15 Famous People Who Chose to Stay Single
Love and marriage aren’t for everyone.
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Redefining “happily ever after”
If TV and movies have taught us one thing about love, it’s that two people in love end up “happily ever after” once they get married. Great…except that’s as much of a fairy tale as stories involving giants and dragons. Yes, marriage is still considered the norm in many Western cultures, with more than 90 percent of people ending up married by the age of 50. But just because there’s a wedding, that doesn’t mean that those involved are happy—or even content. In fact, approximately 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and these signs of trouble in paradise often lead to the beginning of the end. In other words, marriage isn’t for everyone. Here are 15 famous figures throughout history who either understood that or opted to stay single for other reasons. Whatever their rationale, we think it’s safe to say that things worked out just fine for them.
Susan B. Anthony
Suffragist and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony never wanted to get married or have children. And unlike her good friend and organizing partner Elizabeth Cady Stanton—who had seven children—Anthony was able to pick up and travel in order to speak or campaign for women’s suffrage without having to deal with caring for a family of her own. In fact, Anthony is quoted as saying, “I’m sure that no man could ever [have] made me happier than I have been.” Though she devoted her life to winning voting rights for women, she died 14 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage. Here are another 15 facts you probably didn’t know about Susan B. Anthony.
Ludwig van Beethoven
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Though he may have bridged the Classical and Romantic eras of Western classical music, famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven didn’t have much luck in the romance department in his personal life. Part of this may have been because of his personality: He was known for being shy and lonely, as well as short-tempered, greedy, and paranoid. Though he never married, he was in love with a married woman named Antonie Brentano. In 1812, Beethoven wrote her a love letter, but he never actually sent it to her. He addressed it: “To you, my Immortal Beloved.” The letter said, in part, “My heart is full of so many things to say to you—ah—there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all—Cheer up—remain my true, my only love, my all as I am yours.”
Are you a fan of Beethoven? Here’s what your favorite type of music says about your personality.
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Though Oprah Winfrey met her partner, Stedman Graham, in 1986, and they were once engaged, she has gone on record saying that she has no regrets about not getting married or having children. “Both he and I now say, ‘If we had married, we would not be together,’” she told People in 2019. “No question about it—we would not stay married, because of what that would have meant to him, and I would have had my own ideas about it.”
As far as being a mother, Winfrey says that she has been able to have other meaningful maternal relationships. “I also believe that part of the reason why I don’t have regrets [about not having children] is because I got to fulfill it in the way that was best for me: the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa,” she explained in the same interview. “Those girls fill that maternal fold that I perhaps would have had. In fact, they overfill—I’m overflowed with maternal.”
The Wright Brothers
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If you’ve heard of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their accomplishments and innovations in the field of air travel, you can thank their sister Katharine Wright for that. She acted as a public relations manager for her notoriously shy brothers, providing accurate scientific information to reporters, and also screened potential business offers. Partially due to their hectic schedules, neither Wilbur nor Orville ever married. In fact, Wilbur once commented to a reporter that he didn’t have time for a wife and an airplane. Though Katharine did eventually get married, it wasn’t until the age of 52, so the trio of siblings spent most of their lives together. Orville was so upset by his sister’s marriage that he refused to attend the wedding and didn’t speak with her for two years. Do you have tension in your own family? Here are some reasons why adult siblings stop speaking.
Queen Elizabeth I
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Some people know that marriage isn’t for them at a very early age. That was the case for Queen Elizabeth I of England way back in the 16th century. At the age of eight, she announced, “I will never marry,” and didn’t change her mind. Known as the “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I had her share of suitors but chose not to marry any of them. There are many theories as to why she decided to preserve her single status, including the fact that she wanted to retain her autonomy as a ruler. She had also witnessed the debacle of her sister Mary I’s marriage to Philip II of Spain, which brought with it an unwanted foreign influence on British politics. Either way, she remained single her entire life and rule. Check out these 13 biggest mysteries surrounding the royal family.
The first few years of Isaac Newton’s life were rough and likely shaped his outlook on relationships. He was born in 1642, several months after his father had died. Newton’s mother remarried when he was 3 years old, but his new stepfather didn’t want children, so he was sent to live with his grandparents instead. “The experience of being abandoned by his mother scarred Newton and likely played a role in shaping his solitary, untrusting nature,” History.com reports. A loner for most of his life, Newton focused on his scientific work and never married. If, however, romance is in your life, check out these celebrity love letters for some inspiration when writing a note to your beloved.
Louisa May Alcott
As the daughter of a Transcendentalist philosopher and one of the first social workers in Boston, Louisa May Alcott grew up with more freedom and education than the average girl in the mid–19th century. Though she wrote more than 200 works, she is best known for her novel Little Women. Alcott had no desire to get married and wanted the same for the fictional version of herself: Jo March in Little Women. Unfortunately, her publisher insisted that she marry the character off at the end of her iconic book, and that’s the ending we know today. Spoiler alert: Here are more endings to those famous books you never got around to reading.
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After years of being ignored by history in favor of shining the spotlight on Thomas Edison, inventor Nikola Tesla is finally getting some attention and recognition nearly 80 years after his death. Though best known for designing the alternating-current (AC) electric system and the Tesla coil, he was also known for some of his quirks. For instance, not only did he decide not to marry, but he also opted to remain celibate, claiming that celibacy helped him be more creative. Tesla did, however, claim to have had a relationship with a pigeon, once saying, “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.” While Tesla was completely serious when uttered that interesting statement, the people who said these 75 funniest quotes of all time probably weren’t.
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As one of the most famous nurses in the world, Florence Nightingale cared for a lot of people—but that didn’t include a husband. Though she had numerous suitors throughout her life and at least two marriage proposals, she decided not to marry, believing that God had chosen her to work and serve others as a single woman. She summed up her reasoning for rejecting a marriage proposal in a diary entry she wrote when she was 17: “I have a moral, an active nature which requires satisfaction and that I would not find in his life. I could be satisfied to spend a life with him in combining our different powers to some great object. I could not satisfy this nature by spending a life with him in making society and arranging domestic things.” Here are more empowering stories of amazing women in history.