So I was in NYC for the weekend. God, I love New York. Love, love, LOVE. It's cold, rational, impersonal, independent, historic, big, loud, rude, beautiful, and doesn't give a crap about me. Just like a modern woman, apparently.
While in NYC, I read the NYTimes (paper version and everything!) and was drawn moth-like to an article on marriage stats. Seems that for the first time ever, a majority of American women (51%--"majority" enough to elect a new president, after all) are living without a spouse. Some are married and separated, some have absent spouses, but many of them are just plain single. In 1950, only 35% of marriageable women were still single.
Here are a few more interesting stats from the article:
- "Between 1950 and 2000, the share of women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42 percent."
- "Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58 percent, from 82 percent."
- "Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse [...] compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women."
(There was one small mathematical anomaly in the article that caught my eye. Well maybe not an anomaly so much as a lack of understanding of statistics on my part, but...apparently 53% of American men are married. I'm obviously not a statistician, but to whom are these extra millions of men married? Shouldn't the numbers add up? ...Maybe the census poll counted same-sex marriage.)
The researchers list a few explanations for women's growing singleness: pairing up much later in life, shacking up instead of getting married, living longer as widows, and not getting re-hitched after a divorce.
It may not seem like that big a deal, but what if this marks some kind of cultural tipping point? Where will everyone live?! Think of the children! (I'm joking.)
It's pretty easy to live a full single life these days. I know lots of great singles who seem to have a full schedule. I'm sure there are moments when they would like someone to share it with, but then when you're coupled, there are moments when you wish you could be alone. But clearly, if you're a single woman in the U.S., there are plenty of other single women to hang out with--not to mention single men. Plus things like the Internet are allowing us to be very social and interactive and live pretty fullish lives, alone and direct from our arses.
It's interesting that as we become more technologized, individualized, and settled as a modern culture, marriage seems to be disappearing. Traditional marriage, anyhow. I'm married, and I love my husband. But we didn't have to get married; we would have stayed committed to each other regardless. It was nice to have a big party and "proclaim our love" but we could've done that without changing our legal status. Maybe that blase attitude to formal marriage is partly behind the new marriage stats. Funny how love is trumping marriage.
I do have respect for the idea of marriage. I think it's romantic that we bind ourselves to each other for life. Is it natural? Maybe moreso for some than for others. I certainly don't think pairing off is natural for every human.
I also wonder, is this a rejection of traditional gender roles on the part of women, or some other kind of statement about putting yourself first, or some kind of new acceptance of the reality that your life rarely turns out the way you planned it when you were 12, or something else altogether? Maybe we're letting go of the Brideypants Barbie fantasy (yay!) and realizing that Ken isn't as perfect as he seems--he's gassy and he produces laundry and sometimes he's a little distant. Of course, Barbie is all of those things too.
I know I'm not saying anything original here, but the facts are the facts: you're born alone and you die that way too, no matter who you bond yourself to in this life. If this new female singleness is a first snapshot of women rising to both feet and standing firm in the face of humanity's ultimate singleness, I don't see how that can be a bad thing. It will undoubtedly fill the world with more depth and expression as the second half of the species explores the world on its own terms for the first time.
But I also wish everyone someone to cuddle with along the way.