I recently filled out a questionnaire that asked about my living status. The question had the usual list of categories — married, divorced, widowed — but at the end of the list, it had “Single/never married” as a choice. And that’s when I got upset.
I recently filled out a questionnaire that asked about my living status. Because it was a questionnaire about animal cruelty, I’m not sure it what relevance marital status had — although I can imagine a few connections, most of them horrific.
The question had the usual list of categories:
… and added some new ones:
Living with a partner
All fine, but at the end of the list, it had “Single/Never married” as a choice. And that’s when I got upset.
If it is important to know my status (and that’s debatable), then what are the implications of some of these categories?
Let’s start with the simple ones.
“Married” is clear. Or is it? It means that I’m in a committed relationship with another person that has been legally sanctioned by the state. The implication is that we live together and have some sort of financial arrangement, at least as far as taxes are concerned.
But I have several friends, and know of others, who are married and yet don’t live together. In one case, they have separate apartments in the same building. In another, they have two houses in two states — their tax returns must be fun. And still others are apart much of the year for work, meeting up once or twice a month in each other’s city of residence or at a vacation home they own in a third location.
Even if a couple does live together, does that mean they are happy? That they split the work and finances on an equitable basis? That they talk to each other and don’t abuse each other? That they care for their children adequately? Or perhaps they are drinking buddies who help each other home after a night on the tiles.
What is the real reason for this status? Well, if it’s for the doctor, it says something about your personal life — that you might have someone at home to care for you if you get sick.
If it’s for an employer, then it says, in the still conventional world we live in, that you have made a commitment to another. If you’re a man, it says that you are a responsible person; if a woman of a certain age, it might mean that you will get pregnant and leave the company.
Then there is “never married” — meaning you never went through a formal ceremony, never had your relationship validated by an impersonal institution. Never filed a joint tax return. Until recently, gay partners lived together and were never married, only because they were not allowed to do so. In all other respects they were married.
Who cares if you were never married? Doctors see this as grounds for depression, employers as either irresponsibility or the ability to work long hours. Possible mates might see it as a factor in whether you are relationship material. How do you judge someone over 30 who has never been married?
Living with a partner
That leads to the new category, which I was glad to see: “Living together with a partner as if married.”
This solves the problem for many people who don’t see marriage as an option, either for legal or financial reasons. Or they just plain don’t want to get married and change a relationship that is working quite nicely, thank you.
But what about the other categories, the ones that really have to do with the end of a marriage. What makes them valid markers of who I am? Is my status always to be determined by whether or not I entered into a legal relationship with another person that is either still going on or no longer extant?
I understand “separated” as a status, because somehow that period between marriage and its dissolution means that you still have a connection to each other. There is still work to be done, and maybe, just maybe, the marriage can find its way back to wholeness. Or not. Which leads to …
“Divorced” is a legal status. It dissolves the legal and financial connection, whether the marriage lasted 50 years or 50 minutes. The emotional connection was damaged at some point in the marriage, and divorce is just the external recognition of that so that the parties involved can get on with their lives. But is divorce an ongoing status, or does it end when there are no longer connections, alimony payments, kids to care for?
“Widowed” implies a loss, but what does it really mean? Is it a jolt to the universe when a young partner dies early, or did it occur after a protracted illness as a relief to almost everyone involved? I don’t mean to be flip here; the loss of someone close is always a wrench, but how much are we defined by it, and for how long?
That to me is the real question. Is your status always defined by something that happened in the past? I was married. Twice it turns out. But that was long ago and when I reclaimed my “maiden name,” don’t get me started, I also reclaimed my status as single.
My status: ‘Single but previously married’
I am single. I live alone. I am not defined by a marriage that took place and ended years ago. I embrace the life I have now. I enjoy the freedom and independence of being single, but every now and then, when I go to see a new doctor, apply for a new position, or want to rent a new apartment, I am reminded that once upon a time I was married, and no matter whether I answer “single” or “divorced,” I always feel I am not being totally honest.