The Conservatives are proposing tax breaks for married couples. Offering a tax break for married couples rates marriage above co-habiting or living on your own. This got me thinking about how we, as a society, rate relationships or their absence.
The question is much bigger than fiscal policy. The proposed tax break points to the deeper tyranny of coupledom, under which we live. Why do we value relationships (and we could argue, marriage in particular) above single life?
I see this a lot with clients: however much success and fulfillment people have in other aspects of their lives, being single can create a sense of lack, failure and oddity. ‘I don’t want people to think I’m weird,’ a client told me recently. Another spoke of feeling that they were disappointing their family by failing to be in a relationship. It’s significant that they were primarily concerned with what others think, rather than thinking about what they want themselves.
But contemporary British life offers a host of possibilities other than a traditional marriage. Cohabitation, Living Apart Together (LAT), people who are single (divorced or never married), second or third marriages, those who are independent but dating. The options go on. There’s never been a better time for us to throw off the tyranny of coupledom. It’s not enough to have a range of options available to us. We need to value all of those options equally.
What if it was just as socially acceptable to be 38 and single, as being 38 and married with kids? This would require a fundamental shift in our thinking. Fundamental shifts in thinking are challenging, but I suspect that such as shift would lead to greater happiness. And maybe less tax discrimination.