At the dinner table one night I, as a young teen, was sharing news that a girl at school had excelled academically to the point that she could skip a grade. The response? “Yeah, but she’s ugly and she’ll never get married.” What? This message screamed at me. In fact, it was ingrained in me to the point of driving me to two goals: be pretty—get married.
Once when I asked why I wasn’t given a middle name. The response? “You won’t need it. When you get married, you’ll drop it anyway and use your maiden name in the middle.” When. Not if. When.
When my mother was trying to identify a woman she might have known as a teenager or young adult, she would ask, “Who was she before she married?” I always knew what she meant. She wanted to know a married woman’s maiden name. Once I decided to respond with a snippy retort, “She was the same person before she married as she was after.” I now regret the decision to sass my mother. However, the idea that marriage is strongly attached to a woman’s identity was another message that shaped my own sense of value. I needed a husband to protect and provide for me. That was the dream that my parents had for me. I willingly adopted that dream by going to college, not for a good education or training for the workplace, but for an “MRS” degree. It was okay with my parents, then, that I went to college because that was where a smart, successful husband could be found. Imagine my surprise at how many males I met who were neither smart nor headed for success.
But, I did get married and I did take my maiden name as my middle, and let me say I have never regretted that decision. Ever. But I wonder sometimes if the expectations for me to be a wife and mother hadn’t been so ingrained would I have raced the clock to get hitched? I was barely 21 on my wedding day after all. Didn’t want to be an old maid!
According to statistics compiled by pewresearch.org, in 1960 72% of U.S. adults were married. In 2014, less than half of Americans were married. In 1960, the median age at first marriage for both men and women was in the early 20s. In 2011, the median age at first marriage is an estimated 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. The reasons behind these changes in these 50+ years are varied, but I imagine that, for women, the change is due to more women receiving higher levels of education and more women in the workplace. Women are now more independent and don’t have to rely on a man to support her.
Another factor, of course, is that the present millennial generation couples are cohabiting rather than marrying. The day and place in which I was reared, living together without marrying was hardly ever an option. And being unmarried, never married that is, stigmatized women. Though nowadays the humiliation of being single is less attached, the strong desire to be married is still out there. For a woman who wants to be married, but isn’t yet, this might shape her sense of worth.
I found a blog entitled The Briefing written by Australian native Emma Thornett and it includes an entry called “Satan’s Lies About Singleness.” The untruths that she recognized, as a never-married woman, include: 1) you’re single because you’re undesirable 2) God is not powerful enough to find you a husband 3) you’re single because God doesn’t love you 4) getting married will fix all of your problems. One of the lies, however, speaks especially to the idea of personal worth. The lie is that since no one has married you, you have no value. Emma writes, “Someone marrying you will not make you valuable. Doing things for other people will not make you valuable. You cannot be made valuable, because you already are valuable. You are valuable because God Almighty himself tenderly created you—in his own image, no less! You were valuable the minute God wrote your days in his book and nothing that happens to you in this life can change that.”
Next up: Divorced women discuss how their marital status greatly affected their sense of value.