Marriage. Kids. They’re Not For Everybody. Really.

Below is the reprint of an article I wrote for HuffingtonPost this week.

At a dinner party with some “friends” a few years ago, there was a longer than necessary conversation about “what’s wrong with Eleanore” (me) because I’m not married and I have no kids. I’m a spinster. A pretty amazing one, but a spinster, nonetheless. An active participant in the conversation was a woman who had just gone through her third divorce. Apparently I was the only one in the room who thought the conversation should really have been about “what’s wrong with Sharon?” I’m thinking to myself, “Why does this woman keep getting married?”

I am fascinated by this notion that marriage is still thought of as a must-do in modern-day society. It’s not. At least it shouldn’t be. Same thing with children. There’s no reason why every adult should procreate and I know that we can all think of an example or two as to why this is true.

Here’s the real truth: Marriage and kids are not for everybody and we should all stop acting like they are. What I mean by this is that, despite the high divorce rate in this country, the growing number of single people and the decrease in birth rates, people still appear to be surprised or confused when they meet an adult who is not married, has no kids and is ok with it. Single women are still grilled about why they’re not married and still pitied by those who don’t know better. They act is if being single isn’t perfectly normal.

I’m not making this up. There are statistics that back me up:

• According to the U.S. Census, 28% of U.S. adults were unmarried in 1970. That percentage rose to 47% in 2010, and a 2011 study by the Pew Research Institute found that the number of U.S. adults who are unmarried is now 49%, a record high.

• To be clear, this number (above) includes not only those who never married, but also the divorced and widowed. If we focus on the never married category, that description fit 1 in 5 white women in the U.S. in 2010 and 2 in 5 black women. (U.S. Census Bureau)

• Perhaps even more interesting, more women than ever are choosing not to have children. Nineteen percent of women between the ages of 40-44 have no children, which is almost double the percentage from 30 years ago. (U.S. Census Bureau)

• And while I’m mostly focused on this country, this pattern is not limited to the United States. More women today are childless than ever before. According to research from European countries, one in five Western women will end their childbearing years without conceiving, compared to one in ten just 30 years ago. In Germany, it’s one in four. In Japan, the number of childless women is even higher. One in three women are opting out of maternity. With these kinds of ratios, experts are concluding that motherhood worldwide is increasingly becoming a choice, rather than an assumption, with reasons for this trend cited as a mix of relationship breakdowns, career opportunities and, more recently, economics.

Perhaps when this societal myth that marriage and kids are the only path to fulfillment as an adult goes away, all marriages will be truly love-based and all kids truly wanted. This would be a good thing for us all.

Anyway, with all these statistics out in the open, others can acknowledge and accept what I already know: Single life can be pretty good. My money and my time are my own and I get to spend them however I want. That’s pretty special.

There are a tremendous amount of freedoms that come with being single and childfree, some important, some trivial, all good:

• I love to travel. I want to go everywhere and I pretty much can because there’s no one to stop me. He can come with me if he wants (he being the boyfriend) but he really doesn’t have much say about where I go and when.

• I can have a phone conversation, uninterrupted. That is, without continually having to address others in the house instead of concentrating on my caller. (Boy, do I wish this was true for the married-with-children person on the other end of the phone.)

• Unlike my married girlfriends, I don’t know what it’s like to have sex whether I want to or not because the sexual chemistry has gone stale. By the time that happens, I’m gone…

My mission is to remind every unmarried woman out there that her freedom should be celebrated. There is something empowering and rather brave about not allowing oneself to be pushed into such serious decisions. Admittedly, some single women wish they were married but, since they’re not at the moment, I’d like them to focus on what’s good in their lives, with less whining about the non-existent husband who may or may not appear. Instead, they should be indulging their passions, doing all the good they can and having all the fun they want. Because really, every woman probably won’t get married, but every woman owes herself a great life. I’ve got mine…

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10 Responses to Marriage. Kids. They’re Not For Everybody. Really.

  1. Sony says:

    At first I was a little taken aback by the title, ‘spinster’; it’s a term I’m not too fond of. When my parents were married in the UK over 50 years ago, my Mum being one year older than my Dad at 31, was listed as a spinster, while he was jovially referred to as ‘bachelor’.

    However, after reading this post, I recognize and can relate to every discussion I’ve ever had with ‘well-meaning’ friends (some not so well-meaning) who will not and cannot understand why I didn’t opt to replicate their journeys.

    The freedom that I possess allowing me to travel at whim, eat anywhere I choose (while avoiding ALL restaurants that cater to children), stay in bed all day reading on a Sunday without interruption, take him (the boyfriend) along with me….or not; and never, ever having to lose sleep worrying about my (thankfully, non-existent) children is my true blessing!

    As another commenter said, this post really spoke to me. And I thank you!

  2. Nissa says:

    Enjoyable post as always. I like to think, though, that the reason people ask these questions is because 1) it is genuinely different than the path they chose and 2) they care about us and want us to be happy.
    Reason one explains why people tend to expect these behaviors from us. For example, I would have a hard time imagining a happy life without a pet of some kind. They are so enjoyable to me that it is almost a given that a happy life would include someone furry. For many people, marriage and kids are the same thing. Also, many people are so ingrained by society with these ideas, that they literally cannot imagine what they life would look like (I hand these people a boxed set of Sex and the City).
    Next, they care about us. They want us to have love, companionship, intimacy, friendship, comradery, like mindedness and someone to rotate our tires. Sometimes the only way people can picture receiving those things is in a marriage. One way to help these people is to show them how we are already receiving those things in our life – through friends, family, church and the yellow pages.
    Last, when I get these comments, I remind myself that most of what people say is a reflection of who they are and their beliefs – which are quite likely not mine. This person may not be able to be secure without a ring, someone to tell them what to do and when to do it. I am not that person. I also don’t have to judge that person for where they are, just accept that this is where they are on their individual journey. I choose to love them just as they are, and to accept, respect and honor their journey. Then I ask that they do the same for me.

  3. Melanie Walsh says:

    Great post – enjoyed it very much! There’s a book I recently read called Being Anti-Social by Leigh K. Cunningham, which seems to reflect most of the views here. The main character is happy being single and alone but family and friends feel compelled to interfere. I don’t understand why ‘we’ must always try to force others to fit into a particular mold (wife, mother etc).

  4. Rhona says:

    Yes!! Being single is absolutely amazing. I love doing what I want to do on my watch and not being concerned about others in my house. I have to say that I love being single so much that my desire for dating or hooking up (yuck!) is rather not appealing. It is so annoying having to justify my decision to be single. I am going to start grilling people when they say they want to get married and have kids. Why? Why do that to yourself. There is nothing and I mean nothing appealing or attractive about being tired down to a man and children. That is my definition of a nightmare actually. Great post. Speaks directly to me.

  5. Anna B says:

    You forgot that Spinsters make the best aunties and good ‘other wifes’ which is something to celebrate.

  6. Carolyn B says:

    Good job, E. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s OK to leave this world without descendants. I’m awfully glad to have my brother’s adult kids in my life and right now that’s enough for me.

  7. Gisele says:

    Thanks!This issue is really important.Before I find your blog I felt like to cry when someone asked me why I”m still single meaning that I’m not gonna have time to have my own kids.The people act like you are the wrong and try to make you believe that you gonna be unhappy if you don’t follow the crowd.Is so good remember that we need to know who we are and what we really want to our lives and fight for that.

  8. i0lan.... says:

    Great blog post, especially the non-US stats. It’s good to see what’s happening globally. :-)

  9. orbiter says:

    Thanks for the reminder. I’m Asian living in an Asian country, and here stereotypical societal roles are pretty rigid still. Women are still expected to become wives and mothers, and when a woman remains single it almost automatically implies that there is something wrong with her. If it is not evident, then there must be a skeleton in her closet. I’m ashamed to say that this is so deep-set within our culture that even I (a happy single) sometimes view other single women this way.

    Your blog serves as a great reminder to me; it encourages me to stay faithful to who I am and fight for my happiness; heck society and its stereotypes – my life is mine and mine alone, and I have every right to choose how I wish to live it.

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