Originally published in the Journal Inquirer January 8, 2013
By Kristen J. Tsetsi
When New York City comedian Matt Haze wrote on his Facebook page that it was strange to visit his hometown of Cleveland, OH because everyone his age seemed to be married with kids, the replies he received offered comforting assurances that he would not be alone forever, that he would find someone.
But Haze, who at 30 has never been married nor cohabited with a romantic partner, didn’t want or need those assurances. He was perfectly fine, thank you.
“People think I must feel horrible because I’m not like the rest of them,” he says. “I don’t feel like I’ve failed because I haven’t (married and had kids). I feel like I’ve made an accomplishment because I’ve managed to avoid it.”
Haze, who frequently performs to large audiences around the world and enjoys a favorite TV show when at home, not only likes his own company, but he finds that he’s happier when his schedule, activities, and entertainment choices are left solely to him. Bring in another person, and there’s a new voice, a new opinion complicating things.
Joseph Nowinksi, an author and clinical psychologist living in Tolland, Conn., calls being alone “a highly productive experience for many people” that allows them to discover more about themselves.
While marriage has its advantages, it also means making a lot of compromises that can restrict freedom and limit self-exploration.
“So many people I’ve seen over the years have said that they never really had much time alone,” Nowinski says. “They grew up with family, lived with a roommate for a little while, and then got married. When they do find themselves alone—of course they first have to go through the grief or the relief of a divorce—a lot of people tell me they like it.”
New marriages declined by 5 percent between 2009 and 2010 according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re also occurring later in life than they used to. Pew findings show that in 1960, 59 percent of adults between 18 and 29 were married; today, that number is only 20 percent, with more first marriages taking place between the ages of 24 and 35.
Still, the cultural standard to be coupled off and raising babies persists, and a man or woman who expresses contentedness with being single is likely to be met with suspicion, skepticism, or both.
A single man enjoying his freedom in his 30s, at what is understood to be the late end of his “sowing” years, is assumed by others to be incapable of commitment; conversely, a single woman in her 30s enjoying her freedom is assumed by others to be desperately seeking a commitment.
Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mister Good Enough” encourages single women in their 30s—all of whom, she insists, are anxious about their status—to enter into a lifelong commitment with a male who may not be ideal because, she writes, “more important than love is marriage.” It isn’t passion and romance that matter as much as having a “partner in crime.”
She encourages men, too, to settle in her illustration of her male friend who married a “bland” wife because he knew she would make a good mother. That he isn’t passionate about his wife doesn’t matter, because he pours that kind of energy into his work projects.
While Nowinski agrees that a lasting relationship requires more than desire and romance, and that the shared interests, values, and goals that connect a couple become more important than thrills in the long run, he stresses that there should still be a spark. The absence of such a spark early in the relationship is a “pretty bad sign,” he says, and he discourages getting married just for the sake of being married.
Contrary to Gottlieb’s claim that all single women are stressed out about being single despite their protestations, Nowinski says that those who do, in fact, have a hard time being single are those who feel pressured to have a partner.
“Women, especially, tend to feel that way. ‘I’m divorced, so I’m damaged goods if I don’t have a partner,’” he says, explaining that for women in particular—whether the pressure is internal or external—marriage is often a social status to be achieved by a certain age, one that communicates, “Somebody wants me.”
The bias in Gottlieb’s position, he adds, is the notion that being a single woman and having a single lifestyle is inferior to being married and having a married lifestyle.
“You wouldn’t have a (whole) book for men telling them to settle if they’re over 40 and never married,” he says.
Because he’s a man, Haze is cut a bit more slack for being single, but that doesn’t mean he’s not feeling the pressure to couple up and settle down, even from the people at the coffee shop down the street from his parents’ house.
It’s not that Haze doesn’t want to get married someday. He looks forward to coming across the right person. But, he explains, the right person is someone who will be a true partner he can share things with, not someone he’ll seek out to fill the role of “wife” as if it were a job position.
Wherever or whoever the right woman is, Haze isn’t in a rush to find her. He’s enthusiastic about his single life and the experiences he gets to have on his own.
“What’s funny is, I’ll get flak from people (for being single) publicly,” Haze says, “but privately, they’ll pull me aside and wish me luck and say they envy what I’m doing.”