Single Hope
Is it even worth trying to get married after 30?


LOPEZ: “We need to restore cultural respect for the marriage ideal,” you write. “In the meantime, the marriage aspiration is alive and well.” So what can a single 39-year-old do about it?

MARSHALL: Don’t toss out the marriage ideal just because it’s not working out personally at the moment. Don’t let the fog of cultural stereotypes cloud perceptions of men; see them individually for who they are, just as each of us women wants to be seen as a unique person. Keep articulating the challenges on the path to marriage in the wake of the feminist movement and sexual revolution; pastors, leaders, mentors, and parents have wisdom to share but need openness on our part so they can better understand today’s circumstances.

And all of us, no matter what our marital status, should seek solid ground for a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends all life’s seasons.

LOPEZ: Does Bolick recognize in herself something culturally important — having bought into “a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else”? Is there something different about this piece? She does seem to see there are flaws in feminist ideology. But she seems to accept that they have remade reality. But it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?

MARSHALL: Yes, Bolick makes the occasional important observation questioning conventional feminist wisdom. (Here’s another: “the common misperception that biology is ours to control.”) But those moments of refreshing critique make the conclusion — which preemptively surrenders the marriage ideal and dreams associated with it to a sort of social evolution — all the more disappointing and depressing. It lacks the confidence that women today could actually help provoke change for the future. It lacks a restorative vision.

LOPEZ: You, of course, wrote the book on this, which is why we’re chatting here. Is there a single life of peace and fulfillment without declaring independence from the institution of marriage? Can one desire it, be open to it, but be peaceful if it doesn’t happen? That’s tough, and it’s something we don’t talk a lot about. How do we handle this?

MARSHALL: Bolick writes — and I admire her candor — “If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I’d be a little . . . happier.”

When I read this line, for a split second I thought she might have hit on the thesis of my book Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the 21st Century. Reading on, I realized quite the opposite: This is actually the saddest line of the piece.

The way she gets over seeing this unexpected in-between of prolonged singleness as “provisional” is by abandoning the marriage ideal, i.e., elevating current circumstances by demoting marriage.

But her hunch, of course, is right. Marriage-minded single women should not downplay, dismiss, or despise this time. If we want to find joy and satisfaction now even as we long for something more in the future, we need the confidence that there is a grand design to our lives, and that there is a purpose that transcends any particular circumstances.

LOPEZ: Is your book a counterpoint to Bolick’s piece?

MARSHALL: I think Bolick’s piece will leave marriage-minded single women all the more confused and frustrated. She captures the anxiety of single women well, but she doesn’t have satisfying answers. We shouldn’t leave this conversation on such a depressing note. My book is about clarity and purpose now, with hopefulness for the future.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.