#MyStory is NOT About My Marital Status

“Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I am female. I am Black. I am southern. I am 37-years-old. I am a Ph.D. in a male-dominated field. I am unmarried. I am childless.

When I earned my Ph.D. my grandmother remarked, “I am so proud of you. A Ph.D.! Now when you get married I will be really proud.”

I was deflated. Instead of brooding, I pondered the life-lessons we teach girls when we tell them, implicitly or explicitly, that their ultimate goal in life, nay their sole purpose, is to get married and procreate.

In the 21st century, when our mothers have more formal education than our grandmothers, and we have more formal education, and better and more career opportunities than the women who came before us, teaching our girls to aspire to marriage should be obsolete. I may expect my educated, otherwise reasonable grandmother to hold marriage as a top priority for her only granddaughter. After all, she is a 92-year-old southern Catholic who grew up in a time where marriage was considered a woman’s greatest triumph.

However, what I do not expect is my female peers’ implicit notions that marriage and family are the most important goals of our lives.

During my entire stint as a Ph.D. program hostage, my female friends asked me very few questions about how I was navigating a Ph.D. in research and statistics at one of the top universities in the world. With the exception of my colleagues, women rarely inquired about my research and teaching experiences. Yet, they enquired about my relationship status more times than I care to recall.

I was repeatedly asked, “When are you getting married?” and subsequently reminded of my age and fertility. I suffered the cynicism underlying such questions as, “Well, how long have you been with your boyfriend?” “Have y’all talked about marriage?” “Does he want to get married?” and “What is he waiting on?”

I would respond to such questions indecisively and in angst. I felt shame because I did not have a precise answer. As beautiful, driven and accomplished as I am, I felt less confident, less desirable, because I did not know the exact moment my boyfriend would ask to take me as his wife. It was tortuous. No one asked me what I wanted. No one knew that I had not aspired to marriage. However, it was not until I overhead a good friend tell my niece that no matter what she did in her life she should “marry well,” that I decided to draw a clear line in the sand about who I am, and the example of womanhood I want to be for my niece.

Here is my answer to the clichéd “When are you getting married?”: I may not get married. I may not have children. I may get married and have children. I may get married and not have children. I may have children and not get married.

But I will not be shamed. I will not be pressured. I will not make decisions about my life based on fear.

I will make decisions about marriage and procreation in the same manner I have made decisions about my career: practically, logically, and rationally.

Marriage was once the only way for women to achieve some level of power and financial stability. Because I have prioritized career over family (and because of the groundwork laid by the fierce independent feminists before me), I have achieved more earning potential than my mate. I am my financial security. I define my success.

I do not tie my accomplishments to a man. I do not view marriage as something of which to be proud. Many women can “accomplish” marriage. It takes no special skills. I take pride in my accomplishments that may not be achieved by most women and men. Marriage may be a great addition to an otherwise accomplished, fulfilled life, but it is not the key to my life.

This is my line in the sand, for my niece and all the girls who come after me: We are not our marital statuses.


image1.PNGAbout the author: Afi Y. Wiggins is a Ph.D. in Research Statistics and Evaluation. She currently works as an evaluation analyst. She loves fabulous footwear, great literature, modern art, quality films, running, and HIIT. She lives in Austin, TX.

Categories: Money

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5 replies

  1. This is amazing. I would love to do something like this as well!

  2. Reblogged this on La Vie Est Belle and commented:
    When I say, “I don’t know if I exactly want to have kids or get married,” as a woman, people will look at me and tell me, “how can you ever say such a thing!” Even now, as I sit here on the other side of the world taking care of kids as a part of my education career, people will tell me, “that’s so ironic.”

    When I say such things, I don’t mean it in a sense of “I hate kids and marriage is stupid”, it’s just that I have ambitions that rely outside of marriage and kids. I may or may not get married and have kids.

    I loved this article, because it summed up exactly that.

  3. I love what you had to say. My wife would be thrilled to read something like this. In fact, I’m about to pass it on to her to read. When we got married, it wasn’t about societal pressure. It was just about what we had rationalized as best for us and where we were. But we got lots of questions about her not taking my name. There seems to be a lack of autonomy in marriages. Like you seemed to at least hint at, most people claim the male as the authority with the woman losing her autonomy in a relationship.

    This was a thoughtful insight into the autonomous nature, but beyond just marital relationships and to the core of culture. We are all autonomous beings who are brought into interaction with one another. There is no need to do anything that we don’t want to do or perhaps feel the need to do. Good for you. Keep being you! :)

  4. Hey, excellent post!!! I am from India, and this post made me realize that some things remain the same no matter where you are..I am 26, which, according to marriage standards here is “high time to get married as all good boys are being taken”..I thank my stars for having a family that supports my dreams, but relatives are a whole other issue… more than half of them never even ask what I do in life, or about my job but 100% of them have asked me when I am getting married (when they know I am single, but in a land where arranged marriages *shudder* are a norm, they do not understand when I say that I just cannot marry a guy I meet for 10 mins!! And NO just because many people agree to marry complete strangers, it’s still not what I wish in life).

  5. This is so great. I agree, even nowadays, when society seems to generally be aware that women have more to offer than our uteri and our… hands, I guess, people still believe that the ultimate goal is to get a man to put a ring on it. I find the idea not only sexist, but insulting as well. Why can’t a woman make a decision to live with someone? Why can’t she decide to be in a relationship but retain separate domiciles? Because it’s not a woman’s decision- a “respectable” woman needs to wait until a man decides he’s ready to marry her, it doesn’t matter what her preferences, accomplishments, desires, or ambitions are.

    “I do not view marriage as something of which to be proud. Many women can ‘accomplish’ marriage.” I completely agree. But unfortunately, in the society that I come from, it seems to be the sole goal. People are introduced as “wife of a chief”, as though the simple act of being female and having been chosen by a man/his family is an accomplishment. We are capable of so much more than possessing reproductive parts (and embodying the arbitrary gender roles they assign us).

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