Kate Bolick stares out at the world from the cover of The Atlantic magazine. She's wearing a black lace evening dress. "What, Me Marry?" asks the headline. She isn't smiling.
In fact, she isn't smiling in any of the photos that accompany her several thousand-word essay on singleness, marriage and the changing nature of dating and mating in America today. Bolick, 38, is groping toward accepting the idea that she may never marry. She badly wants to convince herself -- and us -- that older ideas about "unhappy" spinsters are silly cultural baggage best dropped off at the curb. And yet, there are those glamour shots -- Bolick behind the wheel wearing a fetching red dress; Bolick in a gold evening gown holding a glass of champagne; Bolick in a black cocktail dress -- but her expressions range from pensive to sad -- never happy.
Bolick seems genuinely conflicted about marriage. The daughter of a committed feminist, she marched off to third grade "in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: A WOMAN WITHOUT A MAN IS LIKE A FISH WITHOUT A BICYCLE." She recalls that when she was cuddling in the back seat of the family car with her high school boyfriend, her mother turned around and asked, "Isn't it time you two started seeing other people?" She took it for granted, she writes, "that (I) would marry, and that there would always be men (I) wanted to marry."
So sure was she of the limitless romantic opportunities available that at the age of 28, she broke up with a wonderful boyfriend. They had been together for three years. He was "an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind." Why did she discard him? "Something was missing."
Ten years later, she writes somewhat (though not entirely) ruefully "If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace . . . today we're contending with a new 'dating gap,' where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players."
There is a great deal of interesting data in this piece. According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of Millennials and 43 percent of Gen Xers think marriage is becoming obsolete. As of 2010, women held 51.4 percent of all managerial and professional positions, compared with 26 percent in 1980. Women account for the lion's share of bachelors and masters degrees, and make up a majority of the work force. Three quarters of the jobs lost during the recession were lost by men. "One recent study found a 40 percent increase in the number of men who are shorter than their wives." Fully 50 percent of the adult population is single, compared with 33 percent in 1950.