Marriage Is on the Decline — But Single Still Feels Weird

Even dry British economists are talking about it. It feels like it’s been everywhere lately — even the Supreme Court. Marriage rates: just in a slump, or do we need to talk?

The Economist reported earlier this year that marriage rates are continuing to decline in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world. We continue to delay marriage and more people are entering that nefarious category of “never married.” To which I say, welcome to my world. It’s actually quite fun, but don’t expect to shed all notions of wedded bliss.

In truth, it’s a strange place to be. I have known for as long as I was able to say “I do” that I wasn’t terribly excited about it. I still dreamed of it though. I doodled what my new last name would be based on the current crush, and planned the prettiest of details. All this while simultaneously questioning whether I really wanted to at all.


I recently participated in a study that is looking at how women in their 20s and 30s perceive being single. In this case, single is defined as those of us who are “uncoupled,” never been coupled (or married) and are childless. Surely a sad and sorry spinster state of affairs for some. But not all of us.

The researcher and I talked for about two hours. In retrospect, I feel as though she asked me questions that I’ve been asking myself for years. Why don’t I want to get married? Why don’t I want kids? Have I ever felt pressure to get married? (No.) Have I ever actively sought to get married? (No.) Have I ever wondered about what it would be like to be 70 and single? (Well, maybe…)

The Single Class may be growing in numbers, but we are still a minority. And as a minority of choice, it’s not always easy. We were not born this way, and it is not normal (by numbers at least). She questioned me about the difference between being single in my 20s versus my 30s. In my 20s, I had more friends who were also single, and happy about that. In DC at least, it’s not at all uncommon to be single in your 20s. In your 30s though, it’s less common. Our numbers have dwindled and only some of us are ok with still being “uncoupled.” Still, DC is a generally easy place to be single at any age, even the “ancient” age of 30-something.

What interests me most though, is that while I know I am comfortable being single, and that I find the thought of planning a wedding both daunting and unnecessary, I still think about it. In detail. Ok, not so much anymore. But for someone who has no interest in getting married, I have spent a considerable amount of time imagining it. Pretty much every guy I’ve ever dated has auditioned in my mind for the role of Groom. I’ve thought about the flowers, the time of year, the location, the bridesmaids, my dress, even the vows. The VOWS. This is a societal narrative that is hard shake.

To be clear, I do like the idea of a long-term partner. Very much, actually. I don’t think I am anti-commitment. I’ve been in long-term relationships, and honored them. I don’t regret them, and indeed hope to find another. I like the idea of having someone who is mine first. Someone to get close to, be comfortable with in that way that you can only be with someone that you love and trust 100 percent. Someone to listen your boring-ass day as well as your greatest fears and aspirations. That appeals to me and makes sense.

Furthermore, as a supporter of gay marriage and a reasonable person, I can envision multiple situations in which it would be a good idea to get legally married. The state affords you special privileges and tax breaks and you are in fact treated differently. This should be open to whoever wants to do it. I just don’t want to. At least not yet.

I would be only telling part of the story though, if I said that it wasn’t also hard to be single this “late” in life. Neither my family nor my friends have ever bothered me about my choice to remain single. But considering that more and more of my friends are getting married, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve missed something. I suppose that if I were still single now, and I really wanted to be married, that it would be difficult in another way. For me though, it’s more like choosing the uncharted, lesser traveled path, and slowly realizing that fewer and fewer travelers are with you. I’m checking my map more, and looking around in a way that I didn’t expect to. Even though I’m genuinely happy with my relationship status, I still wonder if there isn’t something that I’ve missed. What is it that almost everyone else sees that I don’t?

I thought this statistic from Pew was interesting:

“Nearly four-in-ten Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research survey in 2010. Yet the same survey found that most people who have never married (61 percent) would like to do so someday.”

Marriage as we know it may be on its way out. In fact, it’s always been subject to change (see: women as property and miscegenation). Marriage itself, though, appears to be on solid ground. If even I am still thinking about what my dress will look like, despite my having zero desire to actually get one, I have to believe that marriage is doing just fine.

By the way, the dress would be green. It’s my favorite color, and frankly, why even bother with white at this point?

Colleen Crinion is a progressive activist focusing on women’s issues and labor. She earned her M.A. in Sociology from American University, focusing on gender, family, sexuality and the media. She has been published in the Virginian Pilot, Ms. Magazine, Fem 2pt0, and Spike the Water Cooler; and was a finalist in the Roe v. Wade blog contest for the National Council of Jewish Women in 2011. As a Board member of the DC Abortion Fund and former Planned Parenthood employee, she writes primarily about women’s issues and reproductive justice. Ms. Crinion also serves as Communications Director for the Women’s Information Network (WIN). She won a Democracy for America Scholarship to attend the Netroots Nation Conference in June 2012. Originally from Michigan, she currently resides in Washington, DC where can often be found tweeting while watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report with her dog. You can follower her at @colleeneliza.

This post is originally published on Huffington Post and is cross-posted with permission.

Photo Credit Paul-W via Creative Commons

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  • Jackie Crawford

    I was married for 5 years and it unfortunately ended in a divorce. Being single again, I definitely see the attraction in it. Marriage is a huge adjustment and commitment and you obviously can’t act the same way as when you were single. But being single, you have so much more freedom. I’m not bad mouthing marriage because when mine was good, it was great. It’s just not for everyone and I can understand why people are staying single and why more marriages are happening later in people’s lives. There’s a book called “The Club Rules” that’s great for singles, those who are divorced or who just broke up and found themselves single again. I just finished it and have already recommended it to a few friends. The website,, is the site that goes along with the book and would definitely be worth checking out. I’m for whatever someone wants; being single, being married or just being in a long term committed relationship. Being happy is what matters most!

  • Rashmi

    Well I do want to say…I am 21 right now, but I absolutely do not want to marry until I pass 30 because I want to devote all my energy and passion to the arts. So I believe it is possible to lead a very abundant life and be extremely happy and fulfilled on your own. For me, marriage is sort of a religious sacrament, but I don’t see why it is only as sacred as how early you do it…I feel as long as I do it someday, then who cares if I want to take a good 10 years after completing my education to focus solely on making contributions to humanity and society? It’s true that you can devote even more of yourself to some sort of service (a.k.a. your career) when you are not also bound by the duties of family life (a.k.a. marriage and parenthood). The nice thing about the freedoms of the 21st century is that we don’t have to compromise our core values to a marriage if we don’t want to, especially now that women are becoming more and more self-sufficient…which liberates both men and women. I think it’s extremely dangerous and preposterous for the rest of society to pressure us into the binds of marriage and children in our 20’s when with postindustrial, postmodern opportunities we have vastly more opportunities for personal development and using our talents for creating a better world. I like to think of my chosen career as my number one relationship and spouse during my unmarried years, and screw anyone who says that this is being selfish–well it’s also pretty shitty to assume that a person’s lasting happiness will come through a committed romantic relationship and that we have to put the better portion of our youth towards these things as if our individual selves and abilities don’t mean shit. I think marriage is a wonderful idea, people need to stop making it seem like a requirement or need whose lack we should be upset over. It’s a CHOICE. By the way, I don’t think this means that you can’t experience romance or even find true love during your 20’s, I just think we don’t need to equate that with the exchanging of vows right then and there. People should learn to be patient! I would rather marry with as low chance of divorce as possible and that would be when I feel more stable in my life and I’m a little done with my gypsy adventure lifestyle (though I sorely wish I’d never have to give that up even after marriage and family…I would rather live in a caravan and raise my children there as well! haha!)

  • Rashmi

    Also, I know plenty of women who were single in their 30’s or married in their 30’s…especially if you are an artist type, marriage won’t really hold much appeal to a free spirit, and because of the nature of this industry, it can be a huge career blunder to marry in your 20’s…so yeah…it’s not the end of the world. people do divorce, people do stay single throughout midlife…it happens…they continue to live…lol. It’s when people stress out and make it seem like a need that I really start to lose respect for the whole idea of marriage. Anything that comes outside of yourself should just settle automatically into the flow of your life without you sweating buckets over something like that or feeling inadequate because you’re a certain age and haven’t “settled down”. Live a little! All the more adventure for you, I say!