Damned if “I do,” damned if I don’t

Many people view being single as a problem. They assume that if you’re single, you are unhappy, depressed, and obviously not single by choice. They treat it as a sickness in that they are constantly looking for cures — friends to hook you up with, people at social events who look attractive, etc.

Many people view getting married young as a problem. They assume that if you get married too young, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. They think you’re naive, and they talk your ear off with stories about college, divorce, midlife crises, maybe even quarter-life crises.

The problem with both these scenarios is that they often apply to the same people — young adults in their early 20s. Although being single and never married is pretty much always some kind of social deficiency no matter what your age, being married gets pretty normal and expected around 24 and 25.

But the contradiction lies in that both peers and parents think being single too long is bad thing, because it wastes time you could be spending finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, but they also judge people for getting married too young. If you get married in college, you are making a big mistake and will miss out on your college years — but if you aren’t engaged by the time college is over, then you’re equally frowned upon.

For example, being recently single, my mom has already confessed how sad she is that she is even further from having grandchildren and comments on how attractive everyone we encounter is — the customer service rep at the car dealership is cute, the cashier at the grocery store is cute, as if she needs to keep reminding me to be on the prowl for fresh prey.

A friend of mine, who got married when she was 20, said that she encountered someone who asked about her being married and immediately starting explaining why she wasn’t married yet. My friend was taken aback, as if this girl thought not being married was a sin and she needed to confess to my friend in order to receive absolution. Though my friend encountered scrutiny for getting married young, this woman was expressing deep guilt for not getting married young.

You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And if you aren’t even interested in marriage and you’re heterosexual? Big trouble. It’s nothing new that society’s pressure — especially toward women —  to not be sad, lonely, unmarried creatures is intense (like every magazine cover about Jennifer Aniston, which all assume she is single and miserable), but how do you win when you’re naive to get married too soon but pitiful if you get married too late?

Being single is not a disease. I often wonder if people ask “Are you OK?” after a break-up (especially if you did the breaking up) not to see if you are emotionally stable, but to see how you are dealing with the idea of not having a lifelong companion lined up. There really is no right age to get married — unless you’re talking getting married as a teenager, which most researchers say is a bad idea.

If you are a young, heterosexual woman, then your love life is pretty much scrutinized regardless. You’re defective if you’re single by circumstance, and you’re a whore if you’re single by choice (because you’re obviously implying you want to just sleep around!); you’re naive if you get married too early, and you’re suspicious if you get married too late (you’ve been together five years already, is there a problem in paradise?); and if you get engaged, you’ll probably be hounded until you admit you aren’t just getting married because of a pregnancy, too.

This post wasn’t meant to be earth-shattering, but more of me talking out loud about how absurd it is. The contradiction is absurd simply because of the obvious fact that men don’t feel this same intense pressure to settle down and get married at the age of 23 (boys will be boys, you can’t tame a lion), plus it causes a lot of unwarranted anxiety for women.

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3 Responses to “Damned if “I do,” damned if I don’t”

  1. Traci Says:

    Love this post!

  2. izziedarling Says:

    If single, your love life is scrutinized no matter what your age. The older you get, the less you care what anyone else thinks or says. Cheers!

  3. Ideal wedding gift: People keeping their two cents? « i, sandwich Says:

    […] generally bring a lot of unsought advice from third parties (as does being single), but marriage seems to attract even more commentary. Sure some of the response to the […]

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