In response to my last article, Why Are You Still Single?, I received the following email (with a few edits for clarity):
I have three sisters with whom I’ve talked about the fact that I have not been married… and that women seem to take a shortcut in sizing me up. As I have not been married, many women assume I had chances and wouldn’t commit OR that no woman would want me so why would they (as if all women are alike!). This is the brutal honesty I could get only from women who would level with me (my sisters) contrasted with non-female relatives whom my sisters tell me want to spare my feelings.
I made a TERRIBLE personal decision that I had no way of knowing at the time was horrible. I had no idea that if by my mid-thirties I didn’t marry someone — ANYONE — my future prospects would diminish dramatically!!!!! It is the classic cousin of the paradox, “You can’t get a job until you have experience, and you can’t get experience until you get a job.” I can’t get married a first time IF it wasn’t done by this arbitrary cutoff. And, yes, Erika, I imagine you know people who HAVE been married for the first time past their mid-thirties. But isn’t it true that the majority take that step before that cutoff? As Pink Floyd sang (if you know that British rock group), “No one told me when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
I now feel chances are low that I can find a mutually satisfying person with whom to get serious about—marriage or not. My mother warned me when I was in my late twenties and thirties to marry someone, anyone. I thought her crazy! Why do that and have to go through a messy and painful divorce???? I had NOOOOOO idea that being divorced once is FARRRRRRRR better when pursuing a new relationship than never having taken that walk down the aisle. In baseball parlance, it is FARRRR better to have struck out than never having come up to bat marriage-wise. Sad but true.
Thanks so much for writing and for sharing your thoughts with me. It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? Like you said, it’s much like the job paradox: you need experience to get the job, but without the job, you don’t have experience. I wish I could sugarcoat what you’re saying, but sadly, people do sometimes assume something is “wrong” if you haven’t been married by a certain age. Granted, this generally occurs more on online dating sites than in person because marital history is given the exact same weight as variables such as age, hair color, education level, etc. People use it as a way to rule people out. As I always tell my clients, everyone has a story, and it’s important to hear it out.
I agree with you 100% that if you had the intuition to know that a relationship wasn’t going to work out in the long run, it’s better not to have gone through a divorce since you figured it out before getting married. It’s all in how you frame it. If you become defensive, someone may think there really is something wrong. You could instead say, “I had the foresight not to marry the wrong person… now I’m excited to meet the right one.”
While I didn’t say this in my initial response to this question, I’d like to add it here now:
Everyone has something that’s perceived as a “red flag” to someone else. Maybe it’s your education level, your height, your hair color, your age, your religion, your body type, or your marital status. All we can control is what we put out there — the truth. What we can never control is what people do with that information and what conclusions they draw from it.
As you know, people always assume things when they don’t have all of the information, so the fact that you’ve never been married and don’t have children may prevent some women of interest from reaching out or responding because they don’t know your story. (This is true for women, too.) That’s not something we can control, unfortunately. The right ones will be open-minded enough to hear it out.
So, for this dater, and others with the same question, if it’s something that you’d like to get out of the way in your profile, I’d suggest saying something simple about it, like one of these lines:
- “I’m not one to shy away from committed relationships, and I look forward to starting this portion of my life with the right person.”
- “I value relationships with family — yours and mine. I’ll gladly welcome you as you come, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.”
Here’s my last point:
Just as no one wants to be asked such personal questions on a first date, like, “Why are you divorced?” people also don’t want to be asked, “Why haven’t you been married?” These questions often bring up bad memories or immediately put someone on the defensive. These are very private questions that should be answered on someone’s own time. When it comes down to it, it is no one’s business why someone is not married (at any age). You can’t prevent people from making assumptions (which are probably wrong). That, of course, goes for things beyond dating, like why someone may be overweight or shy or jobless. No one can know the causes, but assumptions are often made about these things, too. We certainly can’t stop people from asking these and much more personal questions (as we all know!), but do remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your life choices… especially on a first date.