You'd think we'd evolve past it, but young women are still implicitly taught that the only way to succeed is to find a husband and fulfill our "princess" role, as Rashida Jones once called it. Of course, the assumption is that without that overly expensive wedding, the flashy diamond ring and lifelong legal bond to a man, women are somehow not whole. There's still a presumption that there is some clear-cut divide between "single" and "taken," as Ann Friedman aptly noted at Talking Points Memo.
But we've come far enough to know that's just not true. Marriage can be great, but it's not everything we say it is. Let's cut through the bullshit and $451 wedding cake.
These are the myths we need to stop telling women about marriage.
1. Women need to get married to be truly happy.
Long seen as the pinnacle of achievement in a young woman's life, marriage is not a golden ticket to happiness. Yes, some studies find marriage to be positively correlated with well-being. But the truth is that happiness is circumstantial and depends mostly on who you're with, not the institution itself.
"We each have a baseline of happiness, and marriage on average isn't going to change that — except for that little blip," Bella M. DePaulo, author of the book Singled Out, told WebMD, referring to a study that found married couples see a small spike in happiness after the wedding.
More importantly, there are so many things that contribute to a person's happiness: fulfilling careers, relationships, family, hobbies and lifelong friends, to name only a few.
2. If you don't get married before 30, it will be too late.
No, women do not have expiration dates after which they become un-weddable. In fact, being unmarried by 30 is actually more common than not: The median age for first marriage is now at a record high of 27 for women and 29 for men (versus in 1960, when the median first marriage age was 20 and 23, respectively). As Pew Research Center noted, "Today, just 20% of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59% in 1960." Getting married after 30 is indeed possible, so we can put aside the idea of the spinster covered in cats. Just ask Tina Knowles.
3. Women need to marry men.
When women do marry women, they go on to have just as fulfilling relationships as heterosexual women do — if not even better. A British study from 2014 found that same-sex couples were likelier to be more positive about their relationship than heterosexual couples, according to the Huffington Post. Happy marriages are anyone's right.
4. Women are better off financially if they settle down early.
If being single can feel expensive, then you might assume this myth to be true: The sooner a woman marries, the sooner she becomes financially secure. But according to "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage," a 2013 study sponsored by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, women who are 30 or older when they first marry have higher average salaries than women who marry before 30 (as much as $18,000 more).
That's because delaying marriage affords women the time and opportunity to find financial security and a career path on their own. Turns out young women don't need partners to bankroll their life.
5. Successful women can't also have successful marriages.
Characters like Miranda Priestly would suggest that a woman who attempts to juggle a high-powered career can't possibly keep a family and marriage in the air, too. But we know that's just not true, even if women are working as much as men. Today, women are racking up about the same 55 hours of work a week as their husbands. Women's achievements don't weaken a marriage. If anything, they bring more to the table.
6. Most other women your age are getting married.
The persistent recurrence of engagement season — with diamond rings and "He proposed!" statuses cluttering your Facebook – is enough to give any woman the perception that she is the only one her age not getting married. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, singles now outnumber married adults in America. In 2014, 50.2% of American adults were single, a record high. Don't give in to the social media hype – peer pressure went out of style in middle school.
7. Being married is more stable than just living together.
Just because someone isn't married doesn't mean they don't have successful, long-lasting relationships. In fact, as marriage becomes increasingly delayed, the number of cohabiting couples is on the rise. "About a quarter (24%) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 are living with a partner," according to Pew Research Center. Often, cohabiting relationships can endure in the long term, as couples can test the strength of their relationships and benefit from spending quality time at home with their partners. Getting a marriage certificate doesn't validate a relationship — love, mutual respect and commitment do.
8. If you've slept with a lot of people, nobody will want to marry you.
The number of sexual partners someone has before marriage has no implication on whether or not they will make a good wife, obviously. Plus, gone are the days of the virgin bride: According to the Guttmacher Institute, by age 44, 99% of adults have had sex, and 95% did so before marriage.
Besides, if we're really judging people on their number of sex partners, you've got to think something else is missing from the relationship.
9. Divorce = failure.
The stigma of divorce has remained for decades, with the "D word" being synonymous with failure. But marriage is only valuable as long as it's healthy and happy. The belief that a "failed marriage" is a total failure only does more to stigmatize those who make that healthy choice.
Just because one marriage ended doesn't mean a woman can't go on to have fulfilling relationships after. Four in 10 marriages involve some sort of remarriage.
10. If you want kids, better be married first.
In what the National Marriage Project dubbed the "Great Crossover," the average age of first birth has fallen under the average age of first marriage, a phenomenon that actually occurred about 20 years ago. Today, women on average have their first baby at 26, and about 41% of all U.S. births take place outside of marriage. For those who want to take control of their fertility without waiting for a ring, advances such as egg freezing, not to mention adoption and fostering and IVF, have made the options endless and wholly untethered from marriage.
11. You'll know you've met the "one" when you want to marry them.
Historically, marriages have been about merging property and stabilizing family ties. It was only in the last few decades that romantically oriented, egalitarian marriages have been in vogue. Besides, marriage is a lot more than knowing if someone is the "one true love." Never-married women are looking for someone with similar ideas on raising children, a steady job and the same moral or religious beliefs. Healthy relationships are about more than finding a "soul mate."
12. The best way to celebrate marriage is a fancy wedding.
The average American wedding now costs $31,213. But the couples celebrating their nuptials in a public garden might have the right idea: Studies indicate that couples who spend less on their wedding have a lower risk of divorce. The same holds true for couples who get hitched sans the expensive diamond rings. Ultimately, weddings should be about the lifelong commitment to someone, not the party that legalizes it. Break out the PBR.
13. "Traditional marriage."
Anyone who still believes in the 1950s-prescribed picket fence, two kids and breadwinning husband "ideal" is sorely mistaken. In a 2014 report from the Council on Contemporary Families, it was found that the structure of the modern family has taken on many new shapes. Today, only 22% of children are raised in the classic homemaker-breadwinner family. Instead, the modern family is made up of unmarried cohabiting partners, single moms, single dads and grandparents.
Not to mention, married couples are increasingly embracing more fluid structures, like open relationships, being "monogamish" and consensual non-monogamy.
Marriage is hardly done one way — if at all.