For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960 It is a radical upheaval, a national reckoning with massive social and political implications.
Across classes, and races, we are seeing a wholesale revision of what female life might entail.
We are living through the invention of independent female adulthood as a norm, not an aberration, and the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually, or reproductively dependent on or defined by the men they marry.
This reorganization of our citizenry, unlike the social movements that preceded it and made it possible — from abolition and suffrage and labor fights of the 19th and early-20th centuries to the civil-rights, women’s, and gay-rights movements of the mid-20th century — is not a self-consciously politicized event.
Many single women, across classes and races, would like to marry — or at least form loving, reciprocal, long-term partnerships, and many of them do, partnering or cohabiting without actually marrying.
By the time I walked down the aisle — or rather, into a judge’s chambers — in 2010, at the age of 35, I had lived 14 independent, early-adult years that my mother had spent married.
I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit.
The most radical of feminist ideas—the disestablishment of marriage — has been so widely embraced as to have become habit, drained of its political intent but ever-more potent insofar as it has refashioned the course of average female life.
I am not arguing that singleness is in and of itself a better or more desirable state than coupledom.
I had had roommates and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling.I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself. In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent.