Party Of One

More and more single women are reveling in going solo.

Family Matters

February 01, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Lane Hodes doesn't mince words. "The 'looking for a husband' concept baffles me."

Don't get her wrong. The 26-year-old University of Maryland law student likes men, and she'll probably get married one day. But Hodes, like many unmarried women these days, is enjoying not being in a serious relationship.

She didn't wait for a boyfriend to give her jewelry. When her birthday came around, she bought herself a diamond bracelet. And last year, Hodes vacationed in Las Vegas by herself, gambling in the casinos alone.

Hodes and others who are enjoying their singledom are benefiting from a cultural shift in attitude -- one that's sometimes obscured by speed dating, find-a-husband self-help books, relationship coaches and reality television shows like The Bachelorette.

Even the stars are seeing the beauty of going solo. Take the recent Golden Globe awards. Once Nicole Kidman split with hubby Tom Cruise, her career took off. Now, having moved on from rocker Lenny Kravitz, she appeared at the awards ceremony and parties afterward unescorted and radiant. Jennifer Lopez, no longer half of Bennifer, wowed the crowd without her former fiance Ben Affleck -- or any other man. And Diane Keaton, who won a best actress award for comedy or musical movie, is famously unattached.

"This is a time when single women in the United States have a dramatic license to do what they want," says Melissa Milkie, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, whose areas of research include family and gender.

They have a lot of company. According to the census, there are more than 44 million single women over 18, including the never married and those who are widowed or divorced -- a new high. True, President Bush would like to spend $1.5 billion for the promotion of "healthy marriages." But it's good to know there's also healthy singledom out there.

Men delaying marriage, too

To balance the bachelorettes of TV land, series like Friends have shown it can be cool to be single. Or as Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Carrie Bradshaw, says on the ultimate show about single women, Sex and the City: "Some people are settling down, some people are settling, and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies."

The feminist movement and popular culture have helped make it increasingly OK to stay single longer. The degree of OK-ness, depends on what part of the American population you're looking at. The higher the education level, Milkie says, the more acceptable being unmarried becomes. And it's not just women who are delaying getting hitched. Men, too, are having to explain to their parents why they are still single later than any generation that's gone before. But nowadays many women have the same means and the attitude that men do to enjoy going it alone.

The difference, of course, is their ticking biological clocks. But even that isn't the factor it once was. Women who want children have many more options these days. Sandra Small never married but is the mother of a 26-year-old daughter.

"She's engaged and will probably be married before I will," says Small, who is in her early 40s and works for the city. "I enjoy dating, and I would like to find Mr. Right if he's out there, but I don't want to settle. If it's meant to happen, it will happen."

More women are focusing on their careers than ever before, and with that comes financial independence and even money to burn. "You don't have to wait for a man to have a diamond," says Carson Glover of the Diamond Information Center. "The popularity of the right-handed diamond ring lets a woman wear a diamond on her finger without a relationship."

Some home furnishing retailers like Pottery Barn have started offering gift registries that are separate from their wedding registries. Linens 'n Things has a housewarming registry. You could take these as a clever marketing tool by the stores or as a sign that single women are no longer willing to wait for marriage to furnish the homes they have bought for and by themselves.

The friends factor

Ask Lane Hodes what she likes about being single and she says, "I have more time to spend with my friends. I love going out with my friends. If I meet 'him,' I meet him."

A few years ago, baby boomer parents, who paired off early, were surprised at the way their high-schoolers socialized in groups, a trend that Gen-Yers have continued into their twenties. In Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment (Bloomsbury, 2003), journalist Ethan Watters argues that these supportive, tight-knit groups of friends make it easier to delay marriage and live happily outside an exclusive relationship.

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