We are trained to think that marriage is the ultimate goal for the unattached. It means we have finally found love, a love that will last. Being single is a liability, a signal to the outside world that we are somehow unlovable. But it is just as possible to be unhappy within a marriage as without it. Read more about the meaning of love in How to Fall in Love with Anyone.
I wish I’d been taught to indulge the pleasures of being alone.
Though we tend to conceptualize marriage as the ultimate expression of romantic love, more and more research shows that the institution primarily benefits those who are well educated and financially secure. The Council on Contemporary Families reports that college-educated women are the group most likely to stay married and to describe their marriages as happy. And thanks to an increase in what economists term “assortative mating,” we are increasingly likely to marry people from educational and socioeconomic backgrounds similar to our own. It seems that, like love itself, a satisfying marriage is another privilege that has more to do with your circumstances than with your virtue. The Cinderella fantasy might actually be more unlikely than ever.
It is difficult to locate your own sense of value in a world that is still preoccupied by Cinderella stories, where entire shelves of airport newsstands are full of bridal magazines, and even Sex and the City ends with a wedding. I’m glad that, in my early thirties, I got the chance to figure out who and how I wanted to be outside of a relationship. Sometimes I wish I had done this earlier, or that I’d wasted less energy feeling anxious about true love and whether it would come my way. I wish I’d been taught to indulge the pleasures of being alone.
Sometimes, being happily single can lead to being happily married. The real test is not allowing society or external pressure make you feel like you have to be either one.