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The Dreaded Question: Why Aren't You Married?

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We survived another Valentine's Day.

The day that is marketed as love, roses and chocolate has become, for many, to be as much about being single as it is about being in love. For many people, a discussion of being single often leads to or is started with the dreaded question, "Why aren't you married?"

Not too long ago, over dinner with two older couples, I encountered the dreaded question head-on during the salad course. A kind older gentleman asked me, innocently, "Why aren't you married?" Before I could stumble through an answer, a very sweet Midwestern lady looked at me from across the table and assured me that I need not worry about being single because "there is a lid for every pot."

I have to give her credit, I have never heard this one before. It was humorous. Fortunately, the humor cut the annoyance. The annoyance of being asked the dreaded question yet again. The annoyance of being offered comfort for something that does not make me uncomfortable.

As a Southern transplant in the Midwest, I had hoped this was a small-town-Southern-thing. Now, I realize that this is not a Southern thing. It is ubiquitous. It is a cultural thing. I had hoped that this pressure to marry would not follow me to the Midwest. But, as my Grandmommy would say, "You can wish in one hand and pssst in the other and see which fills up first." No such luck.

The sweet lady who assured me that my pot has a lid was just being kind. Naturally, she assumed that I must be upset and stressed because I am 35 (gasp) and have never married. She, like many, go into sympathy/reassurance mode when learning that I've made it past 30 without getting married. I often wonder; do people worry that if their unmarried friends aren't married by some arbitrary point ,they will fall into the "oh, s/he has never been married, what is wrong with him/her" category? These kind, reassuring married people will tell you "that it is OK," "there is one out there for you," and "you have plenty of time" amongst other things. They will say all of that without taking a moment to consider or even ask how you might feel about be single. They just go straight to "oh no," as though someone died. Maybe, dare I say it, we are happy being over 30 and single.

Who decided that being single and 30- or 40-something is a bad thing? I could be cynical here and say that the marrieds respond this way because misery loves company. But, really, most people are conditioned to believe that there is only one path that "the normal" people follow; they cannot organically conclude that happiness can happen without a lid, that happiness comes from inside and not from someone else.

The truth is that most women (and men) who are single in their 30s and 40s are not single because they made some command decision to be single. They did not plan it that way; life just happens. I did not plan to be 35 and unmarried living in the Midwest with a mortgage and a dog. That, while great, is not the in the dreams and plans of any 15-year-old girls I know. In gambler terms, we all play the hand we are dealt, and so far, a wedding hasn't been in the cards for me. The good news is that my unmarried life has presented many fabulous things that I never planned or could have predicted: a great job that has nothing to do with practicing law; travel that has included standing on the Great Wall of China, watching the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo from the Casino turn, and feeling the wind on my face as I look out at the Cliffs of Moher; and deep and meaningful friendships. I would not trade those experiences and gifts for the man that I would have married when I was 20 or 25.

Although, I do sometimes wonder if my life would be better if it fit more neatly into what our culture sees as normal: if I were married. When I do that I always go back to the same thing. After learning to be happy by myself and encountering the dreaded question more times than I can count, I know that relationships are great and everyone wants one, and that is OK, but no one is going to die if they do not find a relationship, or lid, that fits. It is far better to be older and single than older and in a relationship that doesn't fit.

Please remember, folks: Being single is not a bad thing. It is just not being married.