Relationships & Dating

Single and Happy? More Women Are Saying Yes

With Valentine’s Day behind us, it might be a good time to take a look at one of the old tropes dominating our culture for far too long: the idea that single people are unhappy. The 20th century ideal of the nuclear American family, with two married, heterosexual parents and 2.2 children has been under siege for some time, but some prejudices remain. Among them is the idea that we are all destined for couplehood in some form, and that those who aren’t part of one must be miserable, or lonely, at the very least.

In 1960, 72 percent of adults over 18 were married. By 2014, that figure had shrunk to 50 percent. Looking at it another way that means fully half the population is unmarried. Single people are not a minority anymore. Not everyone is meant to marry — as Henry David Thoreau once said, “I’ve never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Marriage has many drawbacks, as any honest married person will tell you. Once married, almost every decision you make needs to take another person into account. Statistically, married people are more likely to be overweight, exercise less, and have less job satisfaction, which declines after marriage for both sexes, but even more so for women.

In contrast, singles have distinct advantages. Single people tend to have more friends, and also to have stronger relationships with family and neighbors. Unmarried women also care more about women as a group, which offers them a sense of community. They are more likely than their married counterparts to “open up” when talking to friends. Once married, women feel “disloyal” if they tell friends about marital troubles. This leads to them feeling isolated, and often this “closing down” leads to more trouble — married women don’t confide their relationship woes to others until it is too late fix them.

Being single was a mark of failure during the height of American conformity, the 1950s. Unmarried women were known as “old maids,” and their male counterparts were called “confirmed bachelors,” often a code for a closeted homosexual. Yet prior to that there had always been a place for the singles. They were maiden aunts, nuns, priests, schoolteachers, etc., and they often lived harmoniously with their extended families. The American ideal of independence, however, pressured people, as they assimilated, to live on their own, independently, contributing to social isolation. People felt sorry for and worried about single women. I remember my cousin’s best friend, who was unmarried through the conformist 1950s and 1960s. Though she was a beautiful woman with a successful career, she was referred to as “poor Rose” as though afflicted. No one considered that she might have chosen to be unmarried — and that she might prefer it.

That began to change during the era of women’s liberation — a popular slogan was “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, portrayed a single career woman who was so happy she could “turn the world on with her smile,” according to the theme song. It was never suggested that the character, Mary Richards, was to be pitied.

While most of us would not turn down a chance to be wedded to our soulmate, happy ever after, we know that this is a fantasy seldom achieved. Those from broken homes, victims of abuse, and people who are conflict averse sometimes prefer to avoid the battlefield of marriage. There are also people who are strong-willed, very particular or set in their ways, and/or extremely independent who prefer to stay single.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.