“How come you’ve never been married?” I get this question on first dates and through dating app messages. While I know this annoys some of my unmarried friends, I don’t mind the question. Maybe because I talk about relationships for a living.
My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They actually still like each other—most of the time. My parents have modeled a strong, communicative marriage, and I grew up with this stability and normalization of marriage, thinking of it as a good thing. I’m not afraid of commitment, and actually like being in long-term relationships. I’ve been my happiest, most grounded, and productive while living with boyfriends. But I haven’t made the choice to marry.
I think I can boil it down to four main reasons.
1. I see marriage as an institution.
As a sociologist, I see marriages as more of a social institution, and less as the epitome of romanticism or a “should” in our society. By institution, I mean that it is something socially constructed, and not just a “natural” way to do things. So there are social norms, systems of behavioral patterns, and rules of engagement, that were created long before me. Although with greater gender equality, marriage doesn’t mean that a wife is subsumed by her husband anymore, for a long time I had issues with marriage because of this history.
Don’t get me wrong, I always cry at weddings. I’ve officiated two weddings and even cried during them. It’s a beautiful celebration of love, support, commitment, and community. But marriages and the “joining of two lives” doesn’t always seem well-thought through, and seems more romantic than realistic. I am grateful that I never got pressure from my family that I “should” get married, and was able to follow my own path.
2. I don’t want children.
While I enjoy children, and particularly like being around those of my friends, I’ve never felt the calling to have my own. I do however feel a calling to create positive shifts around healthy sexuality and intimacy for as many people as possible, and that’s where I channelled my energy, time, and passion. I think if I did want children, that would have probably made me more interested in the legal aspects of marriage, as well as the purported stability of that union. I am grateful also that I didn’t get pressure from my family to have children—that would have sucked.
3. I have a lot of respect for the commitment of marriage.
Despite everything I’ve said above, I actually have a lot of respect for the commitment of marriage, in that I would be giving my word to someone I deeply love and appreciate, to do my best to make this thing work. It’s a big fucking deal to decide to join lives with someone and believe that you’re doing that for the rest of your life, through highs and lows and many, many situations that you could never predict. It’s such a big deal and so complex, I see that all good marriages require hard work, and I guess I’m pretty picky up front about who I think has the skills for that and is worth that ongoing commitment from me. When I look back 5 years ago, and 5 years before that, and 5 years before that, I see how much I have continued to change in some pretty big ways. Finding a matching partner to work, learn, and grow with in this way seems daunting.
4. I’m a realist.
Even as a teenager, I was always responsible and able to see consequences, to the extent that these words actually came out of my mouth in high school: I don’t understand the youth of today and the bad decisions they make. My friends used to hide their bad choices from me because they didn’t want my judgment (ahem, Tara). I was kind of a buzzkill and definitely a goody two-shoes.
Regarding relationships, this perspective means that I rarely put people up on a pedestal. I see their beauty and their flaws, just like I see my own. Combine this perspective with a strong respect for the commitment of marriage, and I am not willing to make that decision lightly. I also know that the amazing neurochemical cocktail of an early relationship usually shifts over time, so I won’t make big relationship decisions early in dating.
Do I want to get married? At this point, yes, maybe. I still don’t feel like I need to, but I can see how the stability and a partnership could enhance my life. I feel like I have a really solid sense of myself, my needs, my voice, my path; and I’m happy with myself as a single person. But if a man gets me and I get him, we create an interdependent relationship where we support each other through our weaknesses, build up each other’s strengths, and cultivate a whole that is more than the sum of the parts…well, I could want to make that level of commitment. Oh, and we can talk through our shit—not ad nauseum, but in a way that we own it, discuss it responsibly, and move on.
And I’d like a man who…wait, sorry, this isn’t an online dating site is it…
If you’ve chosen not to get married so far, I’m curious, what are your reasons?
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker