Can You Tell If A Person Is Married By How They Look?

Not so long ago, I hugged a male friend, a fellow teacher, in greeting. It was a basic friend hug (whatever that is), but it happened to be witnessed by some of our elementary-aged students. Shorly after that hug, one of our students asked how long we had been married. I believe the both of us were extremely confused by the question—and I am still raking my brain as to how a hug implies marriage, even to a 10-year-old—but after a brief pause, my 29-year-old (four years my senior), single, laid back co-worker retorted with: “Do I look married?”

To which, as a married woman, I thought: Wait, what? So do I “look married?” I wasn’t offended about the idea that I looked married, it is just that I was nearly as confused on what looking married looks like (when my coworker believed that he didn’t), as I was by my student assuming that hug equals married.

So, what does it mean to “look married?” I’m talking about plain old married, maybe with kids, maybe not. Doesn’t really matter. Is it a stereotypical mom look, or is it a boring, overweight man? Or is it someone who doesn’t seem to be worried about their physical appearance (don’t get me started on that misguided assumption)? As much as I’ve tried to figure out what is implied about someone who does or doesn’t look married, the whole idea that marriage can be easily identifiable, physically speaking, is silly.

It’s possible, even probable, that I took my coworkers response too seriously. But it got me thinking: can you tell if someone is married based on the way they look; and if so, what do they look like? You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have a sibling, a deceased parent, or a dog (well, if they have dog fur all over their clothing, maybe you can on that one). And this works in reverse—is it possible to identify an unmarried individual, whether they are single, divorced, in a relationship, or widowed? So, why would you be able to tell if someone is married, based off of physical appearances only?

In all likelihood, you wouldn’t be able to. The only clues are if they look old enough to be married, or if you are close enough to tell if they have a wedding ring (but even married people don’t always wear rings). Which brings me to my theory: that each of us have an idea, and stereotypes about what marriage is, and how it affects people physically. If you think (maybe because you experienced it yourself, or because of your parents’ marriage) marriages are generally unhappy, then perhaps you envision a graying, stressed person. If you believe marriages are typically loving and fulfilling, then you probably assume that a married person appears healthy, and happy.

Marriage is something which affects your mental and emotional health a great deal, as supported by the discussion paper titled “How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence,” it does. According to the paper, a the rate of depression in women and alcohol abuse was found to be significantly less in married people, so therefore it is rather logical that it would have an impact on physical appearances. And, in fact, it does. The same discussion paper concludes that “marriage makes people live much longer” and “marriage makes people healthier and happier.” The paper states that “the health of never married and divorced men health deteriorates approximately 15-percent faster than that of married men,” But even so, the physical effects marriage has isn’t enough for someone to accurately, and easily, divide up and label people as “married” and “not married.”

On top of this, there is the whole age thing, which further complicates the idea that you can tell if someone is married or not, purely off of physical interpretations. As a 25-year-old who has been married for more than a year, and as someone who has always looked younger than my age, I regularly come into contact with people who either: 1) assume my husband to be my boyfriend, or 2) assume I am single, or 3) are noticeably surprised when they realize I am married (here’s hoping their surprise isn’t due to shock that someone would marry me).

But even here there are issues, as there are those who are older—whether in their fourth decade of life or seventh, who have decided to not marry. They may be unmarried for whatever reason: They have a partner, but just don’t want to marry; they never found anyone they loved enough to marry; they have dedicated their lives to something else, where marriage doesn’t work, either because they can’t marry (like a priest), or they are “married” to their life work, such as a yogi.

The point: You never can tell. If you are assuming that someone is married (or not) based off of the way they look, you are only armed with your own preconceived stereotypes, and you should stop and pause why you have these assumptions. Marriage and romantic relationships look a lot different than they did not only 60 years ago, but just five years ago, and making quick judgments on someone—someone who you may have never talked to before—isn’t smart.

So, to my coworker on whether you look married: Sorry not sorry, but I don’t know how to answer that.

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