Single Ladies, Single Longer: Rebecca Traister on the Rise of the Unmarried Woman

April 26, 2016

For a very long time marriage was considered a foundation of American life. Adulthood and marriage came hand in hand, and shortly after marriage children were the next logical step. Breaking that mold wasn’t a socially acceptable or financially viable option for women. Today, however, marriage rates show us a very different picture of what is considered the norm. To lend some insight into these changing conventions, Point of Inquiry welcomes Rebecca Traister, an author and award-winning journalist who is the writer-at-large for New York Magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. Her new book is All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.

In 1960, the majority of American women were married by age 29. Today only 20 percent of American women are married by then. For over a century the median age of first marriages for women in America had remained between 20 and 22, but in recent years it has jumped dramatically to age 27. Overall, fewer American women are married than ever before and Traister has investigated what’s behind this dramatic change, and what it means for a new generation of single women in America.

This is point of inquiry for Tuesday, April 26, 2016. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production at the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Rebecca Traister, one of the most incisive authors writing about women in politics today. Rebecca is a writer at large for New York magazine and a contributing editor at Al. She’s also the winner of the 2016 Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. As many of you know, I work at home, and so it’s a special pleasure for me to have Rebecca on the show. She’s here to talk about her new book, All the Single Ladies, Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Today, only 20 percent of American women have been married by age 29, compared to nearly 90 percent in 1960, thanks to feminism and other social changes. It’s now typical for women to live on their own for years before getting married. If they get married at all. What does this newfound autonomy mean for women, for families and for society? Rebecca interviewed over 100 experts and prominent single women to answer this question. And she’s here to share her insights with us. 

OK, so thanks so much for doing the interview. Welcome to the program, because I’ll start by. 

What would you say is the most important development if you could pick one thing about single women that you want people to know at this point in time, what would it be? 

Well, it’s really it’s it’s not so much about the quality of being single. It’s about the expansion of opportunity and the increasingly varied kinds of adult female life. 

That’s not possible for women. So it’s about the emergence of independent adult womanhood as a norm and not an aberration. 

And so that’s I mean, I know that’s kind of a big picture thing, but it really is. It’s about having. It’s about acknowledging adult women as humans. 

It’s a pretty big deal. Varied experiences, expectations, interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses and the potential for, you know, successes and failures and all that. It’s not all just about happiness and happy outcomes. It’s about the varied but full experience of adulthood. 

For a population that for generations was kept dependent on both another sex on men and on the institution that bound them to man legally, which was marriage. 

Now, where are we demographically right now in terms of the percentage of the female population that’s living single? 

Well, it depends on how you measure it. So it’s actually over 50 percent. But that number, over 50 percent of women are now married by like, you know, it’s really kind of 50 50. But that includes women who are never married, divorced, widowed and separated. So that’s a big bundle that the number and I should say also that the decline in marriage rates is really closely linked to the rise in marriage ages. So many people still do get married, although as the timing of marriage shifts, it becomes ever more possible and normal for women not to ever get married. And marriage shifts its place in adult life. So if it’s not the institution on which women have to depend throughout adulthood, it doesn’t have to kick off their adulthood. So it in fact, the median age of first marriage has risen. It stayed for as long as they tracked it, which began in the census, which began in 1890. And we can presume before that as well. Through 1980, it only fluctuated between 20 and 22. And today it’s over twenty seven. And it’s higher than that in many cities. So already, just by looking at the median age of first marriage, you see women having gained, you know, five to 10 years just by looking at the median of adulthood, lived outside of marriage as a sort of expected norm, which is pretty radical all by itself. 

So it’s become a phase of life that’s built into most people’s experience, that women are not going from their parents homes to their husbands homes immediately anymore like they did two or three generations ago. 

Right. Which which is. And there’s the heart of where the shift comes because so you have women living independently of marriage in the world and that, you know, again, whether that is for a year or for a lifetime, that alters the sort of gender complexion of the world. And of public spaces and professional spaces. But so the other I wanted to get back to the other numbers because so given that it’s the delay of marriage that kicks off the big impact on marriage rates, the number that’s really notable is that among 18 to 29 year olds right now, only 20 percent of them are married. And that is compared to 60 percent in the same age group in 1969. 1968 was a slightly elevated high because it was the baby boom where marriage was really being shoved down the throats of early marriage, was really being shoved down the throats of especially white middle class women. But that’s just by way of comparison. Within the lifetimes of our parents. That was that’s the radical shift we’ve seen as to move from 60 percent of 18 to 29 year olds to 20 percent of 18 to 29 year olds. And the other sort of factor is that only that is that 46 percent of Americans under the age of 34 are never married. So almost half of young adults under the age of 34 have never been married. 

What change to make this possible economically and politically? 

Well, all kinds of you look at that. This shift itself is not a poll is not a consciously politicized shift. It’s a behavioral shift. Right. The shift in marriage behaviors and in moving marriage away from being the sort of kickoff and defining cornerstone event, especially women’s adult lives, to being something that happens later or not at all. That is, it’s not for most people who are doing it consciously, political or feminist. No, but it may be a very few people. A few are are saying I’m rejecting marriage because it’s a patriarchal institution or, you know. I think it’s going to hold me back. There are people who are offering more practical, pragmatic versions of that. I want to focus on my career. I want to focus on my education. I don’t want to commit yet. I want to have a fun sex life. I want to have a fun social life before that. But mostly it’s not a politicized movement, but it is made possible by the very politicized movements of the mid to late 20th century, which, of course, themselves were made possible by the social movements of the late 19th and early 20th century. So you start from abolition and suffrage and the labor movement and the expansion of women into fields like nursing and teaching and into teaching unionism. And then there was the sort of mid 20th century, very strong quelling of women’s public power, emergent public power. And then you have the later 20th century social movements that emerged out of that, including feminism, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and tied into those. The legalization of abortion and access to birth control. And, you know, the sexual revolution, there were those major shifts of the late 20th century which won women new kinds of rights and opportunities, the possibility of controlling their reproduction, of determining when, if and under what circumstances they had children. And then coterminous with that was the revisiting of our sexual of our attitudes about having a liberated sex life outside of an advance of marriage. There was the entrance of more women into educational realms, the victories of things like Title nine, things that said, the political fights that sent more women into secondary education and to new kinds of professions. And, you know, victories in terms of their ability to live more economically equal lives. 1974 as Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Of course, coming out of the gay rights movement, you also see a move toward same sex marriage, which happened relatively quickly, but that also destabilized the meaning. It helped to shift the meaning of what marriage meant. All these things created conditions that now permit today’s women, even if they are not politically motivated to live lives that are very different from the lives of the generations that came before them. They’re simply more to do with life, with their lives than marry. And that was not true for a very long time. 

It seems like there’s a symbiotic relationship between single life and political engagement. Know political engagement of political activism is one of those things that having the single independent life is conducive to. 

Well, interestingly, in earlier generations, that was really sort of practic. Because. And to some extent, it still is. 

And people like Eric Klinenberg have found that unmarried women are more likely to be politically active, to be participants in the process, to attend rallies to, you know, to be out there participating in politics. 

And there is an echo there from what happened in the 19th century. So which is not to say that there weren’t married women who are participating in politics in the 19th century, but when there was this shift in population who in the 19th century, first of all, enslaved black women and men, their marriages weren’t legally recognized for a variety of reasons. 

That was about, you know, the inner 20, the attempt to control populations through controlling their marital and reproductive patterns. At the same time, marriage was often forced on enslaved people by by slave owners and after emancipation. Black marriage rates went up. So part of this is a pattern that happened with largely middle class white women. Not exclusively, but largely in at the end of the 19th century. A ton of men moved west and many of them were killed in the civil war. And there was a dearth of husbands on the East Coast and there was a population of middle. Class women on the East Coast who didn’t have men to marry. 

And what happened is that suddenly they found themselves with adult hoods that were unencumbered by their maternal and wifely responsibilities that had really eaten up the lives and the times, the energies of women. 

I mean, you know, you’re talking about a period in which women didn’t have access to birth control, in which there were laws that forbid them to possess birth control, in which the responsibilities for pretending to home enhance and participating in the cult of domesticity and being good Republican mothers really ate up every bit of energy and time from women. And here was this population of women who no longer were giving their energies to that domestic sphere. And what they did was begin. 

And by the way, this is also this is also a gendered expectation. 

They began to serve community. Right. Women are always supposed to serve something greater than themselves. So if not husbands and children, God, community, you know, to tend to the needs of others. But in the mid to late 19th century, there are these social movements participating and in your community and thinking about others led many of these women and even through religious revivals to meet each other and to begin to organize around battles for abolition, for suffrage, for temperance. 

It was unmarried, working women who stage some of the first walkout strikes at the at the mills and factories where they were employed and kicked off. The labor movement was often women’s strikes, the shirtwaist strike. Some of the walkouts in the local mills were some of the first protests of the labor movement. 

At the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century, you saw women expanding the field of teaching. And and in part, that was coming from a lot from simply the mechanics of having these lives that had they been spent as wives, would have been taken up with all kinds of different responsibilities and work. But there was an ability for them to participate more politically because they didn’t have the husbands and families weighing them down. So that’s where you see a real example of it. 

And then I think you can see echoes of it, even though those now in our in an era in which we can better control the size of our families, in which there are more equitable relationships, you know, there’s not the same kind of abyss into which a wife might fall in which there’s simply no time for anything else. 

But you still see unmarried women as being politically active in lots of ways, although it’s also one of the ironies and one of the real challenges electorally is that unmarried women often don’t vote even though their numbers are huge and they comprise a massive and powerful voting bloc. They’re one of the populations that it’s hard to bring to the polls for for a number of reasons. 

What are some of the reasons that are standing in the way of unmarried women becoming voting rights? There are a bunch of them. Page Gardner talks about this a lot, about the transience of unmarried women. 

So unmarried women who tend not to be tied to one place or are less likely to be tied to one place, tend to move around a lot, which makes registration difficult. 

Unmarried women who often and I talk about this a lot in the book, in part because of our embarrassing lack of social and economic policies that support their lives independent of marriage, often wind up being economically challenged. So forty two percent of single mothers live below the poverty line. This is, of course, exactly the population, the working class. Often women of color facing enormous economic challenge tends to be the population that is disenfranchized by by voting restrictions. 

That’s exactly who voting restrictions tend to hit. You also have the fact I mean, I believe that until very recently, politicians have not spoken to the experiences of single women. 

I mean, when politicians of every stripe and on every side of the ideological spectrum, they still talk in pablum about families. And you know that they’re talking about hetero, two parent families sitting around the kitchen table and main street and all that is not a reflection. 

That is a reflection of a mid 20th century white middle class. Norman Rockwell, in America, that does not resonate for so many Americans right now. And unmarried women are certainly part of that. And the number of policies that have been built around early married hetero life in this country, from tax breaks to housing subsidies, mean that for an enormous number of unmarried women, it hasn’t felt like politics has anything to do with that. 

I think we’re seeing a real shift in that, especially on the left. Obviously, when you’re looking at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who are both running on platforms that include all kinds of policies that are vital to the equaling up of opportunity for independent women from paid leave to paid sick days, to the raising of the minimum wage, to an aggressive protection of reproductive rights, the protection of equal pay. 

The address. Gendered and racial wage gaps are subsidized. Early education. 

All those are policies that suddenly and everybody sort of talking about the lurch to the left on the Democratic side. 

And I think there’s a real tendency to credit Bernie Sanders with pulling the party in that direction. 

But I actually think that Bernie winds up as a conduit for a direction that Democrats were already moving, maybe not even for consciously ideological reasons, but because these policies simply make so much more practical sense for the way that Americans live now, as opposed to the way that they lived in the mid 20th century. 

How has the meaning of single motherhood changed over time? 

Well, it has changed in terms of how we treat it popularly and in the media in some ways and has remained the same in other ways. 

So the marriage pattern started to change in their current iteration around the same time that the white middle class was being built, built with the help of the government through programs like the G.I. Bill that sent so many white returning servicemen to college. The subsidize suburban growth that, you know, the building of the levit towns and and the suburbs that were exclusively for for white families, the building of infrastructure and highways that connected those suburbs to the urban centers where there were the jobs, the sort of reinstatement of white middle class women in the home in the middle of the 20th century. 

All those same mechanisms cut off black families from those kinds of resources, which made marriage a far less practical possibility. Black men weren’t admitted to college at the same rates as white men. They were black families were excluded from the suburbs. The highways were cutting off their neighborhoods from public transportation and from the jobs. And when you make an economically challenged communities, marriage becomes less tenable institution. If you don’t, you know, if you don’t have the government subsidized homes in which to raise your nucular plant, nuclear patriarchal family, if you don’t have the jobs that make partnership with another adult and economically stabilizing proposition, then marriage becomes less practical. So you saw a real fall in marriage rates among African-Americans in the postwar years at the white middle class suburb was being built up. And at that point, what came out of that was the pathology rising of single woman of black, single womanhood, and particularly in particular, which you saw on the Moynihan report in 1965. And this sort of centering of systemic black poverty around this idea of the aberrant, matrilineal family structure and the mother led household. So you see a pathology ising that quickly led to vilification that was obviously taken up by Ronald Reagan in his battle against the welfare queen, the notion of the single mother who was living off the government. And you saw that again through welfare reform where that figure was was again invoked and vilified as the thing that that public policy needed to battle. It’s interesting because so much of the language that Hillary Clinton is being taken to task for that she used in the 90s in the discussion around welfare reform, was I actually think there’s not a defense, but I think trying to correct the vilification of the single mother because she was talking about deadbeats. And I think she’s talking about deadbeat dads as a sort of pushback. This note, it’s still bad. 

So now she’s sort of trying to even out the opprobrium to say, hey, why are we just vilifying the women when the men are getting off scot free? 

Right, right. So that we’re not just vilifying the women. We will also vilify poor fathers. But but but I do think that that’s part of what was going on then. But one of the things that’s interesting is that as the behavior of not marrying and having children outside of marriage has spread up the socioeconomic ladder and become imitated by and enacted by more privileged populations of women, it becomes discernable as liberation. So that the first instance of this that you saw was Murphy Brown, who was the and that’s in the early 90s. And she’s a television character played by by Candice Bergen. And she’s a kind of feminist. She’s a symbol of feminist success. She’s a very wealthy, successful newscaster who has a baby out of wedlock without being in a relationship with a man who who with whom she gets pregnant. And, of course, she was held up by Dan Quayle as as an enemy. But in fact, I think it was a symbol to some degree of liberation. And that’s a pattern that we see over and over again, behaviors that are developed in response to economic circumstances in poor and poor communities and often communities of color when they become appropriated by because they do often entail some salubrious reorganization of power and they become enacted by and imitated by more privileged populations. They become legible to us as as a form of liberation. So that’s how you get Sex and the City. And and so increasingly, you see single motherhood becoming a norm not just in economically challenged communities, but in what’s left of middle class communities and among privileged women who are having babies on their. And often, if they haven’t found a partner with whom they want to have a child and they, you know, and are availing themselves of, you know, expanded reproductive technology to be able to have kids on their own. And I think that that is read as liberation. I mean, of course, it’s also read critically as selfishness. As you know, there are all kinds of critical readings of this, but increasingly, single motherhood is a norm more than a norm. I mean, in an among first births to women under 30, more than half of them, I think 60 percent are to unmarried women. 

What percentage of those do you think are women who are having a child with somebody that they’re in a long term relationship with, but maybe not married versus women who are truly sort of single in the sense that we colloquially understand it? 

Yeah. I mean, I think what you’re seeing is also this is this is part of the issue is that unmarried can mean any number of things. 

It can mean you’re in a lifetime long cohabiting relationship. That, in fact, may be less likely to break up than a traditionally early married one. 

I mean, that’s one of the things some researchers have pointed out, that unmarried partners, unmarried parents in some of the Scandinavian countries have a far lower chance of breaking up than traditionally married spouses in the United States. So there are obviously many different paths that unwind outside of marriage. What do you think that is? 

Well, I mean, there are all kinds of different arguments about why it is. My argument would be that, you know, it’s the Scandinavian countries that provide the supports that make family life more stable in all its forms. I mean, that’s one of the things I’m arguing for in the book, is that if marriage is no longer the central organizing institution around power and around which we base our civic and social and economic policy, where you get tax breaks and housing subsidies for being married, where you know, the world is built around, I mean, and everything from the way our school days operate and the fact that we don’t have any kind of paid sick leave all this stuff in the United States. So we don’t have equal pay protections for men and women, that we don’t have anything like equal representation, that it took so long for women and people of color to to get the franchise in this country. It’s all created. It historically created a situation on which marriage was the institution that women had to rely. And it created a situation in which the government is assuming government and civic institutions are assuming that Americans live in this one configuration where there’s their husbands, one kind of American who does who do the earning and are in the public and political and professional spheres. 

And then one kind of American who for no wages or low wages, does the domestic and child rearing work and who does the work of picking the kids up from school at three and taking care of them during summer breaks? And who doesn’t need paid time off because chih the wives are not in the workforce and not in the public sphere. And that’s, those are really those are the conditions. And the institution around which our policies have been crafted in Scandinavian countries, as we know have been far better at crafting policies that acknowledge that men and women live independently of marriage and often of each other. And so one of the things that that does is create a kind of economic professional equilibrium and stability that I think makes all kinds of relationships more stable in the United States, since we don’t have those things from paid leave protections to to equal pay protections to really solidly, you know, protected reproductive rights and solid health care that’s available to people. You have all kinds of economic inequality. We know this is what we battle every day is what we talk about politically and live. We have tremendous economic inequality. And economic inequality makes marriage really difficult. I mean, that’s true across an, you know, a class spectrum. I mean, this is the kind of thing that Dr. Phil would say about rich people, that marriages and families become unstable when there is tension around money. And so in a country that doesn’t offer economic and social supports to keep its population relatively stable economically, what you have are unstable families. 

But then you’ve got the Republicans who are making this strange brief, four marriages. So it’s some kind of Band-Aid for inequality. Well, it doesn’t matter if you are nothing and your partner is nothing. You guys should get married and then you’ll be married and have twice nothing. 

Right. Well, that’s that is the flaw. You really hit the floor in the in the conservative dogma around this. There is this sense that marriage I mean, Marco Rubio said we have a great program to combat poverty, poverty. It’s called marriage. And the Bush administration sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the Healthy Marriage Initiative, which the Obama administration has continued, although it’s focused more on parenting than marriage, shifted its focus dramatically. There is this sense Mitt Romney gives it as an answer in 2012 in a debate when he’s asked about what can stem the tide of gun violence and he says, get married. You know, this is a cornerstone of Republican belief about what ails the nation is that it’s the later marriage, a lower marriage rates. And if people just started marrying again, we’d have order and. Make no sense. As soon as you think about it, because there’s no predicting marital stability, there’s no determining that a person who you sign up to live with and have a legal relationship with them potentially have a family alongside, is going to be somebody who brings either emotional or economic or domestic security into your life. And we all know just from lived experience, that it’s very hard to meet somebody. You know, some. In many cases takes a long time or a lifetime to meet somebody with whom you want to sign up to have this kind of partnership. And the idea that you can just force people into it. But it stems from an old pattern, which is people were forced into it in Ara’s when there were not other paths to independence for women. Women were forced into marriage because they were economically dependent on it. And I think that there are a lot of conservative politicians who have a real nostalgia for that time. And it may stem from a conscious acknowledgment of the fact that the power scales were tipped in a way that’s gratifying to them, or it may stem from real emotional nostalgia, you know, because that’s how it was for a long time. And it seems so. 

Norman Rockwell in and you know, and it’s maybe the combination of those things. There’s a romanticization of of the nuclear family and of the patriarchal family, as you know, the best era in the United States that often reflects the best Naess for the people within those structures who had the most power, which were white men. 

And it was kind of an epiphenomenon that because what made it possible was really worth great jobs in a rising standard of living in prosperity so that people could have these very expensive little private unit families. It wasn’t the private unit. Families made everything wonderful, of course. 

And it, by the way, the people who could have the great jobs and take advantage of the expanding economy. Well, first of all, it came out of the stabilization of the market. 

You know, the right I mean, the regulation of the market post depression and post wars, those regulate. So there was a kind of there was yeah, you’re right. There is this increasing economic stability that came from, you know, government intervention that regulated some stuff. 

And there was a government intervened to create housing and affordable education for a population of people, white men, and by failing to enforce equal pay protections. 

And, in fact, all kinds of things that encouraged women to stay home and make those men’s economic life possible by caring for their families. 

It took a lot of women off of the competitive playing field. 

I mean, we also have to look at that period and say there were all kinds of government machinations that worked to support white men’s robust economic development during that time. 

I mean, sadly, even unions. How union density was a big part of that prosperity. But unions weren’t necessarily taking all comers in that era either. 

They certainly weren’t. 

There was very low membership. I don’t have the numbers on this. But but obviously, there were you know, a lot of unions were primarily white. 

And as I said before, a lot of these the very government interventions that were enhancing, you know, economic stability for white families were cutting black families off from economic stability and possibilities. 

So. We have to we have to look at that period with a kind of jaundiced eye, that mid century middle class prosperity, and I said the other day to talk that it’s like that having to be the moment also when a lot of America’s pop cultural television and media took shape in a way that also was sort of coalescing. There were only a few television stations. It was the development of a sort of it’s like a moment at which America sort of took a selfie. You know, I said, this is who we are. 

But if you look at the actual conditions, it was an era of intense racial segregation. This was, you know, the Jim Crow South. It was the era that preceded the civil rights movement. You know, an era in which women who in the previous century had burst into colleges and second educated and secondary education were now dropping out from those colleges. It was it was an era in which the expanding opportunities of women and people of color that had marked the end of the previous century, those opportunities were being quelled in a very in a very direct way. And those populations were being pushed back. 

Do you feel like increasing sexualization in society has any impact on the social acceptability of being single? 

Well, sure, because there’s a sexualized fetishization of women. I mean, you know, gender inequality on sexual lines has also always taken many forms. And one of them is certainly the objectification of women. 

And because women increasingly are living outside of marriage and we attach, you know, imaginatively, one of the things that’s been done to both damaged them is to sexualize them and devalue them. Whether that’s to suggestions of promiscuity or empty headedness or that they are their sexual infantilization, that is Donald Trump wife insult battle was really a thing to behold. 

You have to do it, right. Right. And Donald Trump, you have to remember, is also a man who is openly in his past, regularly referred to women as pieces of ass on his better days. 

On his better days. Right, exactly. And so, yes, there is we attach because we sexualize you know, there are a variety of ways it scales on which we’ve been historically able to evaluate women’s worth. 

One of them is a wifely scale, a maternal scale. And then there’s also the esthetic sexual scale. And so for women who are not yet wives and may not be mothers, we kick right in with the esthetic scale. Men tend to look at them, especially when they’re young adults, through a hyper sexualized lens. And from that stems all kinds of assumption that single life must be like filled with sex. Now, that’s not the lived reality for many of us. And I read about that in the book, including me, including many of the women I spoke to for the book and many of the women who I’ve spoken to since its publication. 

But that is you know, that is one of the results we’ve seen, you know, as the as the population of of women living independently of marriage has grown is the sexualization of that population. 

I was when about the role of religion, too. Like whether increasing nonbelief and secularization have changed the acceptability of being single. 

I think that’s absolutely true. And I think that, you know, one of the things that you see here are in my book, I talk to some women whose paths as unmarried women have been harder because they come from communities of faiths, more conservative religious communities and families that still put pressure on them. 

But I think as you see the the movement away from those religious communities, which has been taking place in in recent decades, you also see a movement away from some of the religious frameworks that have that have encouraged early marriage and dependance on marriage for moral or religious reasons. 

You’re married and, you know, what was it like for somebody who’s thought so much about singleness and that sort of the meaning of being single to transition to being married to someone who’s also really progressive and interested in gender equality? Did it change anything for you personally? 

The marriage part did not change anything for me personally. The actual like getting married part, the part that was a radical shift for me was falling in love, because prior to meeting my husband, I had not ever had a relationship that had made me made my life feel good. I’d had one often on relationship that were with a lovely man with whom I remained friends. But it was absolutely not a good relationship. It didn’t satisfy either of us. And in fact, had made me sort of just unhappy and feel bad for the years I was in and out of it. But mostly I’d been single. I hadn’t had a partner through high school or college or the most of my 20s or my early thirties. And I never had fallen in love with somebody who loved me reciprocally. And I’d never had this experience. And it felt it was such a shock to my system, I hadn’t come to expect it. I’d associate, in fact, because of so many of the messages we still get about, you know, love is hard and you’re gonna feel bad sometimes. I just sort of reflexively thought that my rather grim experiences with romance was what romance was and that maybe I it’s just hard enough to participate in it. And then when I got into a relationship that was incredibly gratifying and made me feel so good and so happy all the time. It was an absolute shock to my system. And there was a period of adjustment, a tear. And I read about it in the book, especially social adjustment, because to have a partner, I’d lived this whole adult life. I’d lived, you know, more than a decade on my own alongside my friends and prioritizing certain things, including myself, my girlfriends, my work. 

And too, it wasn’t hard for me to make space for the man who’s now my husband. It was actually sort of startlingly easy. But the things that got moved around to make space for him were were losses. And I felt them keenly. 

And also, yes, that I will say that when it comes to marriage, the thing that in fact, in part inspired the writing of this book was that when we did decide to get married and some of the response from people who loved us and we’re very happy for us and, you know, we were so happy to have met each other and to be in love. 

But some of the response was so discomforting to me because it was treating the marriage, which was happening when I was thirty five and he was forty five as like the beginning of our adult lives together. 

I was so weirded out by things like people wanting us to have a registry where we registered for dishes. 

And I was like, wait a minute, we all we have dish, we have double dishes because we both had nice full lives. Like I had a kitchen full of dishes. He had a kitchen. We don’t need dishes, you know, we’re grownups. But there was still a sense in which the ceremony around marriage was still being treated as if it was the kickoff to adulthood when it so fundamentally was not. And I was extremely discomforted by that and wanted in fact, it was thoughts about that that led me to write this book, to be like, wait a minute there. You know, we’re living as adults. Marriage doesn’t make us adults anymore. And so I think that that transition led in part to the to the development of these ideas. 

That’s a really great story. Thank you. It’s a wonderful book, too. Thank you so much for coming on the program. 

Thank you so much for having me. It’s a really fun interview. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.