In a Culture Where We Can Want Anything, Why Are We Ashamed to Want Marriage?

Tinder tells us it’s OK to want casual sex, but what about those of us who want more?
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Tinder tells us it’s OK to want casual sex, but what about those of us who want more?
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Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro

If you have been twentysomething and single long enough, it’s likely that you were not at all surprised by the “hit it and quit it” attitude expressed by many of the subjects in the recent Vanity Fair article, “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” According to Vanity Fair, Tinder—a location-based social app that connects users by allowing them to choose between the photos of other users, swiping right if they like what they see or left if they’d rather pass—is turning the dating world upside down. Thanks to Tinder, “the free-market economy come to sex,” getting laid has never been easier.

For most of us, this is not news. What was striking, but perhaps not very surprising, was the utter forthrightness of it all. Of the (mostly male) interviewees, few hesitated to make their chief aim in using Tinder—casual, no-strings-attached sex—clear. The female interviewees understood exactly what men on Tinder are looking for and even admitted that sometimes they themselves “just want to get it in.”

It’s enough to conclude that sexual liberation has truly arrived; the pursuit of sex and sex alone is no longer taboo. Wanting “nothing serious” is easy enough to proclaim these days. It’s wanting anything more that has become difficult to admit.

How Not to Be a Stage-Five Clinger

When I was wading in the deep end of the dating pool not too long ago, before I was seeing my now-fiancé, I knew the first rule of modern dating: Never mention that you might want the relationship to lead to marriage. Regularly overhearing talk of “stage-five clingers” and snide remarks about women attending college to get an “MRS degree,” I concluded that to want “something serious”—or God forbid marriage—was desperate or needy, and to voice that desire, even hypothetically, was unattractively eager.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really resist this way of thinking. I never truly believed the desire to marry was something to be ashamed of, but it did betray, in my mind, a vulnerability I didn’t want to be associated with. So I kept my relationship goals to myself.

That changed only after I met my fiancé. During one of our first conversations, I asked him what he wanted to do with his life. I expected to hear a ten-year career plan. Without skipping a beat, he candidly responded, “I want to get married and be a dad.” (Cue awkward silence.)

“That’s not what I meant,” I said, chuckling and thinking to myself, pump the breaks, buddy.

I’ve reflected on his response often. Why did his response seem so inappropriate to me? He was not saying he intended to marry me. To say that marriage changes your life is an understatement, so why can’t marriage be a part of what we want to do with our lives? Maybe the awkwardness of that interaction said more about me than it did about him.

While I know that stating one’s intentions to marry early may still sign relationship death warrants, I am not convinced that our current method of easing someone into a serious relationship, like a frog into hot water, is very effective. In fact, if the dating world is anything like the world laid out in Vanity Fair’s Tinder exposé, this is a tactic that men have come to expect and resent. “They act like all they want is to have sex with you, and then they yell at you for not wanting to have a relationship. How are you gonna feel romantic about a girl like that?” one young man named Alex complained in the Vanity Fair article. A female interviewee named Amanda lamented, “You can have a fling that could last like seven, eight months, and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend.’” Far from inspiring people to overcome their fear of commitment, tiptoeing around our intentions seems to be allowing them to never confront it.

Love and Marriage . . . and Career

This reluctance to admit our relationship desires is linked to our long-running difficulty with women in the workforce. It seems to me that career ambitions are the only well-respected goal for the modern woman. Of course, any true feminist worth her (or his) salt will tell you that any decision a woman makes—to work, marry, both, or neither—ought to be respected. But I think many marriage-minded women can attest to the fact that the real world is not so courteous.

In my experience, to acknowledge marriage as a goal and to actively take steps to pursue or prepare for it is to have one’s priorities out of line. In the past I was always roundly applauded for my decision to obtain a degree in economics and pursue a career in public policy. My desire to pursue marriage and eventually bear children, however, was met with considerably less praise. And yet, if I were truly honest with myself, marrying a good man and having children with him is more important to me than any particular career. Sure, “Mrs.” is not a prestigious title, and it doesn’t pay well, but I want to marry regardless. In fact, maybe that’s just it. A good marriage requires no payment or prestige because it is fulfilling in and of itself.

We have come far from the days when to be a housewife was one of a woman’s few options—we now excel in so many fields heretofore unavailable to us. But if women are now made to feel that career ambitions are the only acceptable source of fulfillment within our life narratives, then one form of oppression has been replaced with another.

This kind of thinking is not liberation at all; this is insane.

If there were ever an example of something we ought not be ashamed of, it’s the desire to marry. Wanting a relationship that extends beyond casual hookups is a healthy and natural desire. Wanting the holistic, self-sacrificing love that marriage requires is a good and noble desire. Preferring a stable, monogamous relationship to a series of one-night stands is perfectly sensible. Sure, I don’t need to be a wife or a mother to be happy any more than I need to be a public policy analyst to be happy. But that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that they are not goals of mine.

Nor does acknowledging that marriage is a priority mean that one has to spend her days pining for a man who may never show up. It is possible to be a single woman, hoping to one day meet a man to marry, while making your single days mean something. In fact, according to clinical psychologist Meg Jay, “The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one, and that means being as intentional with love as you are with work.” So if marriage is something you desire, pretending it’s not won’t do your future marriage any favors. Far from feeling pathetic for wanting these things, we should feel proud.

I cherish the moment that my fiancé eschewed current dating etiquette and told me about his dreams of marriage and fatherhood. It forced me to consider and confront dreams of my own.

Marriage-minded people don’t have to go shout their intentions from the rooftops or even bring them up on a first date. But it is worth recognizing that the trouble we have stating those goals speaks more to the unhealthy expectations of others than any kind of trouble with us. We ought to take more pride in desiring marriage—it is nothing to be ashamed of.

I can’t promise that it won’t scare a few men off, but, hey—if it means that we avoid the “dating apocalypse,” maybe that’s not the worst thing.