The Problem With 'Marriageability'

“There’s just nobody I ever met that I feel is worthy of being my soul mate.”

You might hear this from any random twenty-something, typically female, trying to explain why their marriage prospects look so grim.

It’s the problem of “marriageability.” This is a concept that is only brought up to explain why there aren’t enough good potential mating partners for single individuals—more specifically single women. Men are taught that all women are worthy of marriage–no matter how fat, bitchy, or shallow that female might possibly be. Thus, marriageability isn’t a factor that is openly discussed for men.

It’s no question that the quality of women in America is particularly… not good, to put it nicely.

But what about women with conservative beliefs and their struggles in finding in marriage-worthy men?

Here at Radix, we admit that marriage is a declining institution—especially when you look at it from a man’s standpoint. Gregory Hood’s analysis of the decline of this once sacred union is worth the read and covers the majority of the points for why it is dying as a serious institution.

But the question of marriageability is another story, and the female side of it is explored in a blog post by a self-professed “conservative and Catholic” woman for an independent think tank.

Carissa Mulder takes issue with the conservative position that offers little for single women “unable” to find a “suitable” partner and demands that they become a dutiful wife and caring mother ASAP. She counters that there is not enough men that match her religious and political principles, or meet her expectations for what she wants out of a future husband. She blames her single problems on the issue of “marriageability” and eventually argues that remaining a life-long bachelorette shouldn’t be a shame in the eyes of her fellow traditionalists because of the lack of “good men” for upstanding women such as herself.

A marriageable partner would mean that this suitor matches up in terms of job quality, income, and education. It implies that women select mates based on highly rational reasons, which isn’t the typical case in real life. But the real purpose of citing marriageability is to excuse women for focusing too much on their careers and maintaining irrational standards for mating selection.

Mulder embodies this mindset and tries to give reasons for why remaining single is good for conservative women:

For those of us who lead more humdrum lives than do saints and missionaries, freedom from the duties of family life can permit us to spend more time developing our relationship with God and serving the church. It also frees us from falling into the trap of relying on a husband to fulfill our deepest needs.

The single life also allows women to pursue their intellectual development (and thereby the good of knowledge) more vigorously… Fewer family responsibilities give women more time to pursue excellence in their careers, which is both good in itself and beneficial to society.

Getting closer to God and the lack of limits on pursuing a career that is “good in itself and beneficial to society” is why Mulder is trying to explain away the doubts she might have in remaining single. The career angle is one that is not exclusive to her and is becoming the go-to excuse for upwardly-mobile women who see marriage as a lock and chain on their job aspirations.

But this writer tries to depict her career as not just benefitting herself—it also allegedly benefits the community. So what might be this career be that is so beneficial and in line with her conservative values that makes it a worthier mission than raising a family?

According to Mulder’s Linkedin account, it’s being a lawyer for the US Commission on Civil Rights. I’m going to leave it to the readers to judge on the positives of that post. The focus on community forms the last part of her post and is recited to explain how the single female can make the community her family and be there for her close friends since she has no children or husband to tend to.

But this imagines that there exist actual communities for young, urban professionals like Mulder, which there really aren't. Nor does she demonstrate how she will benefit her familied friends except being there when they “need her.” People with families tend to drift from their non-kin friends once they have children and the last thing they want is their spinster friend to nag them with “advice.”

What this whole post boils down is the attempt to rationalize the atomizing process of becoming a career woman--knowing deep down that this path will lead women to become disconnected from any potential relations to a larger collective. It’s not really her fault as society has taught her from an early age that she has every right to focus on her career and as she herself pointed out, it is “good in itself.”

Society also told her to never settle and the dream man will come around one day. This man will meet her every need and have the looks to melt her heart. This fantasy is the central theme of all female cultural programming in America and that is why women complain that there aren’t enough “marriageable” men when none of the fat schlubs, sociopathic predators, or clingy beta males meet their ingrained image of the ideal partner.

Now she has to deal with the consequences of what society told her would be a dream-fulfilling life. She realizes that her choices haven’t led to fulfillment and she now faces the possibility of living the rest of her life as a lonely atom in a soulless metropolis.

And she only has herself to blame for buying into the myth of marriageability and the happiness that comes from having a “successful” career.