The World of The Unmarried

This may or may not be an advocacy for the idea to stay single (if the force is strong with you), so please proceed with caution.

It was in 2020 when the Korean drama series The World of The Married broke the viewer record as the highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history. The show is a Korean adaption of the British series Doctor Foster, depicting the seemingly perfect marriage but turns out to be disastrous revenge.

All cast made excellent acting in showing layers of emotion as well as conflict of what most married couples could experience in real life with cheating and breakups. This drama is so heartbreaking, it’s too dark for my fancy.

The World of The Married (Korean: 부부의 세계) is a 2020 South Korean television series starring Kim Hee-aePark Hae-joon, and Han So-hee, aired on JTBC on Fridays and Saturdays from March 27 to May 16, 2020.

What caught my attention was the concept of the “world” as a title may represent an entire marriage reality full of unfavorable features, and a marital affair further manifests the love’s incompetence.

Marriage presumably doesn’t (always) equal love, but a mere social institution for – if truth is to be held – promoting social stability and societal acceptance. And children.

Marriage is the expectation.

And, this drama would leave you on the edge of your mind hardly expecting a happily-ever-after (marriage) life could exist.

It’s not like we expect bliss every day. We know that perfection is not in the cards. But if getting married degrade your mental and wounds your heart, what’s the point?

Just like many others growing up as an Asian woman, I’m expected to follow the conventional path of being married – to building families – rather than pursuing a career.

But the invitation has yet to release. Some potential names do exist only for a draft version. The most easy marriage proposal I could get is only available at the Harvest Moons game.

The big 4 is coming soon, and I am still single.

Does it sound pathetic?

I don’t think so. I’m currently single by my choice – too lazy to venture into relationships. The problem is (mostly unconsciously) me. Egotistical, cynical, proud me.

Don’t I feel lonely, then?

Yes, sometimes. At certain moments, I do wish I’m with someone. But whether I’m dying in loneliness as a single lady, it’s certainly far from my state of mind. Being alone and feeling alone are hardly the same.

Perhaps I should blame my passions, and my big career dreams (which still remain a dream, lol!) I always desire – an excuse for spending so little effort on dating lives. Neither finding a romantic partner nor a future husband is as important as my career or hobby – speaking of life goals.

But, do I feel happy about being single?

In the blog of We Are Solo Living, Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, questioned the reason people doubt single people can be living a happy life, and consider that is a joke. She was conducting, then, the happiness research of two versions that were identical except that in one, the person was described as single, and in the other, the person was described as married.

In the study, participants can read the profile but only one version of each profile, either the single or the married version, and answered various questions about their impressions of the person they were reading about.

Interestingly the result shows those whose profiles were described as single were consistently judged to be less happy than those who were described as married. Participants thought that the single people’s reports of their own happiness were likely to be more exaggerated than the married people’s reports.

Given the skeptical view, Bella DePaulo and her team did another study, adding more conditional judgment. The result remains the same. The participant group still overwhelmingly thought single people were actually not that happy, nor having great career accomplishments or impressive material success.

Interesting. But, what’s with all the pity, though?

Does getting married make you happier, then?

The long-rooted wisdom of many societies has been that marriage was an essential part of a good, happy life. But, in modern societies, this is more debated. Over the past few decades, social scientists have found consistent evidence that there’s almost zero association between getting married, having children, and happiness.

While opening American Psychological Association’s convention, best-selling author and Harvard. psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D. revealed his finding that the life goals we strive for don’t always make us happy.

One of the interesting findings as It’s not marriage that makes you happy, it’s a happy marriage that makes you happy.

According to Gilbert, married people are happier than unmarried ones, perhaps because the single best predictor of human happiness is the quality of social relationships. “Marriage seems to buy you a decade or more of happiness,” Gilbert said. But happiness is a hard concept to measure – there are wide distributions in the level of happiness. Married people might appear to be happier than an average single person, and vice versa. Different factors in happiness between married people and single people can be statistically significant.

Married and single people are different people living in their circumstances, whether by choice or dramatic events.

Marriage might make people happier, but it is no guarantee of happiness.

Journal of Happiness Studies

I guess the real issue is whether we, as individuals, are able to set our happiness in many ways in relationships. Is it?

“Listen, Sumire. If you’re ever in love, just make sure it’s real, yes?

And marrying someone doesn’t… doesn’t make it real. And if you choose not to, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t real, either.

Also… real love isn’t just a romantic feeling. You can fall in love with your art, not just a man.

Nor does love for the art stop you from loving someone.”

 – Momoko, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House.

Those are like a heartbroken ode – full of satire yet graceful conversation conveyed by Geiko character Momoko in one of a nine-part series The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko. The series released on Netflix early this year is adapted from an award-winning manga series Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House by mangaka Aiko Koyama, capturing the beauty and daily life in the Maiko house.

Being adamant about keeping her career as a Geiko but feeling sad upon bidding farewell to her lover, Momoko, the maiko senior at Saku House, convinces her apprentice, Sumire, to become the top Maiko in all Gion, yet their lives shall abide by the strict culture of being Geisha, meaning forgetting marriage.

Indeed, Geisha cannot marry.

Other beliefs say Geisha can still be married, but in Kyoto, Geisha have to retire if they want to get married.

And yet I wonder. Why, as women, do we – conditionally – need to choose? 

Sacred or cultural belief aside, adding to the persistent bias against marriage decisions, women shall choose their life path but, matter-of-factly, not so many options left.

Marriage or career?

It’s an odd societal question but Asian culture generally places great value on marriage. The pressure is especially strong for women. Marriage is often seen as a huge achievement regardless of any other milestones we have accomplished.

So many expectations are placed on women – we are often told we had to study hard to succeed, to become independent women, to fulfill our dream, and to encourage equality, but once we get a degree and live in our passion, we’re expected to pledge our destiny of finding future husbands.

The scenario could worsen as women age.

When a woman reaches a certain age, like, above the 30s, and is yet to settle down, the constant pressure will be more than just noisy relatives’ questions at every family gathering (which I had never look forward to anyway), but it is against a long-held societal standard for there something had gone wrong with these single women that are causing to them to wind up alone.

Is being single or unmarried considered a failure for women?

As if we’re liable to bring usability to society – like, do we, women, owe to procreate?

Married with no children is suspicious enough. Being single is sinister.

The Lonely: How Our Search for Love is Broken, Aimee Lutkin

The stigma associated with being single has never diminished, with particular pressure on women who are not married by their mid-30s, let alone going solo for the rest of their life.

I was never against marriage, nor fully decided to live alone. I just, simply, happen to be single. For now.

No one chooses to go through life without being in a committed intimate relationship and if they do – they’re entitled to those preferences.

The pressure of following the conventional life pathway seems a latent culture in society but numbers tell a different story for an almost half-past century – statistically speaking.

Looking back on the ’80s when I was born, the percentage of adult women aged 20 years and above, who were unmarried in Indonesia was 31%. A decade later, the number increased to 33%. The marriage trend in Indonesia has continued to decline in the last 10 years. One of the sharp declines occurred in 2020-2021, namely when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

According to Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011 – an increase of around 80% in 15 years.

Euromonitor estimates that the number of single-person households will increase by 120 million by 2030, up about 30% in 2018.

Among the many factors behind the marriage free fall have been female education level, women’s economic independence, and gender equality.

Thus, it may sound like making the weight on women’s individual choices per se, which there is an increasing priority here. While women are getting more educated, they are more investing in careers and delaying marriage – if not opting out completely.

Indeed, employment offers us an alternative – likely to bring more life choices. Having more financially independent, women can pursue a single life that may appeal more than the drudgery of traditional marriage, suggesting more highly educated women are reluctant to wed – the compatibility rank shall be higher at least.

College-graduated women with a degree tend to seek and find it important to be with partners that have similar educational credentials – adding to an equal mindset and value in life. We are likely to form long-term relationships with someone like us, and assortative mating – is the term sociologists use to describe this tendency.

But the problem is how much the ratio of well-educated women getting around with compatible men?

In many cases in the dating market, there may not be enough educated men to go around. Meaning, it’s either we low the bar or remain faithful to our solitary while finding a so-called qualified partner who simply does not exist. It’s like a supply and demand model.

When searching for “Mr. Right”, I’m mainly attracted to corporate lads. Well, whom am I to blame? With a certain level of my career experience and educational background, I indeed prefer dating a man who is intellectually and financially superior.

It occurs to me that I have a soft spot for Economic graduates, numbers intellectuality wooed me better than words. And, I’m not yet talking about the good look, which holds more weight than all values. Kidding me. Lol!

Excepting that I hold high levels of brain and beauty attractiveness, is my being picky about selecting a better-quality man considered a ridiculous demand?

Just like other Asian women, I practically grew up with such a piece of “great” marriage advice, which had been long cultivated since my mom’s generation or even longer, that husband-hunting would likely be the end game, hypothetically, once we reach thirty.

That is first.

Second, the better educated a woman is, the less likely she is to marry.

I suppose we need to add the third list – men are afraid of ambitious women or Asian men generally prefer “less intelligent” women. They might claim attracted to smarties women but only for personal admiration, not for building a family.

When it comes to marriage, Asian men “culturally” wanted their future wives to stay at home all day. And marrying a so-called career woman, this decision could be complicated. Others think a high-achiever woman could intimidate the male status quo.

I once asked a Japanese colleague if he wants her girlfriend, who’s working as an auditor in the Big 4, to stay working or become a housewife after they got married. He expects her to focus on taking care of households once they got kids.

Now, they have married and only got fur kids. So, both still keep their job. Fair enough.

I, therefore, said the demand is culturally based – thanks to Confucius.

Confucianism has long been rooted as the basis of regional identity in major East Asian countries. It has continued to govern every life aspect, spiritually, society, politics, and even economics. In Confucian belief, women were consigned as yin, while men were yang – signifying hierarchal gender relations.

In yin yang theory, the differences are part of the natural order of the universe, where Confucius emphasized the importance of understanding one’s place in relationships and not questioning nor attempting to alter it. Meaning, male dominance could be no less than a cult cultural practice. No?

According to Patricia Erbey who writes Women in Traditional China, the natural relationship between yin and yang is the reason that men lead, and women follow. If yin unnaturally gains the upper hand, order at both the cosmic and social levels is endangered.

So, fellas, women being smarties may put harmful to societal stability.

Nevertheless, marriage patterns will continue to diverge by education and culture, contributing to growing socioeconomic differences in patterns of family formation.

So, assuming the idea of marriage becomes less appealing for both genders, and the number of solo households keeps growing, can the unmarried life – whether you’re focusing on your career, building up some financial security, or just don’t buy into the idea of marriage – be viewed as an empowering choice?

2 thoughts on “The World of The Unmarried”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Thought there’s so much that I agree on, I cannot say the same for the entirety of the post. But well written. Hats of to you girl!
    Hardly get to read such intellectually stimulating posts these days on WordPress.
    My name is Savio and I am from India. Good to be here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s