Going through divorce has opened my eyes to the many subtle (and not-so-subtle ways) society views women without husbands. While it’s no longer a mark of disgrace to live life as a single lady, it still carries an unsavory stigma: unmarried woman are somehow looking for trouble.
“How’s that man of yours?” a mom in my small community asked about my boyfriend of two years. It’s a common question. People have been naturally inquisitive since I’d met Tim, a man with a degree in nutrition who taught me how to weight lift and eat clean. I’d always worked out, but he helped me transform my mom bod and regain my confidence after infidelity fractured my marriage.
After making some small talk, she asked when we were taking our relationship to the next level. I confided in her that things weren’t always easy and that we take things day-by-day, as there are a lot of adjustments to be made with three kids between us. It simply wouldn’t be fair to them if we moved in together or got married.
The next day, I got a rather accusatory call from a woman in our shared group of friends. When she blatantly asked me how I knew another woman’s husband, I told her I had met Shannon’s husband at a friend’s pool party years ago. “Why do you ask?” I pressed. “Because you’re friends with the husband on social media, but not the wife,” she hissed.
The conversation struck me as odd since I am friends with both of them, not only Facebook, but Instagram, too. They have two beautiful children and I hadn’t spoken to either of them since that pool party. Further, I had not given this man a single iota of my attention, or even so much as a Facebook “like.” Yet, the most basic of connections — a social media friendship — had people talking behind my back.
I hung up the phone feeling bewildered and irritated, since I’d done nothing to warrant this woman prying into my list of friends. Perhaps Shannon’s husband was cheating on her? I wondered. Was it really possible that voicing my ambivalence towards marriage made me a suspect by default? Did these women I once considered friends really think I was capable of such a horrible thing?
My confusion quickly turned to anger when I realized that the world isn’t entirely ready to accept a women’s strength and fortitude … unless, of course, she is another man’s property. Apparently, a strong, single woman is a threat to not only her peers, but to their husbands, too. The notion that maybe, just maybe, a woman doesn’t need a man for her survival, shakes the very foundation our society has been built upon.
Helen Betya Rubinstein explores why single women are viewed as “strange” in a world that seems to only value marriage. The New York Times contributor states, “There was something queer about being single: queer in the sense of ‘strange,’ yes, but also in the sense that connotes a threat to the conventions around which most people arrange their lives.”
I see the looks that certain women and their husbands now give me. And I feel sorry for them. Some of my former female “friends” now worry that their men may (god forbid) find me attractive, so the invitations to yearly social events no longer roll in. To their spouses, I represent what their own lives would look like if their wives decided to leave them — surely, a frightening prospect. Some even roll their eyes and scoff when I use the word “boyfriend,” as if the label is too juvenile to take seriously. The result is lots of whispering behind my back. And as Rubinstein states, “The shame of having failed at marriage isn’t unlike the failure of being single.”
I don’t feel one bit ashamed about the circumstances that made me a single mom. In fact, I’m proud of the choices I’ve made and the person that I’ve become since. And being a willful partner in the breakup of another marriage is literally the last thing on my bucket list. Let me be very clear: Another woman’s husband is not desirable to me in any way. After all, if your husband is looking at me while he’s married to you, what are the chances he’ll be loyal to me? Zilch. And loyalty is the number one quality I value now, having been victim to the distinct pain of infidelity.
I was raised in a traditional household and have benefitted greatly from my parents being married for more than 40 years. However, I no longer view wedlock as the fairy-tale ending that many young women dream of. My own marriage did not bring me the security I had hoped it would. I’ve since realized that while it may work for some, there are plenty of unconventional relationships that are just as fulfilling as a marriage.
In a recent interview, Goldie Hawn said, “I would have been long divorced if I’d been married.” Adding, “… there is something psychological about not getting married because it gives you the freedom to make decisions one way or the other.”
I also like the freedom of choice that my new life offers me, and I choose to focus on my children. I’m not placing my boys in a different school district to move closer to my partner and he is not moving farther away from his job and daughter to live with me. For now, talk of cohabiting and marriage is off the table. We share our lives together in many ways, and each make sacrifices to be together when we are both so busy. My partner is incredibly faithful to me and has spent more time with my children than my ex-husband ever did. I value what he brings to the table every single day.
Marriage is a lovely idea that comes with a set of privileges reserved for long-term companions, but it’s not for me. And that doesn’t make me “strange” or out to get anyone’s husband leftovers. It means that I put my children’s needs ahead of my own … and that I don’t have to put the toilet seat back down in the middle of the night.