Move over, marriage…

March 18th, 2007

Right to choose…When it comes to romantic commitment, you’re not the only game in town.

That’s the opening paragraph to the cover story I wrote for “Gender F”, a Seattle Times section that came out today. The story isn’t anti-marriage; it’s pro-alternatives-to-marriage-if-you-so-choose and pro-marriage reform (as in, let’s stop treating lesbians and gays like shit, and let’s think about giving singles — say, the widowed midlifer taking care of her mom with Alzheimer’s — the same tax breaks and workplace perks as the married twentysomethings she lives next door to or works side by side with). I’ve already written how I feel about this here, so I won’t rehash it now.

As anyone could have predicted, a couple of “concerned readers” have already graced my inbox to say that they will “pray for me” or to compliment me on being “a modern whore,” whatever that means. (“You, go, you modern whore!”) If they really want to save my soul, though, I would kindly request they immediately proceed to this web page and open their wallets. That would be the quickest route to salvation for this girl.

But I digress… My point is, I’m don’t think I’m a bitter old crone or whatever the fashionable insult to hurl at single thirtysomething feminists is these days. I’m just not sure marriage is the only way to go. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. But since you can read the facts in the aforementioned article, let’s personalize this here and now:

Maybe I would feel differently if I wanted to have children — after all, two incomes/caregivers are infinitely easier than one — but I’m pretty sure I don’t, and if I wait too much longer, biology will make that a moot point. And maybe I would feel differently if I wasn’t able to support myself, but I am and I do. (Ah, the ‘ole career tie-in.) And, as people say, maybe I would feel differently if I met the right guy. Only thing is, I have met the right guy, and we’ve been together three years, happily living apart. Maybe that will change someday, but neither one of us is in any sort of rush. (I write about that in Diane Mapes‘ fabulous new book, Single State of the Union, which you will hear lots more about this spring.)

From a romantic perspective, not needing a partner for financial reasons has been incredibly liberating. Without the biological clock ruling my every dating move and with a warm roof already over my head, I’m free — as countless modern women are — to date and fall in love for booty and companionship alone, not because I’m trolling for a meal ticket, real estate, or a sperm donor. Basically this translates into not freaking out if I’m alone on a Saturday night or my calendar is blank for a week straight. (In fact, right now, if my calendar actually was blank for a week straight, I would do the biggest fattest happy dance you’ve ever seen.)

What do you ladies think? Do you think today’s courtship is incredibly different than it was for our moms, now that we, too, can bring home the bacon like nobody’s business and buy our own homes? In other words, is marriage even necessary today? Or do you think that regardless of increasingly equal career opportunities/salaries, marriage is here to stay? I’d love to hear your comments, but kindly I request that you play nice.

Entry Filed under: Popular articles,The singles table

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfa  |  March 19th, 2007 at 2:09 am

    I believe marriage is here to stay as long as there are women and men who use it as a gauge of happiness/success in life.

  • 2. Rachel DuBois  |  March 19th, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Of course marriage isn’t necessary. It’s not even always desirable.

    What makes it a positive is when two people do it well, and obviously that doesn’t always happen.

    It’s people being happy that counts, whether they’re single, in a relationship or married.

    The impact you have on others, especially children, is made by how you behave, not whether you have a ring on your finger.

    And I say that as a 31 y.o. who absolutely adores being married to my husband.

  • 3. Nicky Grsit  |  March 19th, 2007 at 8:05 am

    We certainly agree with you here at the Alternatives to Marriage Project. We offer a lot of resources for people who are thinking about marriage and its alternatives. We are increasingly involved in public policy campaigns about health insurance, tax breaks etc. Please check us out, join us, subscribe and/or write for our newsletter….

    Nicky Grist, Executive Director

  • 4. Laura  |  March 19th, 2007 at 8:45 am

    I have no doubt that marriage is here to stay. It’s not necessary anymore – I am not marrying my fiance because I need him to support me or validate our relationship, for example. But for those of us who dream of being married, it still has meaning and it’s something that we WANT to do even though we don’t HAVE to do it. It also holds an important place in many religions and I don’t believe that will be going away anytime soon.

    So yes I think it will continue. But I think you have a point, Michelle, and I think that the percentage of people who remain unmarried by choice will increase.

  • 5. Linda  |  March 19th, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I have been happily married for 21 years, but admit that I struggle with the fact that I am in a somewhat privileged category because I am heterosexual. I have many friends who cannot currently marry simply because they are homosexual. This makes me rethink the institution of marriage, almost to the point of wanting a divorce for the sake of not ascribing to the “privilege” that is not afforded equally to everyone. I also don’t think it’s fair that I get tax breaks because I am a married person, when others that are in different family configurations, do not. These things did not occur to me 21 years ago. I would not get married today, if doing it all over again, unless marriage was provided the same access, rights and benefits to all people.

    I appreciate your article tremendously because it shows that women and men are really thinking about their commitments, and choosing alternatives to marriage. Why are they choosing alternatives? The reasons are many, and make for a fascinating story. Thanks for opening up the dialogue.

  • 6. John  |  March 19th, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    How refreshing that you would “thank Mom for marching in the ’70s” to help bring about the environment that now allows options! It is rare for that sort of thing to come from “your generation”. It’s not that we expect anyone to drop to their knees in gratitude for what the preceding generation has done, but it would be nice if the current generation would more often acknowledge the contributions made by those of us who were politically and socially active in supporting revolutionary changes back in the dark ages.
    Some of us paid a price in career progress just for advocating flex hours, maternity leave, etc. etc…
    (A 74-yr old white male, married to same spouse 47 years.)

  • 7. Rhebe (Michelle's Mom)  |  March 19th, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Ah, You got the message. You go girl!

    As an unmarried (divorced) woman for longer than I was married, I can attest to the fact that living in a state of singlehood can be very satisfying. I am never lonely, Good friends are often available when I crave conversation, companionship and support, or need any kind of help.

    I have experienced a bad marriage, loving relationships, celibacy and aloneness. They have all taught me life lessons and I embrace all of the above states. Women, fear not! The world offers many varied experiences so don’t get stuck in stereotypes.

    Keep marching, keep requesting justice and fairness for all, and most of all keep loving.

    (Michelle’s very proud mother)

  • 8. Michelle Goodman  |  March 19th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    love hearing all these different POVs. thanks, everyone, for sharing. john, my boyfriend loved your comment. and mom, welcome to the comment zone. keep ‘em coming, everyone…

  • 9. Amber  |  March 20th, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Marriage is anything but economically necessary for those of us lucky enough to have a college education and jobs that pay a living wage. But for many single women who did not have the priviledge to attend college, who struggle to make ends meet and perhaps had kids while relatively young, marriage may seem more “necessary” or at least more compelling. And I don’t expect that to change until some economic reform and improvements in access to education happen.

    I got married because I liked the idea of making my commitment to my partner “official,” thereby declaring it to the world in a way, and liked the idea of celebrating with friends and family the relationship and the fact that we want to be together for the rest of our lives. It’s a big deal. Marriage was a want not a need. Being raised Catholic probably reinforced the idea of marriage as part of my path in life, but I haven’t been Catholic for a while now and like to think I’m pretty open-minded. I certainly don’t think everyone should get married nor feel pressure to do so.

    It’s outrageous that same-sex marriage isn’t allowed. I hope that in a few years (unfortunately it may be more than that, though), today’s hetero-only marriage laws will seem as archaic, insulting and inane as the Jim Crow system.

  • 10. Mary  |  March 21st, 2007 at 7:09 am

    I think there’s a lot of underlying rage in deliberate childlessness.

    It is fascinating to peek into uber-liberal world. Gosh, while the rest of the world deals with population decline, savage oppression of women to the point of gential mutliation and sex-selection abortion, and threats to Western democracy to the point that democracy could be destroyed in a generation, you just live in your own little mental island. It’s almost beyond parody.

  • 11. Elizabeth Oakes  |  March 21st, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Lovely to see:

    1. a wonderfully articulate, thoughtful article about how our culture is currently redefining marriage (and thank heaven!),

    2. that those choosing marriage are waiting longer and are more likely to have the life experience and skills needed to build a sustainable, loving relationship, and that getting married (or not) is happening because folks wanna and not because they hafta;

    3. that your mom is really proud of you and says so in public, and

    4. . the use of the word “cohabit” instead of the crazy-making back-construction “cohabitate”—grr.

    As someone who performs hundreds of weddings a year in the cultural crucible of Los Angeles, I can attest that what people want from committed relationships and their ritual ratification is rapidly changing to embrace our diversity. I believe that love and tolerance begin in the home, so it especially delights me to work with couples who have not only road-tested their relationships and know they are ready for marriage, but who allow their differing religious beliefs, cultures, languages, and lifestyles to enhance their home and family culture rather than divide it.

    There are countries that allow any two people to “marry” (for example, spinster sisters) in order to obtain the financial and legal benefits of setting up a household; this seems to make good social sense as well as being fair. Let’s hope that soon, all who love and wish to commit will have an equal array of choices, legal benefits, and social recognition.

    Thanks for the heartening read.

  • 12. Lynn  |  March 21st, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I’m only 25, but I’m already getting asked by some people if I’m actively LOOKING for a boyfriend and since I have one anyway, when we’ll be getting married and starting a family. I guess it’s a culture thing. Marriage is a pretty big deal here for many people, but I’m happy to say that my family doesn’t treat singleness with disbelief and derision. My boyfriend and I are very happy the way we are and don’t think we need to get married to, I don’t know, SEAL our commitment.

  • 13. Kevin  |  March 22nd, 2007 at 7:58 am

    I liked the article, but found it was written mostly from a perspective of why women are not marrying as much as they used to or at an older age than they used to. I believe many men are also not marrying for a variety of reasons. One of the big reasons is the anti-male family laws that have been put in place in the event of a divorce involving kids. Divorce is apparently happening 50% of the time.

    After a divorce, most men lose the house, joint assets, money, and are reduced to ‘visitation’ with their own children. At the same time, they are expected to support an ex-wife and kids they can barely see for years. Doesn’t sound very appealing.

  • 14. Michelle Goodman  |  March 22nd, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Thanks, people, for weighing in here. Great comments! I don’t understand equating anger with the decision to not have kids (shouldn’t all babies be WANTED? isn’t THAT best for kids?). But then again, I don’t understand people who identify with Ann Coulter, so… so be it.

    Elizabeth, great to hear from an officiant. Thank you for chiming in. Kevin, the stats support what you say: Men are marrying less and later too. The article assignment was for a women’s magazine in the Seattle Times — hence the focus on women and how marriage has changed for them.

    Feel free to comment on this thread till the cows come home…

  • 15. Judy  |  March 23rd, 2007 at 11:06 am

    I used to think I wanted to be married, but lately I’m not so sure. Life is simpler when I live it on my own terms. Michelle, your mom is an inspiration and if she ever feels the need for another daughter, I hope she’ll consider adopting me.

  • 16. Michelle Goodman  |  March 23rd, 2007 at 11:11 am

    bwaaahaaaaa! i’ll tell her. we could be sisters. like in the movies. or something. har.

  • 17. rachel hospodar  |  March 28th, 2007 at 10:38 am

    I never particularly considered marriage as an option for my future but find myself happily married for 2 years at age 27… circumstances lined up and i proposed to the man who is now my husband. I wish that anyone could get married, but i won’t give up my health insurance to make that point. I used to have my own health insurance through jobs but with the freedom of dual careers, was able to become self-employed without having to get some more from somewhere. I didn’t expect the act of getting married to change my relationship but it did – in a positive way. I think any configuration of people should be able to make a legally binding commitment to each other (naturally not required to)- in a world where it’s hard to get someone to commit to dinner plans before 5pm i think it’s good for us all.

  • 18. Amanda Castleman  |  April 4th, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    We know where to get the postcards, but can anyone recommend a cheap printer for “Modern Whore” t-shirts? I want one!


  • 19. Amber  |  April 6th, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Mary’s comment was HILARIOUS. Michelle is one of the most laid back, genuine, happy and warm people I’ve ever met. Kind of makes me think that that Mary is seeing what she wants/expects to see, not what’s actually there.

    But she’s right about one thing, definitely work in some important but totally off-topic issues in your next article, Michelle.

  • 20. Michelle Goodman  |  April 8th, 2007 at 9:44 am

    i will buy up a bunch of those ‘modern whore’ T-shirts and wear ‘em proudly if someone designs ‘em! haaaaaaa. and amber (and everyone else), thank you so much. xo

  • 21. Terry  |  August 21st, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I’m very happily married, but no, I don’t believe marriage is necessary.

    Being married to your best friend is a marvelous thing, but many women settle for less than they deserve in a partner because they fear time is running out, or they’ll be less of a woman if they don’t produce offspring.

    Women must love themselves before becoming bound to some guy for all eternity. And motherhood should never be attempted unless you’re with a man who’s up for doing late-night feedings and diaper changes.

  • 22. LM  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 6:55 am

    As a nearly thirty year old woman, single for four years, I can say that I would love to be married…to the right man. Obviously, I’m in no hurry to find him. If/when I do, I’ll be sure to draw up a pre-nup so he doesn’t ever have to doubt why I’m marrying him. In the weird circumstance we couldn’t make it work (I’d only marry someone skilled at conflict resolution), he doesn’t have to worry that the life he built prior to me would be destroyed. Why do women have a need to do this to a man they “loved?”

    And gosh Mary, I feel you have a lot of rage toward the deliberately childless. Population decline? By what statistics?

  • 23. Pamela  |  March 31st, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    i’m 48, separated 15 months after 25 yo marriage includes 2 yrs living together, me 21, he 37, mostly happy together, good decision at the time

    now loving alone-ness, gaining new insights as i explore moving through life on my own terms, making big changes in life, really big: job, career, country of residence…in fact the only thing still recognizable is sexual orientation…hmm, isn’t that supposed to have some plasticity??

    i liked marriage, the solidity, security, reliability and the freedom i had in mine…if there had been any control exerted from him, i’d have hightailed it outta there… married or not.. but we must remember always, marriage is a contract and should always be treated as such

    great discussion

  • 24. Grace  |  September 23rd, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    It took me a long time to get over this idea of marriage as the penultimate expression of love after growing up in a really conservative family.

    Now I’m living with, sleeping with, sharing finances with, and running a small business with my boyfriend. After a lot of deliberation I had a sort of lightbulb moment, when I realized that there was no reason I should delay any of this because I wasn’t ready to get married.

    Now, I’m perfectly happy with the way things are. I want to marry him eventually, but that’s more because I get all stupid and girly over weddings. I love them, offbeatbride style.

    So it’s nice to take the social/legal/moral obligation out of it. These days, women have options, and that’s fabulous.

  • 25. Michael McGrath  |  November 12th, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Marriage is an officially committed relationship, and hopefully a true and lasting partnership with someone you truly know and love. Declaring this partnership in a public and celebratory way seems to me to be a good expression of love and the potential partnership ofcommitted loving equals a good concept. I needed it for me, and to make our relationship clear to our friends, step children, and my parents, all who are important to me. For me marriage is a tool of communication to ourselves and others.

    Sure, I could have survived without it, but given the choice it was right for me and I think right for my spouse of 14 years. But it wasn’t right for the previous 30 years when I was married possibly for the right reasons to the wrong person.

    It shouldn’t matter whether you are gay or heterosexual and it does not necessitate children. But when there are children, in today’s world, it is I think better for each child to have two committed adults in a close and loving triumvirate relationship. Children, work, and life are more than any single parent can handle as well as two of equal quality and with 2 it is a lot more fun. I heartily recommend marriage, equality of spouses, and monogamy. But even more I recommend finding the best course for you. Life is terribly short and there is much to learn, do, and contribute. The more time you can focus on these three activities and avoid energies spent on power, money and ego, I think the happier people will be.
    Good luck everyone, and Michelle, thanks for the stimulus.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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