Married people do not have to prove why they’re married, so why do people have to explain why they’re not?
Dear Concerned Family, Friends, Friends’ Nanas, Co-workers, Strangers on Planes, Hairstylists, Taxi Drivers, et al:
I can’t take it. The number of people in my life telling me about the number of times they have been concern-policed by people worried about their relationship status. I know, because it happens to me too.
Fear not. WE ARE OK. Well, no more/less than you. You might not think so because we are not traditionally partnered. True story: When she discovered I didn’t have a boyfriend, my friend’s Nana once halted a wedding rehearsal dinner to ask the guests how I’d get home without one. She, like you, is unnecessarily concerned about people who are a) not married, b) dating, c) not dating, or d) engaging in non-“traditional” relationships like open or consensual polyamory.
We have lots in common, including interest in each other’s well-being. However, many of us are concerned about your OVER-concern about this one area of our lives.
You need to know this frequently vocalized concern can make us feel uncomfortable, belittled, disrespected. It feels like a person’s marriage is off-limits, but dating life is open for assessment. You can imagine how irritating it is. We all receive unwelcome messages when people want to see us on a certain track, usually theirs (when are you having kids, when are you buying a house, blah blah blah).
We regularly hear the following:
“When are you getting married?”
“You need a boyfriend/girlfriend.”
“I just think you’d be happier WITH someone.”
“You’ll meet the right one.”
“You’re too picky.”
“You weren’t right for each other.”
“Why are you single?”
“Why aren’t you married?”
“What’s wrong with her/no wonder he’s single.”
Because someone is married doesn’t mean they’re flawless, more desirable, or happy. Because someone is not married doesn’t mean they are flawed, less desirable, unhappy, or don’t know their own mind. The difference is the former might have better flatware (I don’t know why better forks are required because of a wedding ring but that’s another article, another time).
People aren’t married for as many reasons as someone might be. Marriage is one relationship type. Not everyone chooses the same path even in an intimate relationship. Married people do not have to prove WHY they are, so why do people have to explain why they’re not? We might change our minds, but that’s for each of us to decide, and all of us to respect.
After over 20 years of being single, dating, short-term, long-term, and open relationships of many kinds, I can attest to how people want to define us along narrow binaries, one of which is married/single.
No matter where I mark my relationship or sexual checkboxes across the huge spectrum of relationships or sexuality, my checkboxes aren’t wrong, don’t affect you, and won’t harm me. It’s no one’s business. If someone is continually complaining about their status, by all means weigh in. If they’re not, don’t.
A friend was getting unsolicited advice/badgering for an hour from someone telling her she should get a boyfriend. Because it would be harmful, my friend did not point out that this person was divorced, in a questionable relationship, and clearly unhappy. My friend finally said, “You need to understand I don’t WANT a boyfriend. I’m not unhappy, it won’t make me happier. I know this because I’m not the one who cries all the time.”
If we want to talk about real harm regarding a person’s relationship status, let’s talk about violence, forced marriage including underage children, abuse, fraud, cheating, and lying. These things can exist in all relationships, including marriage. While violence and sexual assault can happen to anyone, women are more likely to be harmed by someone they know or by an intimate partner, including a spouse. This is a time to express concern about someone.
Other harmful things:
- Highly gendered slut-shaming
- Double standards for women around dating and sex
- By hypocrisy, I mean married men who privately hit on another friend (the only single woman in their social circles), but openly mock her single status.
- Assuming people in non-traditional relationships have less commitment to people, in life, and to love in all forms.
- Assuming they are selfish, insecure, or making riskier decisions. Entering a lifelong, legal contract with one person is also risky, because life happens. Exposing your partner to STI’s because you cheated, cannot disclose it, and don’t use protection is risky.
Traditional partnerships and marriage can be beautiful. I have experienced wonderful monogamous relationships. I support others. However, other scenarios happen that we don’t talk about as much as we talk about single people. People get married too young, to the person who cheated on them, they cheated on, never have sex with (fine if agreed upon), for money, to the person who doesn’t want to get married, who wants kids but they don’t, they don’t love, who proposed and didn’t know how to say no, to the person whose family paid for the wedding and it was too late to turn back. People stay married and miserable. I’ve seen marriage spawn stronger hate than I knew a person capable of. Yet, somehow, marriage is the unquestionable choice. Religious, cultural, and industrial conditioning have idealized this singular institution and tell us only marriage offers respectability and security.
I know all kinds of people in all kinds of relationships or no relationship at all. It is freeing, comforting, and inspiring to know there are many ways to love. Exploring different relationships has empowered me to be truly honest with myself, any partners, and respectful of their true needs. I’m a better communicator, less angry, and most of all, myself.
Aside from relationships, I have deeply committed friendships. They are my chosen family in addition to my actual family. They have shown up for me and others in ways that monogamous, heterosexual partners have not. Some of us are talking about an amazing “Golden Girls” complex, a community of care to live and grow old and sassy(er), together. It expands our options of who will be there for us down the road, with the added bonus of midnight cheesecake on the reg.
You are welcome to join us. If you want to come and have chocolate cake instead of cheesecake, you can. We won’t judge you. It’s your choice. We just need you to respect ours, then we’ll all be OK. OK?
Leigh Naturkach is a Toronto-based intersectional feminist. During the day (and night) she raises funds and does community development to improve health and equality for women and girls. In her spare time, she runs, travels, writes, and talks too much.