THE BLOG

Not Married? You Must Be Alone

31/03/2014 11:41 BST | Updated 28/05/2014 10:59 BST

This is the opening statement of an article in the Times published 28 March '14 called 'All by ourselves...millions more choose to give marriage a miss';

There are plenty more fish in the sea - three million more than ten years ago, to be precise - as more Britons end up alone or choose to be that way.

This would be an interesting statement were it actually true. By 'alone', what this sentence means actually is, 'never married'. For an article about the evolution of people's decisions on signing on the dotted line, this is a bizarre opener.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) lists its methodology online and has this to say about how it categorises marital status;

The legal marital status projections classify a person as being either single (that is they have never been married), married, divorced or widowed. The projections assume that everyone aged 15 and under is single.

Aside from under-appreciated teenage relationships (which is fair enough, teenagers are a notoriously fickle bunch) this is a way of purely ascertaining who isn't, is or has been, married. Fine, I'm sure that's a tremendously important, or at least mildly interesting, thing to know. It does not, however, say anything about the amount of Britons who 'end up alone or choose to be that way.'

Being married or being alone are not opposites. You are not either one or the other. Fair enough, the ONS have made a poor choice by using the term 'single' to mean 'not married' (rather than just calling it 'not married'), but it's just not that simple - what's the percentage of those cohabiting, or in long-term relationships but not living together?

Single life and the celebrity endorsement

The Times' article goes on to say how being single has been celebrated in fiction, referring to Bridget Jones's Diary (a slightly tenuous reference since it was based on Pride and Prejudice and published in 1996) and then saying that celebrities such as Miranda Hart and Hugh Grant 'appear' to be avoiding tying the knot. The basis of this appearance is, as far as I can tell, the fact that they are not married.

There are probably many reasons why these two celebrities and their similarly unmarried peers and colleagues have not contractually obliged themselves to be with another person. According to the ONS' most recent report on divorce, an estimated 42% of marriages will end that way. For starters, that seems like a reasonable basis for not spending cash in the first pace. However, the lack of a wedding ring on any celebrity's finger doesn't mean that they are 'reluctant to commit to marriage', it merely means that they are not currently married.

Don't wait for 'higher expectations'

My favourite part of this article is actually not something that the author has written at all, but something extraordinary said by the director of a relationship charity, Penny Mansfield. She is quoted in this article as saying that one should not delay coupling up as a close relationship may become harder to find because 'there may be higher expectations.'

Am I the only one who thinks that's the exact reason to wait longer? I don't want to rush to get married in order to catch a man when his expectations are still low. Similarly, I shudder to think who I could've ended up married to had I walked down the aisle when my expectations were low.

Yes, finding a partner may become more complicated as you become an adult with a history and a hat full of opinions, but basing your life partner on only 16 years of life experience and a shared taste in GCSE choices isn't exactly a recipe for success.

Single - not necessarily alone

By the ONS' standards, I'm single and according to Rosemary Bennett's article, I am not alone in being alone. The fact that I have been cohabiting for three years with a person I have no intention of marrying seems to give our relationship very little meaning. Burnett says that with more people living together and the decrease in social pressure, many are 'refusing to marry unless they were certain they had met the right mate.'

That just undermines the perfectly valid and wholly committed relationships of all those out there who aren't married for whatever reason - maybe we aren't 'waiting' exactly, we just have better things to do.

So yes - I'm sure that 'millions more (do) choose to give marriage a miss' but that in no way means that more and more Britons are choosing to be alone, it just means that marriage is no longer an overriding priority. This, if anything, can be seen as a good thing; maybe couples feel secure enough to not need to enter a contract, or that they are more financially astute to put would-be wedding money into a house, children or further education.