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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation


Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation has been on my radar for a while, and after reading an article somewhere (you know I can never remember what or where), I finally had the brain space to put this one in my library queue. Just in time for the midterm election season...

There have always been single women in the USA. However, the past few decades have seen an increase in the number of women staying single later in their lives -- women are, by and large, marrying later, putting off childbirth, and living alone in larger numbers than ever before, particularly in urban areas. So what does this mean for us? Whether it's the implications for marriage as an institution, childbirth as "stability," the electorate, or economics, the times, they are a-changin'.

Traister has written a thorough and fascinating account of the history of single women in the United States, from as early as there is literature on the subject to our current state of affairs. Single women have enormous social and political capital at present time; so much so that they are a courted political constituency and have flipped ballots for candidates. However, there is more to single women than just their political sway -- they are complex beings who have often made the conscious decision to keep their unmarried status for a variety of reasons, and those the not same for all women in the US. Traister traces the various reasons for singledom and the affect they have on the various facets of human life: dating, child-bearing, friendships, employment, and emotional states, to name just a few.

One thing that incenses me is the idea that marriage is an accomplishment. Weddings are treated with such high regard in our culture that I gag at the idea. My partner and I didn't have one -- we had a party to celebrate a year later, and even that is a litany of familial influence that did not endear my in-laws to me -- and even then, as much as I adore my partner and I love our life together, our marriage is not an accomplishment. I am a full person in and of myself, and the man I married just adds to my happiness and my satisfaction with life. I had an overall satisfaction with my single life as well, and while I bought into the "I need to get married" movement in my late 20's, for the most part I preferred my single existence to one in which I had to compromise my values and my worth just to have someone to come home to, and not even happily at that.

Interestingly enough, one of my undergraduates asked me about being an "independent woman" at the end of our last class. She is a brassy and strong-willed young woman, and her boyfriend was told that he should break up with her because she was independent. I told my students what I tell everyone -- that sometimes you will be too much for some people, and those aren't your people -- but that ultimately, no one needs to get married, and definitely no one should get married because you are feeling left behind. You can't change people, and you will end up in a crappy relationship with someone who never respected your singleness to begin with and doesn't respect the independence you have carved for yourself within the coupledom you create. That hits to the heart of what Traister wrote about in this book, that the power of single women as independent beings is more accepted yet still receives pushback.

Women make the decision to remain single for so many reasons. Some want to finish their education and work their way up in their careers. Others realize that the fathers of their children aren't marriage worthy. As 2018 moves us forward, we women realize that since we no longer need men to financially support us, we have the right to be choosy. As the average age of first marriage goes up, you can see in those numbers the recognition that marriage no longer serves the exact purpose that it did fifty years ago, offering security for women at least financially if not emotionally and physically. Now we need to build that sense of security in the young women occupying our education system and new to the workforce. Encouraging women to build lives for themselves and to add a partner (be it male, female, or non-binary) should be a value-added process and not a fulfillment of a requirement.

I love my partner, and I would marry him again every damned day because he is the bees knees and the cat's pajamas and the peanut butter to my jelly all rolled up in to one, but I'm also honest about why I chose to give up my singlehood -- and it wasn't because we were pregnant. I would have been perfectly fine, and actually quite preferred, to remain unmarried parents.

He had great health insurance. Who turns that down?


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