Brianna Parkins: Spare me from the ‘why aren’t you married’ brigade

Somehow men are prize animals we have to lure into lifelong commitment against their will with a piece of ham and no sudden moves

I thought I had reached the designated safe zone for an unmarried woman of my age. The designated crone years where asking me why I’m not married isn’t a condescending semi-joke but now feels like a cruel taunt. In sort of the same way we weren’t, as kids, allowed to ask the veteran soldier across the road if he lost his leg in the war.

“Leave her poor creature, she can’t help it, who would have her now,” people hiss to each other in the hallway as they get their coats.

I am at peace with this arrangement because it lets me pursue my favourite passtime: being left alone to eat a packet of biscuits.

The only person who has bothered me recently was my niece, who turned to me as if I was a dinner party guest (we were playing mermaids in the pool) and asked: “Why did you never marry?”


“I once had a sweetheart but he died of a fever and I vowed never to love another again,” I replied. Instead of just reminding her I am 31.

I was grateful to leave the treacherous stretch of my 20s, where family, friends, doctors and the man who read the gas metre would inquire if I thought about ever settling down with a nice boy. The stages of life where people you’ve just met feel they can give you fertility advice, even when you’re just trying to wash your hands in the loo. “You can’t put it off forever,” one lady said to me once. She was not talking about the queue for the bathroom where she had just met me 30 seconds earlier.

“You’ve got a boyfriend but no ring yet I see,” people say while scanning you over trying to work out what’s wrong with you that you can’t trick a man into marrying you.

Because somehow men are prize animals we have to lure into lifelong commitment against their will with a piece of ham and no sudden moves. Despite research showing men get more out of marriage than women in terms of happiness, health and even career progression, we still think of women to be the ones going around with big nets stashed up our jumpers ready to pounce on some poor unfortunate soul to cook, clean and advance the career of.

‘You shouldn’t be so picky,’ a man said to me once. ‘Your wife should have been,’ I thought

I welcomed my status slide from “eligible bachelorette” to “official hag”, detouring via “suspected frigid” and “are you sure she even likes men?”

Then I moved to Ireland where people get married and have children much later than my Australian friends, who are on their third baby and second husband. Sadly I’ve given up my tragic spinster status and people have once again started asking me why I don’t have children and why I’m not married “yet”.

By people I mean mostly men who have said things like being a wife and having children is the best thing I can do with my life. It is odd because they themselves do not have children and are not wives. In fact, in my experience, the folk who think that getting a man improves the life of women are almost never in fact women.

“You shouldn’t be so picky,” a man said to me once. “Your wife should have been,” I thought.

I have decided to improve my life and protect my peace by being rude to others. I am taking a vow of impoliteness. But only when it is warranted

Why are they allowed to ask me why I don’t have children when I’m not allowed to ask how they split their emotional and domestic labour with their wife. Can I ask her if they still have sex or if she now views him as another child to pick after?

I suppose I am allowed but I would be considered rude.

The rudeness rule only flows one way: people are okay to ask me if I think abstaining from having a kid is selfish. It is not okay for me to ask them why they had more children than they could afford comfortably.

Which is a bit unfair given my selfish, barren tax dollars go towards paying the universal Child Benefit payment, supporting other people’s offspring to the tune of €140 per sprog, per month. It isn’t even means tested, so I’m probably subsidising the dressage lessons of some kid called Tarquin from my rented house furnished with glasses “borrowed” from the pub.

It is universally acknowledged that we are still allowed to make resolutions for the new year in March because the year has barely got out of bed yet and if it has it’s still wearing its pyjamas while hunting for a pair of clean undies to wear.

I have decided to improve my life and protect my peace by being rude to others. I am taking a vow of impoliteness. But only when it is warranted. I won’t be going around shoving slow-walking schoolchildren down the escalators at St Stephen’s Green shopping centre or flipping off elderly ladies who say hello to me at the bus stop.

It’s just that if someone asks me an impolite question about something that has nothing to do with them, I’ll be ready with a response. I don’t have children because it would interfere with my life purpose (being left alone and eating biscuits). But I have never asked anyone to justify why they decided to have kids (was it boredom? You weren’t allowed a dog in your apartment? You wanted someone to watch telly with?) Maybe we need to start.

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins is an Irish Times columnist