Marriage equality legislation gives more people the option to get married, but why is it that we still have such a hard time if we choose to stay single?
I live in Australia and I’m looking forward to Australians achieving marriage equality in the near future. I want for all of us to be able to celebrate and commit to our loving relationships, as we choose, and for those relationships to be treated with equal respect.
As we move toward this day, I can’t help but wonder about the choice to marry. For those of us who are heterosexual, how many marriages, indeed relationships, are true choices and how many are entered into due to the expectations of society, our peers and family?
The pressure to form romantic relationships and to marry is enormous. It begins at a very early age. When we ask small children about their plans for their future we include boyfriends, girlfriends and marriage as an inevitable conclusion.
As we enter teenage years and adulthood, we can fall in love, of course, but a boyfriend or girlfriend is also a status symbol. Just listen to the majority of songs and watch most movies. We’re told that life means nothing, that we’re nothing, without romantic love. We’re told that regrets come from not spending enough time with the ones we love. Advertisers are quick to tell us that love and family are what really matters. There was even a recent advertising campaign that told us, “Memories aren’t made at work. Go home early on (insert date) and make some real memories.”
This is an agenda that suits many religious, corporate and political powers. It’s much easier to coerce and manipulate worshippers, shoppers and voters by appealing to their wish to protect and provide for loved ones. It’s natural to want the best for yourself and your family, so businesses, church and state will use the carrot and stick technique to their advantage, the carrot being such things as tax cuts, social inclusion and married-only benefits.
There are also reports of studies telling us how great marriage is for our health and longevity. We’re told that hugging and sex are good for our physical and mental well-being. Never mind that many of these sociological studies are skewed to show results that are positive for marriage, that is, they study only currently married people as opposed to divorced and widowed people. Their studies are, of course, impossible to prove since no control models exist. Nevertheless, why let the truth get in the way of a good carrot?
For women, there is the glamor of the wedding. This worship of marriage supports entire industries: caterers, event venues, florists, limousines, and of course dressmakers. They very much need us to be in love with the idea that every girl deserves to be a princess and have her “special day” at least once in her lifetime.
If the carrot for women is to be the beautiful bride, then the carrot for men is comfort. A man can rely on a wife to do the majority of the cleaning, cooking, social calendar arranging and child rearing.
And now to that stick. Single people are excluded from almost all forms of social planning. When was the last time you heard a politician refer to the electorate as individuals rather than families? Most books, TV shows and movies portray single women as desperately seeking a partner, or as cold career women or pathetic old maids. Single men are portrayed as mammas’ boys, Lotharios or lonely bachelors finally waking up to the joys of love with a good woman.
Now you may say, “So what? We want people to be happy and in good relationships.”
I agree that good marriages and good relationships are wonderful and no doubt beneficial to those who enjoy them. However there are darker aspects to all the romance and marriage propaganda.
There are those of us for whom the happy relationship just doesn’t happen. (Disclaimer, I am 55-years-old and never married.) Some of us prefer to be single. Some are perfectly happy being single, yet we would embrace a relationship if we met someone special. And others are crushed by the social pressure to be in a romantic relationship which can lead to depression and a sense of isolation.
Even more seriously though, is when the fear of being single is so strong that we can form and stay in relationships that are dangerous. I am aware that the issue of abuse within relationships is a very complex, but this aspect needs to be considered. We lose more than one woman a week in Australia to murder by her current or former romantic partner. Children are also lost in the wake of dangerous relationships. As for men, they are murdered too though their numbers are, shamefully, less reported.
I wonder how many of these relationships and marriages would have been entered into, would have continued, if we had a positive attitude towards being single. After all, there are more people living alone than ever before and that demographic is growing faster than any other.
On a personal note I can say that I suffered for decades under the stigma of being single but now that I have learned to embrace a solo life, it’s fabulous! I want all of us to live a happy life as best we can, no matter what our relationship status, without judgement. I want us to be able to choose without fear.
Copyright © Louise Harper/2017 Singular Communications, LLC.
Louise Harper is a sculptor turned cook who specializes in recipes for one. She lives in Melbourne Australia (in a house for one, of course) and loves cooking “just for her.” For more information on her “single” series of cook books, visit www.singleserve.net.au