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Solo Features

The ‘never married’ monkier

Being single is one thing, just don’t suggest that the person flying solo is a ‘never married’.

If you look up the word ‘single’ in a thesaurus you will learn a lot. Classed as an adjective, the no-beating-about-the-bush definition is ‘without a spouse’, while the less negative synonyms include ‘fancy-free’, ‘footloose’, ‘lone’, ‘sole’, ‘spouseless’, ‘unattached’, ‘unmarried’ and ‘unwed’. But apart from ‘lone’, which is obviously derived from that dreadful word ‘lonely’, there is nothing too pessimistic there. Or, more to the point, there is thankfully not a sign of that other hideous moniker some folk use for singletons: NEVER MARRIED.
The expression ‘never married’ is, of course, an atrocious one by its very nature. And yet it shows up everywhere. If you had yet to go up the aisle at the time of the last census, you had to tick the ‘single, never married’ box in order to slot into a particular demographic. And then you felt like you needed to join a support group to meet other like-minded souls. In fact, it’s a wonder nobody has been moved to set up a Never Marrieds Anonymous branch.
I must have been hearing this turn of phrase for years, but I didn’t really take any notice of it until, some time ago, I asked my mother about a neighbour of ours. For the purposes of privacy, let’s just say the person in question was called Mary Jones. Never a close family friend or anything, Mary was a few years older than me and for some reason she popped into my head one afternoon.
“What’s Mary Jones doing these days?” I casually enquired, not even caring.
“Mary Jones? Oh, she never married.”
There it was. The ‘never married’ tag. For all I knew Ms Jones could have been president of a high-powered financial institution. She might have even excelled at some sport on a national level (I seem to remember her being good at basketball). Who knows? According to my mother she was simply ‘never married’. At 37 years of age, she had been locked into the spinster’s box, key thrown away.
“WHAT?” I screeched. “What do you mean she never married? She could marry yet?”
“Mmm. I don’t know,” mused my mother, clearly believing that Mary Jones was past it, with nothing to look forward to except a life on the shelf. Gathering dust.
Funnily enough Mary Jones actually did get hitched some time later – to a man she met on a religious pilgrimage I believe. (Knock, anyone?). So now she’s called Mary Something Else and is happily settled into a Godly union. I’ve not asked about her lately and if I did I’d probably be told that she was grand, but childless as she wed so late in life. Which brings us neatly to the subject of age. How old do you have to be before you are officially a ‘never married’. Before the ‘never’ becomes ‘NEVER, EVER, EVER’? Before you are permanently classed into a population zone from which there is no escape?
Opinions, it would appear, vary. Going by my mother’s standards you are apparently en route to being a ‘never married’ if you’re on the wrong side of 30 and still looking for a spouse. Mary Jones’ lucky break in Lourdes (or was it Medjugorje?) aside, the older generation tends to write men and women off if they haven’t hooked up by 40, particularly women as they have the added issue of their biological clocks ticking. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, TICK TOCK..it’s amazing how some can even sleep at night.
Of course certain celebrities have done wonders for the plight of the ‘never married’ brigade. Now, we don’t mean starlets like Peaches Geldof, who clearly has such a profound fear of falling into this denomination that she exchanged vows in Vegas with a lad we’re not sure she even knows. No, we mean people like Nicole Kidman, who married a tad later in life. (Yes, yes, we know – she was Tom Cruise’s wife years ago, but that doesn’t count.) And look at Madonna. She was no spring chicken at her wedding, having nabbed a guy (pardon the pun) ten years her junior to boot. They may or may not not be heading to the divorce courts, but so what? We can see her doing it all over again in her 50s, which is more than encouraging.
But back to the burning question – what age do you need to hit before you are a bona fide ‘never married’, no going back? Well, I threw the question out there and I got a few different responses, with most people suggesting somewhere between 40 and 50. A couple of more pushed the boat out and reckoned 60. But the best response came from a female friend of mine, who is – happily – single.
“I will never be a ‘never married’,” she said. “I could meet my match at any age. The opportunity always exists. There is no such thing as ‘never married’.”
And I had to agree, plus applaud her level-headed attitude. For a person flying solo, the ‘never married’ badge is the least welcome one so it was nice to hear that, as branding goes, it was a bit off the mark. Until another friend pointed something else out to me. That’s all well and good, she noted, but if you die single, no sooner has rigor mortis set in than you are outed as a ‘never married’ in one foul and final swoop. The death notice. It says it all. My neighbour Mary Something Else will have her death announced with dignity: Mrs Mary Something Else (née Jones). I, on the other hand, will be listed as Ms Karina Corbett. End of. No née because, well, I never married.

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