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Do most women want ‘to put a ring on it?’

So this whole name game discussion – do we keep our last name when we get married or not – has me thinking about perceptions we might have of each other based on marital status.

‘Single’ and ‘married’ are defining tags for women and they each carry such weight. When I typed those words, images popped into my brain for each, most based on pop culture rather than reality. But in my opinion, men do not face as much stereotyping based on these categories. This is what I’ve learned from television: a man who is single at 40 is an eligible bachelor. A woman who is single at 40 is broken. Our culture, our media, our movies/TV/magazines tell us a single man is a catch, while a single woman is desperate and incomplete. A single man is valued as a treasure to be nabbed and a single woman is expected to be on the prowl, knocking herself out to find Mr. Right. We think, “He’s going to be make some woman very lucky” and “Maybe she’ll get very lucky and meet the right guy.”

I can fall into some of these thinking patterns. I always hope my single girlfriends are able to meet a life partner worthy of them. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but there isn’t one close single woman in my life I haven’t put some matchmaking thought and energy into. I even ask my husband, “Do we know anyone we might set ____ up with?” Have my single female friends asked me to play yente? Some, but not all. Am I particularly talented at being a matchmaker? No. Does my desire to match up my female friends perpetuate the idea that a woman isn’t complete without a partner? Yes, I think it might and I’m really annoyed that I’ve come to this realization about myself.

Ironically, soon after I signed my own marriage certificate, I started to think of single women as having more fun, more freedom, and more independence than married women. They seem to have a different spark. But maybe I just watched too much Sex and the City. Still, I do romanticize and glamorize what it’s like to be single. It’s a two way street, I suppose. One of my best, unattached girlfriends recently told me I didn’t know how lucky I was, how easy I had it, now that I’m married. I threw my head back and laughed. EASY?! Ah, that’s a good one…

How about you? Do you attach any qualities to other women (or yourself) based on marital status? Do your feelings about single men differ from that of single women?

How about the terms ‘divorced’ or ‘widowed’ – what kind of weight do they carry for you?

- Robyn Okrant

33 Responsesto “Do most women want ‘to put a ring on it?’”

  1. cathleen carr says:

    Ugh. Anytime I meet a cute guy I immediately think about who I can set him up with…pathetic.

      • ellenpie says:

        I had a crazy day and am late to this, but I hereby declare that you don’t have to fix us up. Really. We’re just fine, us single, well into our 30s and 40s and never been marrieds. And if you think you are not fine, or inferior, let me remind you: YOU ARE!

        A few months ago I had to re-educate my own mother on this topic, as she casually dropped into a conversation that “she had a friend, who had a friend who SHE thought might be nice for me.” This was the equivalent of a bomb dropping out of the sky – there was no lead in, just whammo out of the blue into an otherwise enjoyable mother-daughter outing.

        Translation: mom, who should know better than to even bring up the topic of set ups, had NEVER met the guy, who was “late 30s, already owned a home in the suburbs, stable, blah blah blah.”

        When I politely said no thank you, my mom (in a motherly tone I had not heard since adolescence) said “I’d just really like to know the reason” I replied “I am not six. I don’t have to supply a reason, the answer is NO.” Subject changed!

        My poor sister got the rant: “Does she know me at all? Husband, ok. Kids, maybe. Suburbs? NEVER! And set-ups: NEVER – and at the very least, she should know that! And really, what does a late-30s never married guy who already owns a home want but a wife to fill that home with babies, which I am not sure I want, and refuse to feel guilty about?”

        Growing up, I had a rule: No marriage before 30. I knew that almost as certainly as I knew I’d be keeping my last name. I am equally certain that this rule came from watching my parents, who were married and divorced by the tender age of 27 and 30 repsectively. Neither of them did anything “wrong” – they were simply too young to be married – as much as they loved eachother. I surpassed my rule, and before I knew it here was 35. Then came 40. Relationships have come and gone, and during this time something really important has happened to me, internally, as a woman:

        I’ve realized I’m just fine by myself. Yes, it would be nice to have someone, but that person, who ever he is, has to come at a time when I know my life is already complete, and I want him there – not to make my life complete (or because I feel I need him there).

        My wish is that every woman knows this about herself on the day she gets married, and doesn’t get married ONE minute before. Yes, there is pressure, and many would stigmatize. But more and more, I think women are waiting not ONLY for the right guy, but until THEY are the right gal, and that is equally important (if not more so for our long term happiness and fulfillment).

        Happy Friday! :-)

  2. Kate says:

    I’m single. I’m 35 and never been married. I’ve been in a couple of long term relationships, though I’m not in one now.

    Most (ok all) of my friends are married or in serious relationships, and let me tell you it’s so hard to not feel inferior being around them.

    I’m asked alot why I’m not dating…. should I try online dating? maybe so and so has a single friend for you. Don’t worry there’s still time. It’ll happen when it’s meant to. Have you tried singles cruises, outings, trips? All delivered with a look of pity and discomfort. The running joke is that I’m turning into the crazy cat lady, what an ego boost.

    When I tell people that I’ve never been married..(NEVER BEEN MARRIED?? REALLY??? and you’re how old??) they immediately start looking for what’s wrong with me. It’s like I’d be more of a normal person to them if I had gotten married to someone that I wasn’t compatible with and had to get a divorce rather than ending the relationships before they got to that point.

    Total Single Stigma around here. I do my best to not feel like the 3rd, 5th, 7th wheel when out with friends. I’m forever telling them not to invite me to things out of pity. I have people in my life at the opposite spectrum that purposefully leave me out of things because they are uncomfortable that I won’t have a date to bring on trips or out to dinner. That’s fine by me, I’d rather not be around people if they view my relationship status as part of my worth as a friend and human being.

    I like my alone time and very few of them get that. Comments like “we didn’t want you sitting at home alone” tick me the heck off. I am not less because I’m not in a relationship, nor am I pathetic, broken, full of issues, uninteresting or not a whole person. I enjoy doing stuff alone, going to museums, movies, shopping and when I talk about it people look at me like I have 3 heads.

    The comment about being a single woman = broken is unfortunately the way a lot of people honestly think. I wish it would change and that people could just accept each other for who they are, single, married or otherwise.

    I would love to be in a relationship, however I will not be in a relationship for the sake of having a significant other, I want to have a partnership, something real and healthy and I haven’t found it yet. So until I do, I’ll be single.

    • readysetwife says:

      I am such an emotional sap – I’m sitting here crying reading your post. KATE, this is beautiful. WTF are we women doing to ourselves and each other? You totally spoke for the way I felt when I was single. I don’t have anything to add because you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. Thanks for writing.

      • Kate says:

        No no no……thank YOU for wanting to explore this topic.

        You have no idea how happy it makes me that people want to discuss this and realize that it’s a problem.

        And being an emotional sap myself, I teared up because you actually get it.

  3. Megan says:

    Hi Robyn,

    I agree: Kate hit the nail on the head and there is not much to add to what she says, though I’ll try.

    I am 39 and single (OMG OH NO ALMOST 40!) and I feel all of the stigma that Kate feels. I find it sort of baffling that in this “modern era,” in 2010, when women are able to be breadwinners, suitors, power-hungry executives, rule-makers, secretaries of state… there is still a pervasive and thinly veiled belief that a single woman in her late 30′s is somehow defective. I mean really. This isn’t 1952 for fuck’s sake. Can we open our minds a little?

    And yet even I sometimes buy into this dumb and belittling ethos. Occasionally in my least confident moments I think: “hey wait. maybe there IS something wrong with me? why can’t I get a goddamn date?” When in reality, I in fact CAN get a date, but dating isn’t such a high priority for me that I’m willing to spend time with someone who’s not right for me, or who I’m not right for, or who is just pursuing sex but nothing else (after all, I’m not in my 20s anymore), or who is too broken to be a good partner. I also don’t pursue men who are married, or men who are good guys who are single but just aren’t interested in me. In short: I would love to be in a healthy, committed relationship, but I am not so naive to think that I can “force it,” and I’m not so desperate that I’d try to do just that.

    Sometimes when strangers ask me, “are you married?” I have to exercise great restraint to not respond with: “no. AND I’M NOT DIVORCED EITHER!” I used to think that at least this should be something to point out – that I didn’t enter into the wrong marriage just for the sake of having it – but again, Kate is right. At my age it is far more acceptable to be divorced than to be single and never married. What is everyone smoking?

    The worst pressure usually comes from those whose intentions are the best. My mom, for example, is pretty consistently buggin’ out about my single status. Even though she tries to be hip and liberal and savvy… she’s still a mom, and she was born in the 40s, and she’s worried that I’ll get older without “someone to take care of me.” Obviously I can take care of myself, but that’s not the issue. Her concern is that I won’t be *happy.* Which gets me thinking: are all married people happier, on the whole, than single people? Is it really a curse to enter my 40th year without a man on my arm? Or is it a blessing to know that I am independent enough to be where I am without a partner and to love and value myself regardless?

    Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes not having someone to make out with, and tell inside jokes with, and make breakfast for, is so painful it’s almost maddening. But better to feel the pangs of loneliness occasionally than the anguish of being in the wrong relationship. In my opinion anyway.

    And like Kate, I am well-adjusted and kind and smart. Not the crazy dog lady, not an eyesore, and not a bitch. I’m just not seeing anyone right now. And that’s OK.

    • readysetwife says:


      One of my favorite lines in your comment is “At my age it is far more acceptable to be divorced than to be single and never married.” From a cultural standpoint, it’s so true. I never thought about that. But…WHY?!?!?!?!

      You are definitely not a crazy dog lady and far from an eyesore. Isn’t it totally effed up that a random age brings this stuff up? It’s happening for me because I’ve chosen not to have kids. I don’t doubt that choice…but with 40 on the horizon, I feel judged and even judge myself (and worry if I’ll regret this for the rest of my life).

      Why, if we see these ridiculous boxes we’re shoved in, do we keep allowing ourselves to get shoved in? Or shove ourselves and those we care about in? And why am I obsessed with box metaphors? And shoving?


    • Kate says:

      Ok first, thanks for the compliments.

      Second. I didn’t even think about the mother effect. Good Lord if I have to hear one more time about needing someone to take care of me, or about how she not only thinks I can’t be happy without being married but actually argues with me and tells me she doesn’t believe it when I tell her that I am in fact happy.

      How happy did her abusive, cheating, crazy ass husband make her?

      • such great convo, ladies! Personally, I felt great waiting until I was 31 to marry, and I totally admire women who wait longer, or are not married at all by whatever age. If a woman is strong, independent, and like Megan, “Not the crazy dog lady, not an eyesore, and not a bitch,” then there’s a lot to admire in the face of the pressure society puts on you, and the occasional and understandable experiences of loneliness and wish for the right companion. Keep hanging in there Kate & Megan!

  4. This is very thought-provoking, b/c I, like Robyn do sometimes envy the green grass on which those singles frolic; but at the same time, I feel so lucky to have my husband – a real “partner” and companion as Kate is looking for; this limits the amount of envy I might have.

    Two points:
    On the original post: I recently heard a report that married men are healthier and live longer than single men (sure, the married men have a home, family in many cases, and someone to take care of/manage that home/family and make their lunch – guilty! – and/or dinner, and watch the kids, etc.), while married women do NOT enjoy this same health increase at the same level (no, they’re too busy multi-tasking – in many cases working a regular job, being a parent, cleaning the house, managing the household, etc.). Interesting, in’t it? :-)

    Second point:
    On the heels of Kate’s experience with others’ response of, “NEVER BEEN MARRIED? REALLY???” – I will say that childless (a-hem, child-”FREE”) couples of our age experience the exact same head-blowing-off syndrome by their peers with a litter. (Now, I’m 43 and still do think I’m invincible and we could have a child yet, if we decide to; but I kind of like defying the expectations, and still having a lot of freedom whilst being married).
    (how about that, I put “whilst” in a post.)

  5. Marianne says:

    Funny how are perceptions are. I feel more stigmatized by my marriage failing than if I had never been married.

    • Megan says:


      Funny and maddening, since there should be absolutely no stigma attached to either situation. I see no purpose for shame in having never found the right person to marry, and equally, no purpose for shame in making an honest attempt at marriage and having it not work out. It’s crazy to judge someone based on either of those things.

    • Kate says:

      This begs me to ask the question about perception….Do we actually feel more stigma than what is actually there because of our own beliefs, planted by our upbringing, of what it means to be a whole, healthy person?

      I know a lot of it is real and does come from other people, but do the lessons we were taught as children lead us to make assumptions about how other people perceive us?

  6. Kate says:

    I feel like a total stalker, but work is slow and thoughts keep popping into my head about this topic, and I am so enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts on a subject that I rarely discuss with my friends.


    One of the things I HATE is that the most popular response when asked my status and I say single is “Why?”.

    First off, that’s so rude and it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. I don’t ask why you got married, and if we’re just at the point where you’re learning that I’m single, we’re sure as heck not at the point where I want to discuss that with you.

    I hate that my gut reaction is to feel like I actually need to answer the question, justify my situation, and make sure that I carefully word it so I don’t come off as a pathetic social misfit.

    I’m just now at a point where I can get past the gut reaction and blow it off and don’t answer it and feel confident not answering it.

    • Megan says:

      you should answer “why are you single?” with the question, “why are you narr0w-minded and pathetically lacking in manners?”

      (yeah, I get cranky about it sometimes too. who wouldn’t?)

  7. cathleen carr says:

    Hey everyone- this is a kick ass conversation!
    I think a lot of our adult perceptions come from what we learned as kids. (Everything comes from our childhood, right?) My parents were really into each other- intellectually, sexually (gross, I can’t believe I just wrote that!), spiritually (they are both ministers, remember.) As a result, it’s burned into my psyche that the only way to trudge through this shitstorm of life is with your super groovy partner by your side. But, for me, that lesson came with deep consequences. Before I met my husband, I was in a really long and really bad relationship. But I never made the move to break it off because I felt like I had my partner and now it was up to me to make the most of it. Luckily he split, leaving me with the cats, all the clothing I had ever purchased as gifts for him and a pile of scrap wood with rusty nails that he was going to use to make an “art project.” Oh, and some credit card debt. In fairness, I wasn’t the most enjoyable person to be around either, because I was MISERABLE. It was my “duh” moment- it’s not worth being in a poor relationship for the sake of companionship. It’s so obvious but sometimes we need to live through the most obvious lessons in life in order to really understand them. Meeting my husband was good old fashioned luck. I’m not and have never been a dater. So, I’m right there with you Megan.
    Culturally, nothing is ever enough. Single. “Why are you single.” Unmarried partnership. “Why aren’t you married?” Married without kids. “Don’t you want kids?” Married with kids and a stay at home mom. “Don’t you want the fulfillment of a career?” God, it’s so terrible, isn’t? Is it like this in Europe?

  8. ellenpie says:

    ps: that first sentence: You ARE FINE and you are NOT inferior! long day at the typewriter!

  9. ellenpie says:

    ps the first line should be read: You are fine, and you are not inferior!

  10. Kyra says:

    OK, I know the last comment on this conversation was a few days ago, but I felt the need to add my own thoughts. With the exception of moms, because their moms, you know what I never understand about the “why aren’t you married,” or “why don’t you have kids” question? Why does it matter to anyone?!?! Seriously, how does it personally affect some person you have just met, or even your friends, whether or not you’re married? Or if you’re having kids? We all make these choices for very personal reasons, and why does everyone else care so damn much? Also, maybe something happened to that person you don’t know about, and they don’t want to share it. Maybe they were in a horrible abusive relationship, or maybe they’ve been trying to have kids for five years and are infertile. Some people are just so insensitive.
    With that being said, I totally try and set-up my single friends- BUT!!!! These are all all women, and a couple of men, who have asked me to “find someone” for them. Ugh, what pressure! As of now, I haven’t set anyone up, because I wouldn’t set-up people I care about with just “someone.” I would only match up my friends with people who would be a good fit. If their only criteria is that they’re single, too, then it’s not a good fit.

    • Kate says:

      I think it comes from a couple of different places.

      Some of my friends genuinely want to see me happy and they know that I do ultimately want to be in a relationship. They try to help which really isn’t help at all, but it comes from a place of concern for my well being so I let it slide.

      Some people are so stuck on happiness = marriage and a couple of kids that they are actually uncomfortable with anyone outside of that “norm”.

      I suspect the no kids thing is probably pretty similar.

    • cathleen carr says:

      Right on! Also, I think sometimes we think we’re being judged by others when in reality we’re not. I get in my head so deeply sometimes that I forget that everyone else is knee deep in their own neurosis.

  11. Beatrice says:

    Marrige could be a very nice thing with the right person. But over all it is OVERRATED… I married at a age that some people consider late (37 yrs old). I spent my whole live since 3rd grade actully (sad I know) dreaming of being married. I never really focus on knowing my self, knowing what I really want in life. I always thought Marrige was the true answer to happiness. Well I have been married for 7 years and wow what a joke that is. I mean marrige does not bring happiness. Some people tried to tell me that marrige does not bring happiness but you have to bring that on for yourself. Well at the time I didn’t believe them. How I wish i did. Marrige is hard work and then when it’s a blended family cituation it makes it even harder. I feel so depress and lonley even though I have a MAN…wow. I felt I had to marry him because if not no one else is going to ask me and being in my late 30′s at the time. I guess I was afraid of being alone. But I have great family (Mother, sister, nephews, nieces and so forth) and friends. I feel more alone now with a husband then I did when I was single…But I’m in it for better or worse and we have a 6 year old together so I have to make this work…I now realize I really did enjoy being single…Don’t have to answer to nobody but God. And the freedom to just do what I wanted to do, what I enjoy doing without having to answer to someone and explain why this makes me happy.
    Believe me I know for a fact that there are a lot of women out there who are married that are really sad and lonely. But hey we got a MAN….

    • robyn okrant says:

      Thanks for this story Beatrice. I know a lot of women who seem to want to be *married* more than they want to find the best partner to go through life with. I believe what you’ve shared is so important. I’m blown away by your honesty and I’m grateful you shared this. xo

  12. MemeGRL says:

    Wow–awesome comments here. I am so sad for some of these people and thinking what a Rorshach it is for their friends who are asking why they are single or implying they are lonely! I was just checking in to say that I have set up friends too but not because I think everyone has to be paired off—but because they asked. If friends don’t ask, I don’t volunteer. Great relationships are awesome but hard to come by, and often harder for those leading interesting, fulfilling lives! Yikes.
    All that said–it took us a long, long time to be ready to have kids, and then to actually conceive. But I never once minded when people asked. It’s a natural question and while it’s somewhat personal, no one ever asked in a mean way. It struck me as pointless–the possibility of horrible answers is pretty high–but for the most part I felt like the person asking was coming from a loving place.
    Anyway. Awesome blog. Thanks!

    • robyn okrant says:

      Hey MemeGrl! So good to have you here. See – as someone who isn’t planning on having children for many reasons – I do get a little prickly when people assume we’re going to have them, or grill me on why I haven’t had them yet. But you are right – for the most part – it comes from a place of love.

      I’m so happy to see your pretty face (or blog name) on this site! xo

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