Apparently, people my age are incapable of romantic relationships. “Divorce rates are skyrocketing, women in developed countries are getting fewer and fewer children and they’re getting them later, too…” – rarely ever does a week go by without reading a headline portraying long-term, monogamous relationships and children as not just the norm, but as the only model of life that isn’t worrysome. That being said, I’ve admittedly waited with this one until I was in a relationship and I doubted that would ever happen because I didn’t want one, so my personal case might be indirectly supporting said notion. However, I’m not here to say “we all partner up eventually”, but rather to explain why staying single for the rest of my life wouldn’t have been a bad thing and why that opinion actually improves any relationships one might have.
But first, let’s get the “skyrocketing” divorce rates out of the way. It’s true, when we look at the past 50 years, divorce rates have grown (statistics for the UK here). But once you look closer, the statistics tell you something entirely different, but for that, changes in divorce law and women’s rights have to be taken into account. There seems to be a trend that any time people (particularly women, who were more likely to be submitted to their husbands throughout history) get more rights to divorce their partners (where, sometimes, even a mutually wanted divorce was impossible), divorce rates go up for a few years before then going down again. One example: According to the UK parliament, the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 caused a spike in divorces since there was no longer a guilty party necessary, as did the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923, which made it legal for women to leave their partners in case of adultery (instad of just leaving that option to the men) (link to the UK Parliament’s explanations here). When looking up that year’s divorce statistics, we can see that they went up sharply for that year and a few years afterwards, and then dropped again That tells us one thing with certainty: those relationships were unhappy at best (and unhealthy/abusive at worst) before separating was made possible, and consequently, people aren’t less able to stay with a partner, but they’re less obliged to stay in an unhealthy relationship they didn’t want to stay committed to, anyway. And were they truly able to stay with that partner before or were they forced to? I think the latter.
It astonishes me when people or newspapers assume that a divorcee just doesn’t want to “keep trying”. Few people divorce on a whim. Besides, why would you want to make someone keep trying? What is there to gain from a partnership if you are happier without it? And I don’t mean the financial benefits, I do recognize those. But I see that accusation thrown mostly at women – both in media and in the “real world” (if anyone still seriously cares to make that distinction) – and it makes me wonder: What is the underlying message of such accusations? I believe that when there’s conflict in a marriage, especially when it’s about big life decisions, women are still expected to yield to their partner’s wishes, and blaming them for not staying in a marriage to “save themselves” from divorce is just a tangible manifestation of such prejudice. A divorce based on those reasons (not being able to find common ground with a partner on vital topics or decisions) doesn’t sound like unability for emotions to me, it sounds more like being in tune with your emotions and listening to them so you can eventually be happier.
And lastly, waiting until you enter a committed relationship is actually a great idea. Explicitly looking for a partner means that you’re more likely to want to fill up a spot in your life with the first person that you feel like would fit into it acceptably. In the long run, that won’t be as good a partnership as would have been possible. Because someone needs to really be great if you decide to bring them into your already happy life that isn’t missing anyone. And in the meantime, we’re freer now to date casually, which means getting to find out what’s important to you in a partner, getting to know many people and learning that initial butterflies can sometimes end in disappointment just one week later. Now, that sounds a lot more emotionally mature to me than jumping into a relationship because “it’s just the right thing to do”. The notion of a romantically challenged generation needs to seriously be questioned and we need to ask ourselves: Why are we, as a society, seeing relationships as superior to singledom in the first place? And why is staying together unhappily or finding someone for a position like in a hiring process deemed better than trying alternatives?