Despite the wedding and baby photos that inundate your Instagram, the data suggests that singledom is on the rise:
Yet singleness is not equal for everybody. Even though we grow up with the expectation that we’ll one day get married — and that we’ve somehow massively failed if we don’t or if it ends up in divorce (thanks, shame culture!) — the nature of being single is different according to gender.
In “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” essayist Kate Bolick digs into the cultural history of single women in the US, and in so doing reveals how the expectations around marriage are so much heavier for women than for men.
I interviewed Bolick when the book came out back in the spring, and one observation of hers continues to stick with me:
“From what I’ve witnessed, men tend to hit ‘marriage o’clock’ around their early 30s, where they just decide that it’s time to get married, and marry whoever they’re dating,” Bolick said.
“So [men] have a much more relaxed attitude toward marriage; it’s something that they will do when they’re ready and they feel like it, and women don’t have as relaxed a relationship to the idea of marriage,” she added.
In contrast, she says, women feel the weight of having to get hitched and a lack of control over when it will happen.
The “marriage o’clock” thing has been rattling around my head ever since. I’m from the Midwest, where marriage o’clock seems to come much earlier for men. Many of them got married right after school. By now, at around 28, most are hitched. Puppies, toddlers, and grandparents abound.
Living in New York, there’s less of that expectation. Due to the confluence of unwieldily huge dating population, a careerist culture, and social nourishment available in friendships, the need to find “the one” seems like a less urgent quest here than in Illinois.
But those expectations still exist, as the headlines like Maths Says This Is the Perfect Age to Get Married suggest. Marriage o’clock, according to at least the University of Utah paper cited in that post, is in your late 20s.
And as a single dude who is going to turn 29 sooner that I’d prefer, the tick tock of “marriage o’clock” is admittedly becoming audible.
But here’s the thing.
As a dude, I have this insanely asymmetrical privilege over my female friends. Men get to make the marriage proposals; if a woman asks her boyfriend to get hitched, she looks desparate. If I’m seriously dating someone a year from now, I make the ask, not her. Women have way less control in the situation. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be nearing 30 and waiting for someone to ask to get hitched.
Thanks to the patriachy, “marriage o’clock” isn’t really a burden for guys; we’re in control of our own destinies, so long as we find someone who thinks they can handle hanging out with us for decades.
As a whole, the ageism that surrounds marriage is awful.
Lisa Bonos at the Washington Post put it better than I can, so I’ll just quote her:
You can’t plot the path of your life ahead of time, as if it were a chart waiting for you to fill in the data points — especially when those life events depend on other people.
You can decide to move somewhere by a certain age, sure, or save up a certain amount of money to buy a house or a car months or years in the future. But you can’t decide ahead of time exactly when you will marry, have a child or make a certain amount of money.
There are other people or factors involved: potential partners, fertility fluctuation, employers, the economy at large. I don’t have a new study here to back me up, but in my experience — not as a sociologist or economist, but as a person — trying to control all that can make you crazy.
Here’s to being less crazy.
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