By the time I walked down the aisle — or rather, into a judge’s chambers — in 2010, at the age of 35, I had lived 14 independent, early-adult years that my mother had spent married.I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit.Today’s women are, for the most part, not abstaining from or delaying marriage to prove a point about equality.They are doing it because they have internalized assumptions that just a half-century ago would have seemed radical: that it’s okay for them not to be married; that they are whole people able to live full professional, economic, social, sexual, and parental lives on their own if they don’t happen to meet a person to whom they want to legally bind themselves.The most radical of feminist ideas—the disestablishment of marriage — has been so widely embraced as to have become habit, drained of its political intent but ever-more potent insofar as it has refashioned the course of average female life.I am not arguing that singleness is in and of itself a better or more desirable state than coupledom.For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960 It is a radical upheaval, a national reckoning with massive social and political implications.Across classes, and races, we are seeing a wholesale revision of what female life might entail.
This reorganization of our citizenry, unlike the social movements that preceded it and made it possible — from abolition and suffrage and labor fights of the 19th and early-20th centuries to the civil-rights, women’s, and gay-rights movements of the mid-20th century — is not a self-consciously politicized event.
In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women.
Perhaps even more strikingly, the number of adults younger than 34 who had never married was up to 46 percent, rising 12 percentage points in less than a decade.
Many single women, across classes and races, would like to marry — or at least form loving, reciprocal, long-term partnerships, and many of them do, partnering or cohabiting without actually marrying.
I had had roommates and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling.I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself. In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent.