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I n , when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was and remains an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. The period that followed was awful.SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: 10 Reasons You Never Want To Marry A Ukrainian Woman
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I n , when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was and remains an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered.
I was bewildered. The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner.
On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life? Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question.
At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place. That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not? Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates—an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends.
In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing. Allan and I had met when we worked together at a magazine in Boston full disclosure: this one , where I was an assistant and he an editor; two years later, he quit his job to follow me to New York so that I could go to graduate school and he could focus on his writing.
In , when my year-old mother, a college-educated high-school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing. By the time she was in her mids, she was raising two small children and struggling to find a satisfying career.
Could she have even envisioned herself on a shopping excursion with an ex-lover, never mind one who was getting married while she remained alone? What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I n the s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart.
She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.
In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage , she surveys 5, years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church, and community. This held true for all classes. Two-income families were the norm.
Not until the 18th century did labor begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women.
But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort. Not until the post-war gains of the s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.
All of this was intriguing, for sure—but even more surprising to Coontz was the realization that those alarmed reporters and audiences might be onto something. Last summer I called Coontz to talk to her about this revolution. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.
For starters, we keep putting marriage off. In , the median age of first marriage in the U. Today, a smaller proportion of American women in their early 30s are married than at any other point since the s, if not earlier. Compare that with , when more than half of those ages 18 to 29 had already tied the knot. These numbers reflect major attitudinal shifts. According to the Pew Research Center, a full 44 percent of Millennials and 43 percent of Gen Xers think that marriage is becoming obsolete.
Biological parenthood in a nuclear family need not be the be-all and end-all of womanhood—and in fact it increasingly is not. Today 40 percent of children are born to single mothers. Even as single motherhood is no longer a disgrace, motherhood itself is no longer compulsory.
Since , the percentage of women in their early 40s who have not given birth has nearly doubled. A childless single woman of a certain age is no longer automatically perceived as a barren spinster. Like me, for instance. Do I want children? But somewhere along the way, I decided to not let my biology dictate my romantic life.
Do I realize that this further narrows my pool of prospects? Just as I am fully aware that with each passing year, I become less attractive to the men in my peer group, who have plenty of younger, more fertile women to pick from. But what can I possibly do about that? Sure, my stance here could be read as a feint, or even self-deception.
Over the past half century, women have steadily gained on—and are in some ways surpassing—men in education and employment. A study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8 percent more than the men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college: in , 55 percent of all college graduates ages 25 to 29 were female.
B y themselves, the cultural and technological advances that have made my stance on childbearing plausible would be enough to reshape our understanding of the modern family—but, unfortunately, they happen to be dovetailing with another set of developments that can be summed up as: the deterioration of the male condition.
As of last year, women held No one has been hurt more by the arrival of the post-industrial economy than the stubbornly large pool of men without higher education. An analysis by Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, reveals that, after accounting for inflation, male median wages have fallen by 32 percent since their peak in , once you account for the men who have stopped working altogether.
The Great Recession accelerated this imbalance. Nearly three-quarters of the 7. The implications are extraordinary. My friend B. Then there are those women who choose to forgo men altogether. But while the rise of women has been good for everyone, the decline of males has obviously been bad news for men—and bad news for marriage. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity. What does this portend for the future of the American family?
Take the years after the Civil War, when America reeled from the loss of close to , men, the majority of them from the South. An article published last year in The Journal of Southern History reported that in , there were marriageable white men for every white women; in , that number dropped to Will I marry a man much older, or much younger? Will I remain alone, a spinster?
Diaries and letters from the period reveal a populace fraught with insecurity. As casualties mounted, expectations dropped, and women resigned themselves to lives without husbands, or simply lowered their standards. The anxious climate, however, as well as the extremely high levels of widowhood—nearly one-third of Southern white women over the age of 40 were widows in —persisted. In order to replenish the population, the state instituted an aggressive pro-natalist policy to support single mothers.
Mie Nakachi, a historian at Hokkaido University, in Japan, has outlined its components: mothers were given generous subsidies and often put up in special sanatoria during pregnancy and childbirth; the state day-care system expanded to cover most children from infancy; and penalties were brandished for anyone who perpetuated the stigma against conceiving out of wedlock.
This family pattern was felt for decades after the war. I n their book, Too Many Women? How this plays out, however, varies drastically between genders.
Rates of illegitimacy and divorce are low. One might hope that in low-sex-ratio societies—where women outnumber men—women would have the social and sexual advantage. In societies with too many women, the theory holds, fewer people marry, and those who do marry do so later in life.
In , the sociologists Scott J. South and Katherine Trent set out to test the Guttentag-Secord theory by analyzing data from countries. Most aspects of the theory tested out. In each country, more men meant more married women, less divorce, and fewer women in the workforce. South and Trent also found that the Guttentag-Secord dynamics were more pronounced in developed rather than developing countries.
In other words—capitalist men are pigs. I kid! And yet, as a woman who spent her early 30s actively putting off marriage, I have had ample time to investigate, if you will, the prevailing attitudes of the high-status American urban male. My spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is or thinks he is , the less interested he is in commitment.
Take the high-powered magazine editor who declared on our first date that he was going to spend his 30s playing the field. Or the novelist who, after a month of hanging out, said he had to get back out there and tomcat around, but asked if we could keep having sex anyhow, or at least just one last time. Are you The One? Like zealous lepidopterists, they swoop down with their butterfly nets, fingers aimed for the thorax, certain that just because they are ready for marriage and children, I must be, too.
But the non-committers are out there in growing force. I was there to spend the afternoon with Denean, a year-old nurse who was living in one such house with three of her four children the eldest is 19 and lived across town and, these days, a teenage niece.
Denean is pretty and slender, with a wry, deadpan humor. For 10 years she worked for a health-care company, but she was laid off in January.
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Singles nation: Why so many Americans are unmarried
Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family. I just think that it is a fun girlfriends sort of song and it totally cues me to the type of conversation I am about to get on the other end of the line when the phone rings. And I wonder if they would be offended. I am not sure if they would be offended by the ring tone because this feels like a pretty touchy subject I am broaching. It is touchy because while we share so much in common education, laughter, spirituality, values, history I am not one with them in the situation of waiting and hoping for something that may or may not happen. That, I gather, is where many of my friends find themselves. They are at the point of wondering if it will ever happen that they will meet someone they are called to share their lives with. I think, in our twenties, they were moving through life like I was: taking life as it came, making choices at forks in the road, a bit of an eye on what we hope or aspire to be, career-wise.
More Americans Are Single Than Ever Before—And They’re Healthier, Too
We promise to keep your information safe and will never post or share anything on your Facebook page. View Singles Now. Iman Platinum Member. Cute, smart, funny, sarcastic. I have a sarcastic sense of humor so it's important that someone should understand me.
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