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Marriage Is on the Decline -- But Single Still Feels Weird

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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?