“No, I get it. I have nothing against it, I mean. It’s just not for me.” Another stuttering, awkward answer to the Why aren’t you getting married? question, fired at me by married and soon-to-be-married friends. I find these conversations about marriage totally impossible. And I’m not alone.

Marriage is losing popularity— last year marriage rates showed that only about 2 million weddings were taking place in the US, compared to almost 2 and a half million a year when their popularity peaked in the 1980s. But to those getting married, the ceremony and the process still hold huge significance. While for a lot of us, it just doesn’t seem so important. And that’s a tricky situation. As more women chose to abstain, but some still cherish the tradition of marriage, there’s a huge tension developing between the I Dos and the I Don’ts. Because with life decisions this large and this difficult, it’s hard not to take things personally.

It shouldn’t feel this way. It should be a live-and-let-live situation. A lot of “I’m just happy that you’re happys” and we can all call it day. But as I reach my 30s, I see the gulf widening. Because it’s impossible to answer the question, “Why don’t you want to get married?” without it sounding insensitive or downright insulting to married people. I still haven’t managed it. And it’s hard to talk about how much getting married means to you without seeming like you’re judging the relationships of those who haven’t taken that step. I can feel it radiating off of some of my friends— so sure that I’m somehow less committed to my partner than they are to theirs.

We Are Our Choices

Our own choices inform everything we can say about the topic, and those belie judgment. Because if we’re honest, saying “Oh no, whatever works for you, but for me…” always sounds disingenuous by the time you finish that sentence.

Not only that, new research shows that more women are now having children in their early 30s than in their 20s, meaning that there is an even starker line between those wanting to settle down and start a family and those who aren’t.

But nobody wants personal decisions to come between genuine friendships. We are all happy for each other, so why is it such a quagmire? Why can’t we discuss these issues with our nearest and dearest without feeling like we’ve said something awful— or getting offended ourselves?

It stems from our own insecurities. The pressure on women to be independent, career-driven, maternal, devoted, selfless mother-entrepreneur-machines leaves so many of us questioning our own decisions. No matter how happy and secure you feel, there’s a niggle. There’s a doubt. There’s a potential regret. And that’s the part of us that perceives judgement, that feels, somewhere, that our friends don’t quite believe our decisions are the right ones. Unless, of course, their decisions have been exactly the same as ours. Then we can seek comfort in that. We retreat into those like us and the divide grows wider.

Bridging The Gap

So we need to bridge the gap. The external, ubiquitous pressure shouldn’t can’t be allowed to affect our most intimate relationships. Different decisions don’t need to prove divisive. Instead, we can voice our doubts and find reassurance from each other— even when our choices and decisions don’t look anything alike. Because we all feel those pressures and we all have those doubts.

If, rather than sensing judgement and becoming defensive, we can be frank about the feelings underpinning these conversations, there’s a lot of room for understanding. After all, one of the great things about modern women and modern relationships is that there’s more freedom to be anything and do anything we want. And with more choices there will be more options, different paths for us all to be on— each with their own set of doubts and frustrations. But whether you’re an I Do or an I Don’t, we can all bond over that.