January 25, 2007
Let me state for the record: I am a trendsetter.
This just in, according to no less an authority than The New York Times. Based on their most recent census analysis, more American women are living without a husband than with one.
Yes, that's right: 51 percent of women in 2005 said they were living without a spouse, compared to 35 percent in 1950. Living without a spouse doesn't exactly mean single in the traditional sense of the word, if there is a traditional sense of the word. Some are living with partners ("in sin"), some have been married and are now widowed or divorced, and some, like me, just haven't married yet because women are marrying later in life.
Incidentally, in 2005, married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time.
So here's what I'm wondering: If this trend continues, and, say, in a couple of decades the numbers shift so they're the opposite of those in the 1950s, and only 35 percent of adults are married, what would the world be like? I mean, what would it be like for a nonmarried person?
You'd be at a meal with a group of people and everyone would be mingling with each other and having fun, and all of a sudden one man says, "We're married."
A silence would fall on the table, like in the old days, when someone confessed to being ... single.
Finally someone would break the silence: "How long have you been married?"
"Ten years," the "wife" would say.
Again the silence, and you are the one to ask what no one else could say. "But you're so young! How old are you anyway?"
When it dawns on the crowd that the two are both 35 and have been married since they were 25, shock turns to disbelief, and the ice breaks. Everyone has questions. They've all forgotten their fun, single, happy life for a moment and turn to talk to this anomaly. "Why do you think you're still married?"
"I mean, are you even trying? Do you just stay home with each other?" "Do you think maybe you're too un-picky? I mean, maybe if you were more selective you wouldn't be married."
"God, it must be so hard for you to be married at your age," someone would say, sort of sympathetically, but mostly inordinately relieved for herself that she's not in that position.
"I think I may know someone else who's married," one man would add, trying to be helpful. Then he'd remember: "No, forget it, they split up."
Soon, of course, the conversation would turn to fertility, as it always does in these situations.
"Aren't you worried about your biological clock? I mean, you're not getting any younger, and there still might be time to have children with other people. I guess you could always freeze your eggs -- lots of married people are doing that these days, I hear. Why, this one friend of mine paid $100,000 in fertility treatments and got three viable eggs!"
And then everyone would be off, talking animatedly about doctors and sperm banks and adoption and how children these days are much better off than they were when we were growing up because there are so many parental units and families are so fluid and there's so much less pressure to marry and to stay married and no stigma on divorce so kids can just focus on finding themselves and being good, productive people in good, healthy relationships.
Then some socially clueless person, who didn't realize the conversation had finally taken its spotlight off the uncomfortable, lone, married couple, would pipe in, "I hear married people die younger than unmarried people."
At that point you'd be able to hear the forks clatter to the plates, and everyone would be looking down, because even if that much-bandied about statistic were true -- who researched those things anyway? It was like that urban legend in the 1980s, about a single woman over 35 being more likely to get killed by a terrorist than find a mate -- was it really necessary to point it out?
Immediately everyone would start talking again -- about the latest art opening, real estate prices, the upcoming ski trip to the Alps -- anything to change the subject, because everyone would suddenly start to feel bad for the married couple, because really, it wasn't their fault, exactly; it could happen to anyone if they weren't careful.
And then they'd think back to an earlier, bygone era, back in the beginning of the millennium, say, in 2000, when married people were still the majority, and they'd thank their lucky stars for being born in such enlightened times.
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