off that this relationship wouldn't last. We split after he got out of law school, he is now married with a few kids.

3. I have been with my current partner for 13 years. He has an adult special needs kid who lives with him but who also has a mom. I am a person with two dead parents who has some inheritance stuff that I juggle and some things I co-own with my sister (a situation that suits me) who is also unmarried. We have talked about marriage and think it's not really for us. However we've also had the "for the insurance?" discussion, just so I didn't make that mistake again and he was like "Yeah why not?" which I appreciated. We're both in our early 50s, I figure this may be a thing that I care about more later but I don't right now.

In short: I am not religious, I do not have social pressure to marry for the most part, I am past the age where people will bug me about having kids (MERCIFULLY) and I run my own life pretty capably. My parents had a terrible yelly marriage that was a bad fit for their lives but kind of did it and kept doing it because that's "what you did." I don't feel like I have anything to prove in particular but I do like to think there are other ways to be an adult. I'm also in a social group where some of my friends are married and some are not and that does make things a lot simpler.
posted by jessamyn at 5:03 PM on April 16 [17 favorites]

I'm in my late 30s and now consider myself not-quite-perma single. I might decide to date or pursue a relationship again some day but it seems unlikely. I certainly wouldn't date the kind of people I dated in my late 20s. I have an intense career and I'm a homeowner and I earn fairly good money by myself so the bar for someone else bringing something that I can't bring to my own life other than intimacy and emotional support is high. I never found a relationship that felt like one of equals. I like my freedom and just being unobserved and not having to put on the whole show that being a cishet woman involves sometimes and I never found a relationship that didn't feel that way. It didn't feel like a choice, just bad luck and personality, a few years ago, but my continued indifference to dating feels more like opting into never being married now.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:15 PM on April 16 [15 favorites]

I've been on this earth a loooong time. I always knew I didn't want to get married. I also always knew I didn't want children. As a child, I imagined myself living alone in a little stucco house in the desert ... the perfect life. I did end up briefly married in my mid-twenties. I tell people, "I was accidentally married for 22 months." I had an unplanned pregnancy and the next thing I knew I was married, and then I was a mom a few months later. Head-spinning. Being pregnant was by far the best experience of my life, and having a son and a grandson is the best thing in my life; I am so grateful to my ex-husband because son and grandson would not be here if it weren't for him.

With that said, I have been unmarried and living alone ever since I left my husband a zillion years ago. I've had relationships, but nothing even close to marriage or pseudo-marriage. Throughout my life, I've been consistently happier when I'm not in a romantic relationship at all. I have lots of friends and family members to keep me company. My favorite part of the day is when I go to bed at night and there is no one there to bug me.

I do sometimes encounter people who think I'm strange for not being married. For example, my cousin recently asked me, with a very puzzled look on her face, "Why aren't you married, anyway?" So, really, the only time it bothers me to be single is when I am judged for it. I remember going to an event with a date, and I remember feeling good to be with him not because I liked him (although I liked him well enough) but, instead, because by having a man by my side I appeared "normal". I know they say you're not supposed to care about what other people think, but sometimes it does get old being a non-comformist.

Something I have definitely found, being single, is that people are willing to step up and help you if you need it. So you really don't need a husband to depend on for help. Some people think you do, but I think they would be surprised.

I have to say that I am envious of, for example, a friend of mine who has fabulous government health insurance for life just because she is married to someone who was in the National Guard. I also resent things like couples discounts at health clubs. So maybe it would be worthwhile to some people, who otherwise wouldn't marry, to marry in order to receive those types of financial benefits.
posted by SageTrail at 5:51 PM on April 16 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for not being as clear as I thought I was, and for the late reply...

firstdaffodils: I meant without a partner.

bluedaisy: A long-term-relationship.

jacquilynne: No. 1... "1. People who never had a good opportunity to marry - never had a relationship with a person who would have been a good marriage partner and would have been interested in marriage or had a relationship get that far before it ended."

Occula: Thank you very much for your input; I was talking about not being married, or being in a relationship--just having friends.

pleasant_confusion: I was referring to being in a long-term relationship. Apologies for not making it clear.

jenfullmoon: Yes, I was talking about the permanently single.

jessamyn: Thanks a lot for your story; it's what I was looking for--why people have chosen to remain single, and why?

slow graffiti, SageTrail: Yes, this was exactly what I wanted. Thank you!

Ps. The reason why I asked the question was because, I am someone who has his own problems to deal with that I am sure if I can't get a handle on--I would not be the kind of partner who I feel a woman deserves.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:38 PM on April 16

I am someone who has his own problems to deal with that I am sure if I can't get a handle on--I would not be the kind of partner who I feel a woman deserves.

Let the other person decide if they want to deal with that or not. I would have been willing to deal with my crush's stuff, but...well, that's now ended, he didn't exactly give me the chance to try either. I don't know your issues, but a lot of people are willing to deal with stuff as long as it doesn't totally hamper the relationship. Everybody's got something and anyone who tells you you have to be fully self-actualized before you can have a relationship, well, tons of people do it every day.

Answering your questions:

I would not say that I choose to be single. I just don't have any other options. I did not make the decision to, ever. My exes all left me. I would have happily settled down at age 18 if I could have. I have wanted a lifelong partner/eventually get married all my life, and I've known since I was five it was never going to happen for me. I have been permanently single long enough to have full grown teenagers. This isn't what I wanted, and it sucks to want what you can't ever have.

This is not to say that being single sucks, because it doesn't. There are a lot of advantages to it. There's a lot less family drama. I'm so hopeless I don't get much marital nagging and you can't harass me to have kids when nobody's wanted me since my early 20's. I've never been good at female domesticity, so nobody bitches me out for not being into cooking and cleaning. I do what I want. I decorate the house however I please. Nobody bitches at me to change my last name or have his babies. In the beforetimes I was rarely home because I was off at clubs, volunteering, acting, taking classes, all kinds of fun stuff. After work when I feel absolutely fried, I don't have kids swarming after me making demands and a hubby wanting his din-dins. I'm not dating anyone so I'm not dealing with a parade of assholes briefly skating through my life. I think this paragraph covers the "rewards" part of your answer. Single life, generally speaking, is good.

The challenges: I don't have anyone to back me up in life. Nobody else pays the insurance, if I lose my job I am beyond fucked. "Found families" don't really work once your friends get married off. My relatives aren't really into me, so once my mom dies I will have nobody for the rest of my life. That's terrifying to think about for old age. I...was not asexual, we'll politely leave it there on that topic, even though I seriously wonder sometimes if I am (see below for why). I seriously consider suicide if some bad illness happens to me in old age because I won't have someone around for that. Some people can really make a single woman feel like a fucking freak of nature and the worst unwanted person in the world. You don't feel worth anything without a husband with those people.

And frankly, I just wanted someone to be with. Especially after over a year of utter aloneness in quarantine when you're not supposed to be touching anybody. I want someone to snuggle with every night. I want to bring someone along with me to things and show them the cool things of the world and introduce them to awesome television. Maybe they'd even like some of my hobbies. I want to someday know what an actual relationship/partnership is like with someone who isn't going to lose interest in me and have it last. I may never know. That is what counts as a "challenge" there.

Why am I single? I cannot stomach trying on different strangers to see how they fit (they don't and there's so many bad ones out there!) and I am the pickiest person on the planet. I can count on one hand the number of people I have been seriously attracted to in my life, and everyone else leaves me numb to repulsed sexually. I haven't been able to stomach settling for the people who want me, but I am not feeling anything for. I am perennially thirsty and all people offer me is coffee and I can't stand drinking bitter ashes. I am always starving and all people offer me is food I can't stand to eat. What asshole turns down ANY food and drink when you are starving and thirsty? Except imagine that analogy with some of those foods and coffee biting me back when I don't put out. Turning down men, over and over, when you have no excuse to other than "I don't want to fuck you" is terrifying. I got engaged to my last ex, even though I knew better that I shouldn't, because I was never going to have another option. And I never got another option, to this day.

I would have settled down had I ever had the option. I never had it. That's not a decision you can make on your own. Now, it would have been bad had I married my ex-fiance--we disagreed on the kid issue, he had scrub issues, what have you--so I'm glad I didn't. About the only thing I'd change now would be to have not wasted two years crushing on a dude that I thought liked me back, but I guess got over it, and he was never going to let me in anyway. Shoulda started getting over that one once the pandemic started, but I foolishly thought that finally having interest in someone again after 15 years of nothing actually meant something.

You may think "Oh, I'm just taking a break for now, I'm messed up, I would not be good enough for anyone right now" (or in my case, "My dad's dying, my parents don't deal well with me dating, I'm just not going to again until after my dad dies, so it'll be a few years,") and next thing you know it's 15, 20, 30 years later and you never ever had the option again and somehow you can't stop the streak from continuing.

What advice would I give?
* If you have the option to date someone you would want to date, let the other person decide if they want to deal with your shit. Be open and honest about it early on, let them decide. If you're choosing singlehood because "I have issues," don't fucking do that. Hell, some people are flat out dying and they're still looking for love before they go.
* Options are few and far between for some of us and if you pass one up, you really may never get another one again. I still haven't gotten one, as it turns out.
* If part of you wants to be in some kind of couple, and you have the opportunity, try it. Only choose singleness if you actually like it or no longer want to have any relationships. Don't be all "I'm a relationship martyr, I will keep my tainted self away from those who could love me!" because frankly, that role sucks.

Thus endeth my manifesto.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:09 PM on April 16 [24 favorites]

I identify strongly with jenfullmoon on this: I cannot stomach trying on different strangers to see how they fit (they don't and there's so many bad ones out there!) and I am the pickiest person on the planet.

But I am actually quite happy being permanently single, and I've basically settled enough into my life that it is really hard to imagine rearranging it to fit someone else in on a partner level. For example, the idea of having to negotiate/discuss things like what to do for dinner every day or how to spend weekends just sounds exhausting to me. And that's just the little stuff; relationships are work, and the more I learn about other people's better than average relationships, the less I want one at all. As a 40yo straight woman, the costs of having a male partner are more than I want to pay. I don't want to go through the torture of dating; even if you find someone who seems good, there is a strong chance he'll turn out to be just like so many others we have discussed in the emotional labor and domestic work discussions.

I should point out that of course this is not universal; plenty of people value the regular companionship enough that they are willing to make compromises on all sorts of things. It's just not for me. I have no plans to seek out a serious relationship, and if by some weird chance I stumble into one at some point, I expect it to be pretty non-traditional.

I am fortunate to be close to my (found) family, and I have a few more close friends, so I do have just enough solid relationships for a hardcore introvert. It sounds a little silly, but since getting my cats, who are extremely affectionate, I haven't really missed physical touch from humans much. (Two out of three are very enthusiastic about hugs and cuddling, and the third has to be won over every time, but she is also a lovebug.) I have a stable job that pays well and makes me happy, so I don't need financial help. My time is my own, and I don't need to consult anyone about big or small decisions, which is crazy valuable to me.

My main downside is that I do some "unhealthy" things more often than I probably would if someone else would notice, e.g. eat popcorn for dinner if I can't decide on something else or spend a whole Saturday in bed with Netflix instead of getting outside. But whatever, I own the consequences of these things, and it's fine.

I do have some health issues, and I expect them to escalate as I get older. So I include paying for assistance in my long term planning. Frankly, even if you have a partner, there is no guarantee they will be a great caretaker when you need one (same for "planning" for your children to take care of you when you are old). Even worse, male partners are significantly more likely to just bail when things get bad. (I "know" this from anecdata, with my father abandoning us when my mother was diagnosed with cancer hitting particularly hard, but there is at least one study looking into this phenomenon.)

A little advice: practice doing things by yourself if it makes you uncomfortable. Want to see a movie but no friends are free? You can go by yourself. A restaurant you've been wanting to try? Just go! If a future with travel ever returns to us, you can try traveling alone. There is something very freeing about getting to make all the decisions and just pick what you like without having to balance conflicting wants and needs. You might feel self-conscious at first, but as you do more things, it will probably fade. Even if you do eventually end up with a partner, I think these kinds of experiences are very good for getting to know yourself.
posted by ktkt at 2:06 AM on April 17 [9 favorites]

I always kind of expected I'd get married. Find my soulmate, and all that. It never happened, and for a long time I thought I was defective somehow because of that (and in many ways, I was!)

At the end of the day, though - in my 40s, I guess - being alone meant that I had to face a lot of things about myself and do a lot of painful self-work, and... it was awful, but I feel as though I've become a genuinely better person for that. I'm happy with who I am now, which I never was before.

Not being married, never having a partner or kids, has given me the ability to live my life entirely selfishly - in the best way: the way that means, centered around my own wants and needs. I've had immensely fulfilling, wonderful friendships - and learned how to shed the ones that aren't! - and overall I'm glad it worked out this way.

And now, at 54, I'm dying of cancer, and... I have no regrets. Not one.

My perspective. For what it's worth.
posted by WaywardPlane at 5:02 AM on April 17 [12 favorites]

Yeah, I'm one of the "would have happily gotten married if the opportunity arose but them's the breaks" people.

Part of why "them's the breaks" is because I was always pretty picky when it came to dating, even the casual situations. I probably was a sort-of kind-of serial monogamist, but you never knew it because I was also so picky about dudes that it took a while between dudes anyway; I don't regret the pickiness, though, because it was always about things like "does he see women as equals" and "can we actually have a lively and intellectually challenging conversation with me after we hook up" as opposed to "does he have a hot bod and a huge bank account". There are two old boyfriends whom I absolutely would have married if they had asked me - and for one of those two, I later realized that "yeah, no, that wouldn't have worked after all anyway".

I did miss feeling like I had someone who had my back for a while. But a large part of that was that I was going through some really challenging times just anyway; my 40s were a SERIOUSLY sucky period of un- and under-employment, and I had to juggle doing everything on my own and cut corners and suchlike. I have a couple who are friends who were in similarly slender means, but each of them had the other to go do stuff when the other one was just wiped-out-exhausted from everything; like, there were days when she was just exhausted so he'd step in and say "oh, okay, I'll make dinner, you take it easy". But for me, when I was that exhausted, I was too broke to get takeout so I had to suck it up and try to fix dinner for myself anyway; those were the times I felt most "single".

However, a year ago or so a couple things happened that have changed my attitude towards things -

1. I hit the tail end of perimenopause, and with that, my libido just tanked, and suddenly all the mischegas that goes along with trying to "meet someone" felt like a huge waste of time. I feel like I just wanna bumble along and do what I do, and if I meet someone along the way great and if not, oh well. But the dating apps and going to bars and all that bullshit is just....bullshit. I recently saw the film Gigi for the first time, and there's a song Maurice Chevalier has in it called I'm Glad I'm Not Young Any More, which perfectly captures how I feel about that. And in retrospect, I realize that a lot of the urgency to "meet a guy" before this was more due to hormones than I thought.

2. I also got a much better job that put me in a much better financial place than I was even just a couple years ago. I went from a five-figure debt load and living close to the bone and always having to pinch pennies and have a roommate at all times to being debt-free, maxing out my IRA, setting aside savings for fun stuff as well as emergencies, and not even having to dip into them all that much - and if my current roommate ever does move out, I realized I can handle the cost of the apartment all on my own, and that is exciting. I would finally have both the time and the money enough to create exactly the life I want, and that is a tremendous freedom. And being in that place made me realize that another factor into my urgency to "meet a guy" before this was also due to fears about "what if I end up never getting married and I'm broke and have to live in a van or something".

So I'm basically in a better place now for any marriage I have to be successful, ironically at a time when I'm less interested in pursuing that. I'm still open to the idea, if I meet someone - and even better, I would know that if I wanted to marry him it would be 100% because of him as opposed to maybe just part about him and part about "it'd be dual income" or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on April 17 [6 favorites]

An addition to my previous comment:

While there can be financial advantages to being married, there can also be financial disadvantages. For example, when I left my husband, he watered the lawn from the spigot that supplied treated drinking water rather than the spigot that supplied untreated (and, therefore, much less expensive) water intended for irrigation only. This resulted in a very expensive water bill that he didn't bother to pay, so the utility company came after me to pay it, which meant that although we even weren't living in the same house anymore, I still had to pay his utility bill purely because we were married. So, being financially responsible for another adult is a downside of the marriage contract, in my opinion.

Another downside to the marriage contract is that, should you need to terminate the contract, it is expensive and cumbersome to do so. You have to spend money on a lawyer, go to court, etc.
posted by SageTrail at 11:08 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you one and all for your replies; they were immensely illuminating.

I ...I've always had this "fairy-tale" kind of romance which I thought I'd be blessed with, but as luck would have it--it never panned out, so-much-so-that, now, I have to seriously consider a life of maybe living alone. And that, made me want to find out what the future had in-store for me. jenfullmoon, ktkt, WaywardPlane, EmpressCallipygos, SageTrail: Thank you so much for sharing your lives, experiences, and advice with a total stranger. And for being so diplomatic with your answers.

Being single is scary, but less so now that I've spoken up about it. And who knows what might happen tomorrow, or who I'll meet.
posted by hadjiboy at 12:38 PM on April 17

Response by poster: Ps. thanks a lot for the link, BobTheScientist. I had no idea that Darwin and I would have something in common!
posted by hadjiboy at 12:41 PM on April 17

firstdaffodils: I meant without a partner

I’ve got “without a partner” stuff for days. I’ll come back.
posted by bendy at 10:49 PM on April 17

« Older Wet cat food efficiency.   |   Mice mice mice, and not the good kind either Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments