For some people, getting married is the ultimate relationship goal. In fact, for some it’s the ultimate life goal. But for other women, that’s just not the case. There are a lot of women out there who are in happy, loving, long-term relationships who just don’t feel the itch. Looking at why these women haven’t tied the knot provides an interesting insight into changing views on marriage. Marriage rates are down, but for the people who do get married, it’s an immensely important event in their lives. So where do the differing views come from? Of the women I spoke to, some were actively against the idea of marriage, but for most, it wasn’t necessarily about being for or against it. Marriage just wasn’t a priority, in their lives or in their relationships.
It’s important to look at these views because, as marriage rates decline, there shouldn’t be any judgment or tension between women who choose to mark their long-term relationships with marriage and those who don’t; recognizing both sides of the coin can help us understand one another as women.
Some Couldn’t Get Over the Tradition
Some people just aren’t into the idea of marriage for themselves; that being said, I didn’t find anyone who thought that meant that other people shouldn’t get married—and love every second of it. “I just can’t shake the tradition of it,” says Helen, who has been in a relationship for six years. “I know that times have changed, but for me I can’t get past the idea of its sexist roots. Though I am genuinely so excited for my friends who want to get married when it happens for them, because I know what it means to them. But it doesn’t have the same significance for me, so I’m just not feeling it.” Even among women who don’t want to do it themselves, there was total respect for others’ choices.
But for Most, It Was About Priorities
“Getting married has never been a priority for us, and especially not in the huge, all-encompassing, and expensive way that seems to be in vogue at the moment,” says Harriet, who has been with her partner, Eric, for 14 years. “Buying our apartment together was a big step, but actually taking the plunge and moving in together after so many years was far more impactful.” A lot of women found that there were other ways they had marked commitment—like moving in together or buying a home—that were as important to them as marriage.
Interestingly, Harriet found watching the stress of other people’s weddings to be a turn-off. “Watching friends get engaged and married over the last few years has been wonderful but terrifying,” she says. “These normal and rational and wonderful women have gone from 'just a simple ceremony within our means’ to getting engaged and turning into absolute bridezillas. I am an event manager by trade and know the stress of putting together even the smallest of parties. Watching couples struggle with this and the fact it would be a bit of a busman's holiday for me has meant that for the two of us, a wedding—and especially a big wedding—is firmly on the back burner.’”
Others found that even though they weren’t particularly interested, there were still some elements of a wedding they felt they were missing out on. “I have no desire to get married, but every time friends of mine announce their engagement, I still get this weird pique of anger/jealousy,” says Sarah, who has been in a relationship for five years and lives with her partner. “A party would be nice, but too expensive, and holidays are nicer. The only thing that could change things is if our parents help us out with getting a house.” It’s easy to see how, with expensive rents, impossible down payments, and just wanting to be able to enjoy living your life, saving for a wedding would fall to the background—especially if you already feel committed in your relationship.
But there was also a sense of a wedding being a marker, something that sets you up for other next steps. If you don’t want those, the reasons for getting married may seem less clear. As Emma muses: “It’s always felt weird to me that culture encourages women to focus so much on that one fairy-tale day and never really think about what happens afterward.”
Remember: It’s a Choice
Although there was no judgment of women who did want to get married, some women felt that they were judged by their decision not to. “The only time I get upset is when friends keep asking me when I’m getting married,” Helen says. “Even though I’ve explained my views on it, they keep acting like if I suddenly love my partner enough, I’ll change my mind. I love my partner, I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life with him, and I don’t need to get married to know that. I wish my friends understood.” Keep in mind, these are big life choices and everyone is different. One of the beautiful things about marriage today is that we have choices, and as women, supporting one another is so important—no matter what those choices might be.