Will We Ever Be Ready for a Modern-Day Unmarried President?

unmarried president

I thought about all this when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy. Should she win, she would obviously become our first female president. Before that, we elected our first president of color. One day, we’ll have an openly gay – and probably married – executive in chief. A never-betrothed president? We’ve only had one: James Buchanan.

One night last winter I couldn’t get one of my rubber boots off. Exasperated, and with no help in sight, I hobbled to the kitchen for a knife and cut it off.

I had to laugh myself.

Ah, the condition of being single. I’ve been mulling it lately, particularly since the high court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

Of course, l’affaire botte was an extreme example of the kind of things that happen when one is going it alone. More typically, singletons are merely subject to the least-desirable seats in restaurants, often near overripe restrooms; more holidays at work than married counterparts; party-planner disses; pricier travel packages, the usual. That’s how it goes.

And I am an educated, healthy, attractive, good-natured middle-age person who has never married. That’s just how it’s worked out. And at this point let’s face it, there’s a decent chance things won’t change. And that would be okay.

Marriage simply isn’t for everyone.

In that, I’m not alone. In 2012, the number of Americans over 25 who had never married reached 23 percent for men and 17 percent for women, the highest levels in 52 years. And last year, unmarried American adults outnumbered their hitched counterparts for the first time since 1976, when the Feds began tracking that data. I have plenty of friends who have never married. Happy friends.

Still, stigmas remain, and the public remains divided over the societal role of marriage. In a recent Pew survey, respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage or children. Some 46 percent of adults chose the first statement; 50 percent, the second. Among those ages 50 and older, 55 percent chose the first statement. But by 67 percent, younger people, respondents ages 18 to 29, were okay with other priorities.

I thought about all this when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy. Should she win, she would obviously become our first female president. Before that, we elected our first president of color. One day, we’ll have an openly gay – and probably married – executive in chief.

A never-betrothed president? We’ve had one: James Buchanan.

Of course, that was 150 years ago. Times have changed. Today, shots of candidates with their smiling, waving spouses are misty Americana. Children? Even better! These images represent our familial ideal, even in the face of dramatic cultural shifts.

I can’t help but wonder, perhaps cynically: have any presidential contenders remained married – or gotten married in the first place – for the sake of a shot at the White House? Conversely, how many bright, capable, but unmarried citizens rule themselves out?

We don’t discuss it in polite company, but the fear is that something’s wrong with that person, a notion which is reductive, obsolete and, considering divorce rates, hypocritical.

The only requirements to be president are basically, be at least 35 and a natural U.S citizen.

But if we’re honest, a tacit requirement is ring-finger adornment. Singletons needn’t apply.

Why anyone would want to endure the  rigors of a presidential campaign is well beyond me. But we ought to consider the kind of messages we send to those who otherwise would.

Mary M. Chapman is a Detroit-based writer and frequent contributor to The New York Times. A former staffer for United Press International, she’s written for national publications such as Newsweek, Time, Fortune, Daily Beast, People, Crain’s and others. she is currently writing a book on Margaret Dunning titled “Belle of the Concours.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

  • Lezlie Bishop

    Lindsey Graham has never been married, but only he believes he has a shot at the White House. For the longest time I have disliked the role the First Lady has during her husband’s presidency. Women like Michelle Obama, for example, who couldn’t care less about china patterns and redecorating that old house are relegated to play wifey and mother of the century. It’s the American version of King and Queen. Based on the behavior of men (especially) in my son’s generation, marriage often takes a back seat to self-actualization and ambition. I have been divorced for 30 years and have stopped looking back. I figure out how to unzip my stuck zippers, kill spiders and, once even, killed a rat. If someone tries to seat me near the rest room in a restaurant, I refuse to sit there. You’re right — marriage isn’t for everybody and it is no longer a foregone conclusion.

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