By Leah S. Dunaief
Nearly 40% of United States adults are single, which is up from 29% in 1990. Now, I’ve been married, and I’ve been single. My husband died just three months before we would have marked our 25th wedding anniversary and right around when the number of singles was so much lower. Next Friday would have been our 60th anniversary, but instead, I have been single for 35 years, so I know a little about both.
I was intrigued by an article in Time magazine that spoke about being single, asserting that about one-half of all singles aren’t interested in dating or a relationship and were happily single. This is quite a change from when I was newly alone. In the early 90s, single women were at best often ignored, and at worst, stigmatized and even preyed upon. All but the closest friends disappeared, and being the odd number for a reservation in a restaurant was a decided obstacle to being included. I don’t think single men had it all that easy, either. While single men were often invited to gatherings, as opposed to single women, there might have been some doubt about their sexuality. Heterosexuality, as evidenced by marriage then, was the norm.
Today, according to Time, the solo life is thought of as authentic, fulfilling, meaningful and psychologically rich. I have found that to be true as the years have gone by, but what a total shift in popular perspective. The marriage rate has been decreasing for decades, as has the birth rate, and the age at which marriage finally may occur, if at all, is later in life for many.
How has this happened?
For one thing, marriage is no longer considered necessary for having a family or assuring financial comfort. Someone like Alexander Hamilton, who was tortured throughout his life for being a bastard child of an unwed mother, would not recognize today’s values and would certainly have had an easier time of it.
While people in relationships may enjoy greater satisfaction, being married doesn’t guarantee happiness, as in, “They lived happily ever after.” There are people unhappy and even lonely in marriage, although with the decline in marriage, there has also been less divorce. Research shows that people in unhappy marriages have equal or worse health compared to those who never married.
Those who are single as a result of divorce seem to have the most difficult time, according to Time. Widowhood can also be associated with poor mental health, as grief can lead to depression and loneliness. But many of us cherish our freedom, independence, even our creativity and nonconformity, again according to Time, and I wholeheartedly agree.
There was a time when people, especially women, felt they had to have a man in order to define themselves and their position in society. A woman often was the one who sought financial security, while a man wanted a woman on his arm. Today, with the ability to earn a living, sometimes quite an excellent living, women don’t feel the same pressure to marry, nor do their mothers in urging them.
Singles have more time for themselves. They can focus on goals without having to consider the needs of someone else. There is also more time for spending on hobbies and self-care. This is especially true for younger women and for those who consider sex outside of committed relationships. That, of course, doesn’t preclude interest in a romantic relationship, which some enjoy.
As Time points out, being alone is not the same as being lonely. We singles often have strong ties to our families, to friends and to our neighborhoods. We can be actively involved in community organizations, have a sense of purpose and are generally self-sufficient.
We have to be.