Lonely, Bitter, Maladjusted, Highly Disagreeable, Sour, Gay, and Insane: The Unmarried Saint in the Pew Next to You
Mormon attitudes toward the never-married adult are of particular interest to me, in part because that’s my own status but also because this is a demographic rarely addressed in a church that sacralizes the married state.
Two months ago, I posted a 1922 lesson on The Destiny of the Unmarried that was, to my mind, surprisingly positive in exploring the reasons for both “voluntary” and “involuntary spinsterhood” and acknowledging that singles can have a positive role in life.
The lesson posted this time is from The Latter-day Saint Family, written by Mormon sociologist Harold T. Christensen. The Latter-day Saint Family was used as the manual for the 1947 family relations class in Sunday School.
Beyond that, I leave all interpretation and commentary to you.
What of Those Who Never Marry?
We have just seen how woman is trying to find herself in a world of change and confusion. We have pointed out her unique opportunity in the home, and we have emphasized the moral mission that is hers. In regards to the relationships of the sexes, we have argued for a differentiated equality, with responsibility and moral integrity on both sides.
Here we shall continue with this same general theme, that of personality adjustment in the modern world, but our focus will be upon the unmarried of both sexes.
Who Remain Single?
United States census figures reveal that nearly ten percent of our adult population never marries. Only about ninety percent of all who reach the age of forty-five have had the marriage experience. Since very few of the remaining ten percent will marry after that age, it follows that nearly one-tenth of all adults end their lives as single individuals. The percentage that never marries is even greater than this when all ages are considered. This is illustrated by the fact that of every 100,000 females born, only approximately 78,000 ever marry, and of these, incidentally, only about 65,000 eventually become mothers. This means that between one-fifth and one-fourth of all mortals never marry; some because of death before the time of marriage; and others because they either choose it that way or lack opportunity on the adult level.
We have already seen how the average woman that remains single is of higher quality than the average bachelor man, though there are exceptions. This condition grows out of the tendency of man to marry down for the sake of ego protection, plus the tendencies of many capable women to want a career, to delay marriage for it, and to be more particular than men in choosing a mate.
This point finds reinforcement in the fact that of women who don’t go beyond the sixth grade in school, about ninety-five percent marry, while only some seventy percent of those who graduate from college ever marry. Apparently it is the more able and career-minded of the females that go on for higher education, and in going on they reduce their marriage chances, both by becoming older and by becoming too intellectual for the dominance-loving male. We should add parenthetically, however, that though marriage after college graduation becomes slightly less likely for the girl, this does not necessarily apply while she is in school. Furthermore, as studies reveal, college marriages when they do take place are much less likely to fail than the average run.
Single persons of every age group have higher death rates than do those that are married. This is particularly true of the male, but with certain exceptions in the childbearing ages it applies to females as well. Reasons are two:
(1) Marriage is selective as to health; though the weak and the unfit don’t always remain single, the tendency is in that direction.
(2) Marriage tends to improve the health of its members by settling them down and stabilizing their lives.
Why Don’t They Marry?
There are many reasons why people don’t marry, only a few of which we will be able to review here.
In the first place, an occasional individual remains single of his own choice. Sometimes this is in the spirit of self-sacrifice and is because of defects in heredity, health, ability, or character. More frequently, however, those who decide against marriage do so out of a reluctance to give up their independence, a fear of the uncertainties and responsibilities that family life entails, a lack of normal love feelings, or some such reason. But feelings like this are natural only when they are mild; it is rare indeed if healthy people voluntarily decide against marriage. Religious celibacy, as in Catholicism, is the one exception.
Most of those who remain single do so out of circumstances rather than by choice. Sometimes this comes through no fault of their own, as with those who die or become institutionalized before the age for marriage. But more frequently it is due to situations such as the following:
(1) They fail to make themselves attractive to mate-seekers of the opposite sex. This may be because they leave their personalities relatively undeveloped, remaining crude and unmannered, or overly shy and reclusive; it may be because they have lowered their standards of morality and decency; or it may be because they have neglected to prepare for the responsibilities of marriage, such as the girl’s giving evidence of being a sloppy housekeeper or a poor cook and the boy’s being unprepared to make a living. Serious and upright individuals notice these things as they search for a mate. It isn’t the physical features that are so important, although with the superficial these qualities do receive considerable emphasis, but inward beauty, moral character, and ability are the things of importance. Without their cultivation the person runs the chance of either marrying someone inferior or not marrying at all.
(2) They develop an individualism or an independence that precludes real love and cooperation. The growing financial independence of woman is a factor in this. When people seem too self-centered and selfish, others are frightened away. Everyone likes to feel secure in his love. One-sided surrender does happen, but it is hardly fair, and many turn elsewhere when they discover that their feelings and favors are not reciprocated.
(3) They delay marriage too long, hardly realizing that the older they get the smaller is the market from which they can choose. This is particularly true with the girl, for she is not as free to make the advance. Furthermore, men generally marry someone younger than themselves, and the older men are when they marry, the greater is the age difference between them and the ones they marry. Older girls, for this reason, very frequently get skipped and left out. In addition to all of this, we can note that by middle life many people become rather particular and hard to please.
(4) They isolate themselves from normal contact with the opposite sex. The plight of the white-collar girl in the large city is a good example of this. Surrounded by millions she is nevertheless lonesome and without male companionship, or enough of it, or the right kind. Unless one is willing to degrade himself, the social and psychological isolation of the metropolis is difficult at times to break down. Then, too, there are many more young women of marriageable age in the city than there are young men. In the country the reverse is true. Because of this, girls can marry easiest in the country, and boys, in the city.
If marriage is the goal, and it is for most and ought to be for all who are normal, young people should study the situation, themselves included, and should put themselves in line, and plan for maximum opportunity.
But with all of this there will be some who are eliminated, and through little fault of their own. What then?
The greatest danger is for the permanently unmarried to become frustrated, sour, and cynical. They will have had a dream blacked out, and unless they are able to dream anew, and along different lines, life may seem pretty hollow. Feelings of inferiority at having failed, resentments at having been shortchanged in life, despair in having little left to work for, all are possible. Bachelor men and women are frequently very sensitive of their position, and restless, nervous, and irritable because of it. This is particularly true of the woman, for she is less independent, more the victim of circumstances, and more closely tied up with the reproductive process – which in this case has become blocked.
Disorganized personality is one of the consequences of such a frame of mind. Bachelorhood is a crisis for most of those who experience it, and, while some adjust very well, others become maladjusted because of it. In its milder forms the person is simply touchy and highly disagreeable. Rare cases, however, develop much farther than this, leading eventually to the mental derangement known popularly as insanity.
But the loneliness, bitterness, and sense of isolation and ridicule that so often accompany bachelorhood do not end in their effect upon the personality itself. Sometimes the bachelor man or woman, frustrated in love as he is, attempts to take it out on society or to substitute some socially disapproved activity in the place of that which was denied him. This we call compensation. It may be that such an individual will resort to either self love and abuse or to homosexuality as an outlet for his love drive. it may be that he will choose an illicit sex life with someone of the opposite sex for the same reason, to bolster his need for affection and his sense of power. It may be, too, that he will turn anti-social in other ways, such as deliberately trying to break up a home, or entering a life of crime. All of these reactions are unfortunate, and unnecessary.
Not all compensation is of the anti-social variety described above. It is entirely possible to substitute for a blocked desire, such as that for marriage and parenthood, by activities that are moral and socially approved. By adjusting to the idea of remaining unwed, and accepting it with optimism and courage, real contentment can be found through other outlets than the family, and life can again be worth while. While marriage is important, it isn’t everything. Where it is denied one for this life, there are other things that can fill in satisfactorily. Though celibacy is not the ideal, if it comes, uninvited, life still need not be sterile.
Compensation of this kind is called sublimation, for through sublime behavior defeat is turned into victory. There are many ways by which this might be done. Here are three to illustrate:
(1) Engage in nursing, child welfare work, or teaching. In this way the troubles and joys of other families can become one’s own, vicariously.
(2) Surrender oneself to a cause, and become so busy and wrapped up in it that you don’t find time to feel sorry for yourself. In this way, too, the joys that come from achieving and from contributing to society will be yours.
(3) Cultivate interests in recreation, art, and religion. There is no medicine for discouragement like creative accomplishment.
Adjustments to bachelorhood can be made, and in a moral way.
Latter-day Saints can take added comfort in the fact that life is eternal. Inequalities and injustices here need not be permanent. They will not be if each of us, in spite of his handicaps, arises to the best that is in him.