Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Marriage Strike Among Women
According to Time Magazine They are simply happier without men and fathers are unnecessary. "61% of women say they will consider raising a child on their own from a sperm donor." While 40% of all births are to single women.
All The Single Ladies (i.e. The End of Men II)
"we no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don’t want to. Biological parenthood in a nuclear family need not be the be-all and end-all of womanhood—and in fact it increasingly is not. Today 40 percent of children are born to single mothers."
By TAMALA M. EDWARDS: Time Magazine
Jodie Hannaman grew up in Houston, a city as fond of formal weddings as of barbecues and rodeos. So it was saying something at Duschene Academy, her Roman Catholic girls' school, that Hannaman was chosen as Most Likely to Be Married First. But her teenage fantasies of buttercream frosting and silky bridesmaids dresses first began to crack with her high school sweetheart. He dated her for more than a decade before she finally got tired of waiting for a marriage proposal that was never going to come. There were other men after that, but it was Hannaman who repeatedly decided against a life built for two. Marriage, it began to dawn on her, wasn't an end in itself but rather something she wanted only if she found the right guy.
Now Hannaman, 32, spends 60 hours a week in her job as project manager for Chase Bank of Texas in Houston, in an office decorated with art-museum magnets and Cathy cartoons. She extends her business trips into the weekends for solo mini-vacations, enjoys the social whirl of the Junior League volunteer circuit, and has started looking for a house. While she would love a great romance that would lead to marriage, she no longer feels she has to apologize for being single. "I've finally matured enough to acknowledge that there's more to life than being married," she says. "I'd like to get married and have kids, but something in the past few years has changed. I'm happier being single."
Hannaman might seem to have little in common with the four lead characters on TV's Sex and the City, single women who live the supafly life and discard men quicker than last season's bag and shoes--and look damn good doing it. Her sex life isn't nearly as colorful, for one thing. All of them, nevertheless, are part of a major societal shift: single women, once treated as virtual outcasts, have moved to the center of our social and cultural life. Unattached females--wisecracking, gutsy gals, not pathetic saps--are the heroine du jour in fiction, from Melissa Bank's collection of stories, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, the publishing juggernaut that has spawned one sequel and will soon be a movie. The single woman is TV's It Girl as well, not just on Sex and the City, the smash HBO series in the midst of its third buzz-producing season, but also on a growing number of network shows focused on strong, career-minded single women, such as Judging Amy and Providence.
The single woman has come into her own. Not too long ago, she would live a temporary existence: a rented apartment shared with a girlfriend or two and a job she could easily ditch. Adult life--a house, a car, travel, children--only came with a husband. Well, gone are the days. Forty-three million women are currently single--more than 40% of all adult females, up from about 30% in 1960. (The ranks of single men have grown at roughly the same rate.) If you separate out women of the most marriageable age, the numbers are even more head snapping: in 1963, 83% of women 25 to 55 were married; by 1997 that figure had dropped to 65%. "Are you kidding? An 18% to 20% point change? This is huge," says Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago.
To be sure, the rise in single women encompasses some other important trends. An estimated 4 million of these unmarried women are cohabiting with their lovers, and a growing number are being more open about gay relationships. Nevertheless, single women as a group are wielding more and more clout. A Young and Rubicam study released earlier this summer labeled single women the yuppies of this decade, the blockbuster consumer group whose tastes will matter most to retailers and dictate our trends. The report found that nearly 60% of single women own their own home, buying them faster than single men; that single women fuel the home-renovation market; and that unmarried women are giving a big boost to the travel industry, making up half the adventure travelers and 2 out of 5 business travelers.
Equally important is the attitudinal change. The dictionary once defined a spinster as an unmarried woman above a certain age: 30. If you passed that milestone without a partner, your best hope was to be seen as an eccentric Auntie Mame; your worst fear was to grow old like Miss Havisham, locked in her cavernous mansion, bitter after being ditched at the altar. Not anymore. "We've ended the spinster era," says Philadelphia psychotherapist Diana Adile Kirschner, who has made single women a focus of her practice. "Women used to tell me about isolation, living alone, low level of activity, feeling different. Now there's family, lots of friends, they're less isolated and more integrated into social lives."
More confident, more self-sufficient, and more choosy than ever, women no longer see marriage as a matter of survival and acceptance. They feel free to start and end relationships at will--more like, say, men. In a Yankelovich poll for TIME and CNN, nearly 80% of men and women said they thought they would eventually find the perfect mate. But when asked, if they didn't find Mr. Perfect, whether they would marry someone else, only 34% of women said yes, in contrast to 41% of men. "Let's face it. You don't just want a man in your life," says author Bank, 39. "You only want a great man in your life."
Single by choice--it's an empowering statement for many women. Yet it's not a choice that all women arrive at easily or without some angst, and it raises a multitude of questions. Are women too unrealistic about marriage--so picky about men that they're denying themselves and society the benefits of marriage while they pursue an impossible ideal? Does the rejection of marriage by more women reflect a widening gender gap--as daughters of the women's movement discover that men, all too often, have a far less liberated view of the wife's role in marriage? Do the burgeoning ranks of single women mean an outbreak of Sex and the City promiscuity? And what about children? When a woman makes the empowering decision to rear a child on her own, what are the consequences, for mother and child?
Society, to be sure, is far more accepting of single women than it was even a few years ago. When Barbara Baldwin, the director of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, divorced her husband in 1981, she needed her father's help before anyone would give the then 29-year-old single mother a car loan and a credit card. Beverley DeJulio, a divorced Chicago mother who hosts Handy Ma'am, a weekly home-improvement show on pbs, says she dreaded the hardware store for years, because salespeople kept asking, "Where's your husband?" And the Stone Age year when Anne Elizabeth, a Chicago artist, then 35, had to fight to not be listed as spinster on the mortgage application for her lakeside home? It was 1984.
Business has wised up. Now some auto manufacturers train salespeople to aim their pitches at women, going for the softer sell rather than the hard-nosed, macho wrangling of yesteryear. More than 100 travel companies have started to take women-only trekkers across deserts, up mountains and into volcanoes. Ace Hardware (where the slogan "Home of the Helpful Hardware Man" has been replaced by "Home of the Helpful Hardware Folks") now offers drills that are lighter with easy-grip handles, greenhouses full of flowers, and walls painted in pastels. They also run special seminars for women, who make up at least half their customers.
About a fifth of all home sales last year were to unmarried women, up from 10% in 1985. "Lenders don't presume single women can't make the mortgage anymore," says Mark Calabria, a senior economist at the National Association of Realtors. Orna Yaary, 42, a single mother and an interior designer, recalls that in the 1980s her single-women clients typically viewed their home as a temporary way station on the road to marriage. "It was like these single women with suitcases at the door, they wanted something but not anything permanent," says Yaary. Now she's decorating apartments for women like the 35-year-old investment banker who ordered built-in furniture and reconstructed the bathroom of her apartment. "She's doing what she wants. None of this attitude of 'I'll need to take it with me when I meet a guy.'"
Meanwhile, more single women--especially those watching their biological clocks run down--are resorting to solo pregnancies, sperm donors or adoption agencies. While the birthrate has fallen among teenagers, it has climbed 15% among unmarried thirtysomethings since 1990. In the TIME/CNN poll, fully 61% of single women ages 18 to 49 answered yes when asked whether they would consider rearing a child on their own.
Playwright Wendy Wasserstein recalls the clamor raised against her 1989 Pulitzer-prizewinning play, The Heidi Chronicles, because it concerns a woman who decides to have a baby alone. One female critic returned more than once to trash the play. "She said this was a cop-out, my saying women could be happy having a baby alone," the playwright says. Last year Wasserstein, still single at 49, gave birth to a daughter, Lucy Jane, conceived with the sperm of a friend she won't identify. "If I put Heidi out now, people would just say, 'Yeah, that's true,'" she says, shrugging.
And while many women who have embraced the single life are, like Wasserstein, well educated and economically independent, they cross social and class lines. Last year the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University released a report showing that the marriage rate among women had fallen one-third since 1970 and that young women had become more pessimistic about their chances of wedding. "The reality is that marriage is now the interlude and singlehood the state of affairs," says Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a co-director of the center. For this summer's study, Whitehead chose to focus on blue-collar women in their 20s and expected more traditional attitudes. However, she found these women too were focused more on goals like college degrees, entrepreneurship and home ownership than on matrimony. "They wanted to be married, yet they were preparing as if that was not going to be the case," she says. "There was a sense they couldn't count on men and marriage."
The embrace of singlehood is, in some ways, a logical result of the expanding possibilities for women brought on by the women's movement. "Women get addicted to the possibilities of their lives, the idea that on any given day you have the freedom to do this or that," explains Melissa Roth, author of On the Loose, a chronicle of a year in the life of three thirtysomething women. And so, while still looking for love, many women today are slow to let go of their space and schedules for the daily compromises--and sacrifices--of marriage.
Debra DeLee, 52, who is divorced and the director of a nonprofit group in Washington, is so taken with her life--a gorgeous Capitol Hill town house, trips all over the world and a silver blue BMW roadster--that she's reluctant to change it even for the man of her dreams, Arnie Miller, 59, an executive recruiter who lives in Boston. "We talk about getting married, but this is so good right now," says DeLee, who ran the Democratic Convention in 1996. "Two minutes before he leaves, I think it's so hard to see him pick up and leave. But two minutes after he's gone, I think, Ahh, I've got my house back." Miller likes the arrangement too. "Why should this be off-putting? I'm high-powered too," he says. "We both like our space. And three days later, we're racing to be back together."
At the same time, there's been a change in attitude toward love and marriage. Previous generations of women made their barter as much around the need for male protection and financial help as affection. And if at some point the sizzle went south, well...But women today have a very different wish list from their mother's. "My single friends have their own life and money to bring to the table," says Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of Sex and the City. "It's the same as the characters on the show: my friends are looking for a relationship as fulfilling, challenging and fun as the one they have with their girlfriends."
Yet there are doubtless few women who recognize much about the wild, bed-hopping lifestyle that Sex and the City portrays every week. Indeed, only a fifth of single women who watch the show said in the TIME/CNN poll that their life mirrors the show's sexcapades. Yet when asked what they miss most from not being married, 75% of women said companionship, and only 4% said sex. While surveys show married people generally have more sex than supposedly "swinging" singles, it's clear that living alone does not mean a life of abstinence. Experiences vary widely, from women who go through long periods without sexual relationships to others who have regular, casual flings. "You can easily take care of your needs," notes a D.C. single woman. Many women enjoy comfortable relationships with men that include sex but no hint of marriage--like the fiftysomething Nashville, Tenn., woman whose male friend comes to town for a handful of visits each year. "He's someone I know and trust," she says. "The sex is great, and we stay up till 4 a.m. talking."
One thing women find more real about Sex and the City is the parade of sorry guys whom Carrie and her friends encounter each week. It's hard to find a woman without at least one horror story of a guy like the one Bank used to date, who in the middle of a fight blurted out the reason for his resentment of her: "You have never cleaned my bathroom." Says Bank: "I hate to feel like someone wants to control me. And I've ended up with a lot of men who do."
Yet the choice to be single involves more than just rejecting the inevitable boors and slouches. More often, women speak of affairs that lasted for months, if not years, with men they in many ways loved. But after much turmoil and tears, they ended things, deciding that being on their own was simply better than the alternative--being stuck with a man, and in a marriage, that didn't feel right.
"I totally adored him," says Lila Hicks, 32, a media producer, of the investment banker with whom she ended a seven-year romance not long ago, deciding life with him would be too limiting. "But I wasn't happy. I didn't think I could make him happy and retain my spirit, what makes me shine." Shawna Perry, an emergency-medicine doctor in Jacksonville, Fla., recently ended a 10-year relationship with a man whom she loves but feels is behind her in personal and professional growth. "His ups and downs were affecting our relationship and my security," she says. "I realized we were not building a life together and that this was not a good place to be considering marriage."
In many cases, women who choose the single life have looked at those around them and vowed not to make their mistakes. "My mother married her first boyfriend. All my relatives stayed in marriages that are really tough," says Pam Henneberry, 31, an accountant who lives in Manhattan. "When I looked at the unhappiness that was in my parents' marriage, I said, 'I can't do that.'" If Cynthia Rowe, 43, a Los Angeles-area store manager and divorce, gets depressed, she thinks of her five closest girlfriends. "They are all just existing in their marriages," she says. "Two of them got married when they were young. Twenty years later, they had outgrown each other. One has not got over her husband's affair. Two friends aren't even sleeping in the same bedroom with their husband anymore. Their personal happiness is placed last, and their kids know they are miserable."
Some women, of course, have learned from their own life. "At 28, I was terrified of the world," says Mary Lou Parsons, a Raleigh, N.C., professional fund raiser, recalling her 1980 divorce. "I'd been raised a Southern woman, sheltered and protected by my family, then by my husband." In the ensuing 20 years she learned to raise her kids on her own--and how to start her own business, buy a town house, move to Alaska and back and, most of all, relish life on her own. "I had to get beyond that thinking in a lot of women's minds that aloneness is not O.K. But now I find solitude exhilarating." Marcelle Clements, author of The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing the Single Life, notes that there are many women, like Parsons, who were "taken by surprise. They were in relationships that broke up, hit what they thought was catastrophe, only to find that they were O.K., and [they] adopt an attitude that said, I'm fine, I don't need to be with anyone else."
Not surprisingly, many conservatives are disturbed at this growing acceptance of singlehood and its implied rejection of marriage. Danielle Crittenden, author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us, argues that women have set themselves up for disappointment, putting off marriage until their 30s only to find themselves unskilled in the art of compatibility and surrounded by male peers looking over their Chardonnays at women in their 20s. "Modern people approach marriage like it's a Bosnia-Serbia negotiation. Marriage is no longer as attractive to men," she says. "No one's telling college girls it's easier to have kids in your 20s than in your 30s."
Women who have chosen the single life sometimes have their own qualms. Singlehood does not yield itself to a simple, blithe embrace. It's complicated, messy terrain because not needing a man is not the same as not wanting one. For all the laughs on Sex and the City, one can feel the ache that comes when yet another episode ends with the heart still a lonely hunter. And if you think being a single woman is all fun and games, just listen to star Parker, who is married to actor Matthew Broderick. Even as she's become a mascot for the feisty new single woman, Parker says she often stands on the set in her spike Jimmy Choo open-toes and see-through shirts, worried that she isn't being a good traditional wife. "I know he doesn't have his laundry done, that he hasn't had a hot meal in days," she says of her husband. "That stuff weighs on my mind." Parker regales single friends with tales of how boring married life is and how much luckier they are to have freedom and fun. Does she really believe it? "Well, no," she admits. "It's just a fun thing to say to make single people feel better."
Even women who generally reflect on their choices with assurance find themselves sometimes in the valley of what-ifs: What if I made the wrong choice to walk away? What if singlehood turns out to be not a temporary choice but an enforced state? "My sister knows that I'm good for a call every couple of months just crying, 'What's wrong with me?'" says Henneberry. "I'm not willing to accept someone who's going to make me unhappy. But there are days when I have a physical need to go to sleep and wake up with someone there." Mary Mayotte, 49, has a successful bicoastal career as a public-speaking coach. But she admits the occasional pang of regret. "There was a point where I had men coming out of my ears," she says. "I don't think I was so nice to some of them. Every now and then I wonder if God is punishing me. Sometimes I look back and say, 'I wish I had made a different decision there.'"
Some feel women are on an impossible search for the perfect man, the one who not only makes you feel, as Julia Roberts said of meeting Benjamin Bratt, "hit in the head with a bat," but also better for it. "Marriage is not what it used to be, getting stability or economic help," says the National Marriage Project's Whitehead. "Marriage has become this spiritualized thing, with labels like 'best friend' and 'soul mate'" Some sociologists say these lofty standards make sense at a time when the high divorce rate hisses in the background like Darth Vader. But others suggest the marriage pendulum has swung from the hollowly pragmatic to an unhealthy romantic ideal.
Michael Broder, a Philadelphia psychotherapist and author of The Art of Living Single, decries what he calls the "perfect-person problem," in which women refuse to engage unless they're immediately taken with a man, failing to give a relationship a chance to develop. "Few women can't tell you about someone they turned down, and I'm not talking about some grotesque monster," he says. "But there's the idea that there has to be this great degree of passion to get involved, which isn't always functional. So you have people saying things like, 'If I can't have my soul mate, I'd rather be alone.' And after that, I say, 'Well, you got your second choice.'"
Single women are used to hearing this complaint, and most don't buy it. "Some in my family think I'm not stopping till I find perfection," says Henneberry. "I don't feel like that. I just want the one who makes me go, 'Finally.'" Harvard sociologist Carol Gilligan notes, "There's now a pressure to create relationships that both men and women want to be in, and that's great. This is revolutionary." Even Ellen Fein, co-author of the notorious 1996 dating guide The Rules, says her man-chasing disciples don't settle for just anyone. "Most of my clients have jobs; they can pay the rent; they can take themselves out to dinner," says Fein. "They want men to value them."
Many women can tell the story of a friend or relative who looked at her and said, "If you really wanted to be married, you'd be married." The comment can sometimes slap like a wet towel, in part because it is true and in part because of its implicit message: You could have compromised, perhaps settled, and been among the married. And so, the logic follows, you have no one to blame but yourself.
But these women have fought for years to be themselves--self-reliant, successful, clever, funny, willful, spirited--and for all the angst that the single life can bring, they're not willing to give it up for any arrangement that would stifle them. "It would be great if I found a relationship that allowed me to be as I am and added something to that," says documentary producer Pam Wolfe, 33, sitting in her one-bedroom condo in New York City. "But I'm not going to do anything to attract a person that means changing. I've worked long and hard to be myself."
I understand, their public identity is that of one with legs spread open. Women are unable to get men to commit to them because their hypergamous nature attracts them to men above their stature that will f**k them and heck he will even be nice to them as a girlfriend but nothing more. Women go through their fertile years with their internal filter broken and their subjective concept of their value on the mating market is over valued and confused by the men above their station willing to engage in a relationship with them but nothing long term. They will ride this cock carousel of men until the twilight of their fertile years until the have to settle for someone who is actually on par with them. This to many women is unacceptable so they would rather get knocked up by one of the non committed "alpha" men that bang her. Others would rather do so through artificial insemination. Others simply do not want a family at all.