A Note to All the Single Ladies, Be Happy He Never Put a Ring on It
Illustration by Diedra Cavina.


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A Note to All the Single Ladies, Be Happy He Never Put a Ring on It

A recent government survey found that single people are happier than their married peers. So can everyone get off my back with this whole "when's your wedding," thing?

Pacitan was a bundle of nerves. Rintang had just returned from his hometown, a beautiful coastal town on the southern edge of East Java, where all his childhood friends were nervous about not being married yet.

"Some women who I'm friends with since high school deliberately got themselves knocked up so they could get married," Rintang told me. "Some would even pretend to get pregnant. It's as if marriage is the collective standard of happiness."


As for me, I'm more in-line with Syahrini's take on marriage.

Syahrini's post received over 160,000 likes and thousands of comments. Most of them were the exact kind of anxieties Rintang found in Pacitan. @irvan_maullana told the 35-year-old celebrity to "nikah woy" ("get married already") and @rskagustina wrote "Ndaaang nikaah tanteee @princessyahrini… inget umuur" ("Go get married @princessyahrini… you don't have forever").

Here's why: the vast majority of Indonesians associate happiness with marriage. We've written before about the insane heights the country's marriage lust is pushing weddings, explored what it's really like to be married, and covered the city government's weird plans to find everyone a date. It's like the whole place is just dying to pair-off and settle down.

The story goes like this: after years and years of school work, then actual work, the only things left are to get married and make babies. And this life track is so ingrained in our culture that people act like it's impossible to change, postpone, or even skip this sequence entirely. If you are one of the few people who still isn't married by your late 20s, then you better have some thick skin because people are going to talk.

But marriage isn't always a gateway to happily-ever-after. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) does its own "happiness index," and according to government data, singles are the happiest people in Indonesia. The BPS changed its methodology this year and it found that, overall, the country was happier than it was in 2014—the start of President Joko Widodo's administration.


The data plots points on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being totally miserable and 100 being completely overjoyed. Nationally, Indonesian's happiness levels rose form 68.28 under the old methodology to 69.51 this year. Under the new methodology, the national happiness level stood at 70.69.

Drill deeper and there's some interesting information about the state of relationships and marriage. Single people (71.53) were happier than their married peers (71.09) while widowers (68.37) were happier than divorcees (67.83).

"There isn't a huge gap between single and married people," Sairi Hasbullah, the deputy head of social statistics at the BPS, told VICE. "But [the happiness index] is indeed higher among those who are single. That's why, according to the report, [singles] are more satisfied in certain indicators."

Sairi explained that "singles" in this context just means "not married." So they are people who are either in a relationship, dating around, or happily alone. This group, the not-yet-married crew, was happier with their income levels, education, employment, and health.

The data may show that singles are happier than their married peers, but that doesn't mean the rest of the country is ready to accept the whole "single and happy" mentality. Women over the age of 30 are still shamed as perawan tua, or leftover women, if they stay unmarried. And elected officials think it's OK to make fun of older unmarried people. Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil once remarked that "in Germany, there's a tradition where singles need to sweep the floor of City Hall."


It all comes down social conventions, said Nia Elvira, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia. In the end, it doesn't matter how successful you are in you career, your life, or your goals. Marriage—and children—are the true measure of success in Indonesia, she explained.

"If an adult is not married, our society will think they haven't yet led their ideal lives," Nia told VICE. "Our society still believes the concept of division of labor—that's a sociological term. According to that concept, women belong in at home while men belong in public."

"Women who are professionally accomplished, are still considered incomplete. The ultimate accomplishment for a woman is in the domestic realm, which is to be a devoted wife and mother; a cheerleader for the husband's career, and an educator for their children," Nia said.

Religion, and conservative social mores, also play an important role. The Instagram account Gerakan Nikah Muda perpetuates the fantasy of getting married young, warning its 189,000 followers not to "pacaran" (date around) and to avoid "zina" (an Islamic term that covers sex—or any form of intimacy, really—before marriage).

Accounts like that are a form of social soft pressure in Indonesia. "They push people to get married young, while shaming those who refuse by casting them as outside the norm," explained Frenia Nababan, a coordinator at the Indonesia Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI), in a conversation with Magdalene.


"We shouldn't generalize everyone," Frenia told Magdalene. "Some are physically, mentally, and financially ready, but some may not be. Everyone is different."

There's consequences to hopping on the young marriage train too. Divorce rates rose 52 percent between 2010 and 2014, with 70 percent of the divorce cases filed by wives, according to the most-recent data available.

The ministry did a second survey of two million married couples where both parties were either younger than 25, or married for less than five years. They found that 15 percent of these young marriages ended in divorce.

"The research showed that young couples don't understand that getting married means taking responsibility toward each other and each other's family," Muharam Marzuki, the ministry's head of research and development, told local media.

So maybe we all owe the BPS a debt of gratitude. After all, what's a better justification for staying single and avoiding a marriage that may end in divorce than officially sanctioned data? Next time someone asks you not if, but when you're getting married, just tell them you're happily single, and that even the government knows it.

I mean, I know there are a lot of people out there who are lucky to be in a truly happy marriage. But to shove those super rare instances down all of our throats is just so fucking irritating. So yeah, maybe the real question is, are you happy today?