Failure to marry

"We are the most married nation on earth," as Professor Ross said repeatedly to his classes on the family, and yet about one person in ten never marries. That so many should fail to marry is surprising when we consider how habituated to and dependent upon family roles each of us comes to be through the conditioning experiences which we undergo as children -- at the very time in our lives when our personalities are being basically shaped and molded.

How can we account for this one person in every ten, particularly when we note further the fact that his married friends exert pressure upon the unmarried individual in many subtle ways, the most obvious effect of which is to exclude him from the circle? Parents and relatives begin to volunteer subtle but insistent advice when he remains unmarried beyond the age of twenty-five (this is even more true for young women than for young men).

Even the cultural restrictions on freedom of behavior of single women become more obvious and probably more keenly felt by them when most of their friends have married. There are places where they may not go unescorted. Finding a socially acceptable living arrangement becomes more complicated. In smaller localities the single person, male or female, is forced into a pattern of living so different from that of the rest of the community that he is soon aware of not "belonging." And finally he who does not marry must face, more or less alone, the problem of dealing with sexual drives, with the understanding that most of the ways alternative to marriage of getting release and gratification for these drives are highly disapproved by our society. What, then, are the reasons why some people never marry?

Paradoxically, one of the processes leading to nonmarriage is identical with that process which is most potent in leading people to marriage. It is the process which causes adult attitudes and behavior patterns to result largely from childhood experiences. Usually, as we have seen, this tends to bring people to marry, but in the case of an unhappy childhood, one in which basic wishes and needs remained unsatisfied and frustrated, the carryover to adulthood will often include hostile attitudes toward marriage and family life or in other cases toward members of the opposite sex. It is probably well that such people do not marry in great numbers, for when they do, they often play roles which lead to an inordinate amount of conflict -- roles which at times are carried over from the patterns of intense conflict followed by parents and at other times occur simply by the continual expectation of frustration from family life, conditioned by unfortunate early experiences. This reason for not marrying is one of the personal and internal factors limiting marriage over which there is little conscious control. After all, one cannot choose his parents, nor even his childhood experiences!

Some people do not marry because the objects of their sexual and affectional drives are those of their own sex. It is a "common sense" assumption in our society that interest in the opposite sex "comes naturally" -- in other words, is innate -- and that homosexuals are biological freaks or "queers." This assumption is no longer held among biologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

The more tenable picture would seem to be this: the heterosexual direction of the sexual drive is not implicit in the drive itself, especially since the individual of either sex is even somewhat bisexual in organic equipment. The direction of the sexual interest is acquired as a result of conditioning. The drive is without object at the outset, and the various processes by which it becomes attached to an object are as yet imperfectly understood.

It seems likely that we all tend to identify ourselves with those of our own sex at some time or other in childhood or youth, but most of us pass through more or less culturally standardized experiences in which our love drives become firmly directed toward those of the opposite sex. Some people, whether from constitutional or circumstantial causes, remain attached to the homosexual class of love-objects. When homosexuals, or "inverts" as they are sometimes called, do marry the results are usually tragic. Consequently it is well that these people, too, do not ordinarily marry. Here again we are dealing with personality factors over which a person has little or no control -- in the ordinary sense of the word "control."

Other personality variations which may, in specific situations, disqualify people for marriage are too numerous to list here. There are people who tend to recede from all social relations and dwell in worlds of fantasy within themselves. Others are inordinately suspicious. The actions of still others are of a highly compulsive nature.