Sometimes, after meeting a friend’s significant other, someone will observe that the man or woman in question is “the marrying type.” Others around will nod wisely and pensively sip their drinks. (I imagine this sort of thing happens in a dimly lit bar, where the friends have convened to imbibe and pass judgment.) What exactly identifies this person as the marrying type is unclear—maybe it’s a certain sparkle in their eye, or maybe they have helpfully tattooed a dotted outline on their left ring finger where a wedding ring might go.
But science is not satisfied with these clues. Science wants answers. What personal traits make someone the marrying type? A new study published in Social Science Research looks at how attractiveness, personality, and grooming influence the likelihood that someone will get married, or cohabitate in a relationship.
Michael T. French, a sociology professor at the University of Miami, and his team looked at longitudinal data of more than 9,000 adolescents as they became young adults—starting in 1994 when participants were in high school and middle school and ending in 2009 when they were aged 24 to 34. Interviewers were asked to rate the participants’ looks, personality, and grooming on a scale of one to five, five being the most attractive. So this study doesn’t get into the nuances of personality, and how one person’s “sarcastic and abrasive” might be another’s “charming and adorable,” but instead just looks at whether someone’s personality is generally “attractive.”
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“When I was a child,” Diana Adams began, “I had a doll house and a rich fantasy life. I imagined that I was a cancer-curing surgeon, a world-class ballerina, and a TV show host all at the same time. I was also an amazing mom to all my dolls, but it was always a little mysterious about where they had come from and whether they all had the same father. A little neighbor boy once said to me, ‘I’ll be the daddy.’ I thought about that for a moment. I said, ‘No, you can be my gay lounge singer friend. That’s much more fun.’ I’ve always liked boys. I just like them better in groups.”
Over the years, the aspiring ballerina/surgeon/TV host shifted her focus to law. As a lawyer, Diana now runs a Brooklyn-based legal firm oriented toward providing traditional marriage rights to non-traditional families like the one she imagined as a kid. As an openly polyamorous woman, Diana lives inside a version of that doll house today. Along with her primary partner Ed, she is currently romantically involved with several other men and women.
I sat down recently with the 35 year-old to discuss her life and career.
Yet nearly half of all married couples are likely to divorce, and many couples report feeling unhappy in their relationships. Instructors of Northwestern University’s Marriage 101 class want to change that. The goal of their course is to help students have more fulfilling love relationships during their lives. In Marriage 101 popular books such as Mating in Captivity and For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage are interspersed with meaty academic studies. Students attend one lecture a week and then meet in smaller breakout groups to discuss the weekly topics, which range from infidelity to addiction, childrearing to sexuality in long-term relationships.
At first glance this class may seem a tad too frivolous for a major research university. But the instructors say it’s not an easy A and its reputation as a meaningful, relevant, and enlightening course has grown steadily over the 14 years it’s been offered. In fact, teachers are forced to turn away eager prospective students every year. This spring, the enrollment will be capped at 100. The class is kept to a manageable size so that students can grapple at a deeply personal level with the material during their discussion sessions.
The Marriage 101 professors believe college is the perfect time for students to learn about relationships.
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Ever since the days of Jane Austen, pop culture consumers have been drawn to stories about female protagonists who find “happily ever after” in marriage and motherhood. (See: the media spectacles surrounding Kate Middleton’s fairytale wedding and now fairytale baby; the storylines of best-selling novels like Helen Fielding’s Austen-inspired Bridget Jones novels and the works of Jennifer Weiner; films and TV shows like 2011’s Friends With Kids and even HBO’s Sex and the City—a series originally deemed celebratory of single women.)
The “marriage plot” has, thankfully, been scrutinized and questioned by some of the aforementioned works—and was perhaps most specifically critiqued by Jeffrey Eugenides’s best-selling 2011 novel The Marriage Plot. Nevertheless, selective omission has successfully kept this perfect, neatly two-dimensional story—of the heterosexual single woman finding happiness by becoming single no longer, welcoming a child, and creating a family—intact.
Which is why Jenny Offill’s new novel, Dept. of Speculation, published a tidy 15 years after the release of her highly praised debut novel Last Things, is so audacious.
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"The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent," Sen. Marco Rubio said in a speech last week. “But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.”
In The Wall Street Journal, former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer concurred. “‘Marriage inequality’ should be at the center of any discussion of why some Americans prosper and others don’t,” he wrote, before suggesting the government would better off pushing matrimony than bulking up the safety net.
It is true that Americans who get married and stay married are unlikely to end up poor. As Derek Thompson noted last week, just 6.2 percent of wedded couples live below the official poverty line, compared to 31 percent of single mothers. Spouses share the costs of raising children and keeping a home, so it’s easier for them stay financially afloat.
But does that make marriage a great anti-poverty tool, on its own?
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In a Wall Street Journal editorial this week, Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer wrote that “‘marriage inequality’ should be at the center of any discussion of why some Americans prosper and others don’t.” He cited statistics about the vast income disparities between single women and married women, regardless of race, and argued that these gaps would shrink if women stayed in school and waited until marriage to have kids.
At an Atlantic summit on female poverty on Wednesday, the women in the room would have none of that.
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Among the photos of presents, parties, and booze-reddened relatives, another common theme seems to have emerged on Facebook in the past few weeks. A sizable chunk of my female friends, at least, have recently posted images of themselves grinning while holding up a jazz hand with a ring on it.
“Doesn’t it feel like everyone is getting engaged right now?” a friend from home asked the other night.
It feels that way, it turns out, because they are.
According to WeddingWire, 33 percent of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, making every January look a lot like Christmas for wedding planners, venue owners, and bridal shops facing a rush of newly engaged couples.
Amherst professor Catherine A. Sanderson on how men and women experience marital satisfaction differently.
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When Modern Family debuted in 2009, it drew notice for bringing two non-traditional families to network primetime alongside the familiar heterosexual, nuclear family. There were two gay men with an adopted daughter, and an interracial couple whose members were both on their second marriages. Both kinds of arrangement are increasingly common in America, so it seemed like a big deal that they had found their way to the same family sitcom, a format that has long wavered between reflecting and policing our nation’s self-image.
There was also a third, less talked-about element to the unorthodox nature of Modern Family's characters. Jay and Gloria are not just interracial but intergenerational. Gloria, a Colombian, is much younger (and several times more attractive) than her affluent, white husband, Jay.
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Last week, I joined Shaadi.com, India’s oldest and most popular matrimonial website.
Call it anthropological curiosity; call it a metric of my own narcissism. Call it acclimating to the Indian single life after coming of age in the West, where India is often seen as a country of arranged marriages and impenetrable glass ceilings. If there’s truth to caricature, then call my joining the online matrimony network a modern-day leap onto a bandwagon of millennia-old social custom.
“Shaadi” is the Hindi word for wedding; Shaadi.com is, intuitively, a wedding arranged via the Internet. It’s one of more than 100 Indian websites that comprise the country’s thriving online matrimonial market, where an individual can browse for his or her ideal spouse among a catalog of potential candidates organized by the personal information that apparently matters most: religion, caste, income, fairness of skin, family background, and so on.
Read more. [Image: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters]