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Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. And the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother, who had embraced it, in part, I suspect, to correct for her own choices.I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: , and bellowing along to Gloria Steinem & Co.’s feminist-minded children’s album, Free to Be …By the time she was in her mid-30s, she was raising two small children and struggling to find a satisfying career. Could she have even envisioned herself on a shopping excursion with an ex-lover, never mind one who was getting married while she remained alone?

But my future was to be one of limitless possibilities, where getting married was something I’d do when I was ready, to a man who was in every way my equal, and she didn’t want me to get tied down just yet.

This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place.

I spent many a golden afternoon at my small New England liberal-arts college debating with friends the merits of leg-shaving and whether or not we’d take our husband’s surname.

(Even then, our concerns struck me as retro; hadn’t the women’s libbers tackled all this stuff already?

Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognized, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks.

But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort.) We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. One of the many ways in which our lives differed from our mothers’ was in the variety of our interactions with the opposite sex.As he and I toured through Manhattan’s men’s-wear ateliers, we enjoyed explaining to the confused tailors and salesclerks that no, no, we weren’t getting married. I retell that moment as an aside, as if it’s a tangent to the larger story, but in a way, it is the story.In 1969, when my 25-year-old mother, a college-educated high-school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing.She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux., she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible.