Single Women Have Plenty to Celebrate
The other day, I gave a pep talk to a good friend who was in a blue funk because she won't have a partner to kiss under the disco ball on New Year's Eve. As miserable as her marriage was, to her, singledom is worse. Because I am a good friend, I refrained from saying what I really thought: Snap out of it! Instead, I reminded her of the years when we have been each other's date for the big night, and how it's almost always more fun that way -- free of the over-inflated expectations that often go with romance.
Relax, singletons everywhere. Life for single women over 40 can be even better than for our married counterparts. Here are some of the advantages.
1. I call the shots on a Saturday morning. Yes, the rugs need shampooing, but I'd rather go to the farmers market. Any objections? Good!
2. I get to sleep right in the middle of the bed, and the only person who gets annoyed by my snoring is me.
3. I am not routinely upset by someone else's snoring. Unless I want to be.
4. I'm actually excited to get an appliance instead of lingerie for Christmas, because it doesn't come from an unimaginative spouse.
5. I can take off on a whim for a road trip -- or cancel plans just as quickly.
6. My iPhone mapping is much more reliable than a man's sense of direction when trying to find that new must-try restaurant.
7. I can paint my bedroom pink. Not that I would.
8. I can spend money on a scarf I've been eyeing without having to answer to anyone but my bank.
9. I'll live longer.
Yes, that's right. An Australian study revealed that divorced, widowed and single women boomers appear to be healthier than their married counterparts. These women reported significantly better general health than married women, challenging long-held beliefs that married people enjoy better overall physical and mental health than those who are unmarried.
"Maybe married women are worn out from looking after their husbands," University of Queensland researcher Belinda Hewitt quipped to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Amen. I don't get sick as often as I did when I was married - probably because I'm not under the stress of trying to be a "good wife" who keeps everyone happy. The reasons women continue to have the marriage-or-die mind-set is partly due to our marriage-infatuated culture. Women may think being married is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it is hardly that. According to a study on the "new economics of marriage" by the Pew Research Center, men benefit the most economically in a marriage, not women. When you consider that many women still do an unequal amount of household jobs, including cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, it would seem that women get the short end of the marriage stick.
Contrary to a wrong-headed bestseller from earlier this year (Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough), women have no need to settle at all. The financial advances of getting hitched are not what they used to be. According to Pew, single women with college degrees have higher incomes now than their counterparts in 1970, while the wages of unmarried men haven't faired as well. Overall, the earnings of all women with college educations skyrocketed 44 percent between 1970 and 2007, whereas there's been a mere 6 percent growth for men. OK, we still only make a portion of what men make, but we're catching up, slowly but surely.
Of course, single life is about more than just careers. The other part of the equation is the pursuit of happiness in our social lives.
Where there are advantages to being single, the chief disadvantage is not having a built-in comrade to talk to; loneliness is often cited as the biggest drawback of single life. (Although I would note that marriage doesn't necessarily prevent loneliness. To quote Germaine Greer: "Many a housewife staring at the back of her husband's newspaper, or listening to his breathing in bed, is lonelier than any spinster in a rented room.")
But when you're unmarried, all it takes to kick that sense of isolation is to get out of the house and ramp up your activities. If paid work doesn't fulfill you, consider volunteering. You'll meet fantastic, like-minded good Samaritans (some of whom may be single) and you'll get the warm fuzzies of doing something good. If you have girlfriends, make time to enjoy their company. If you don't, form some new friendships. Studies have shown that the happiest singles are those who eschew the couch and a steady diet of bad TV and get out and network instead.
I was newly divorced and feeling blue about my future when a friend asked me to get involved in founding a nonprofit literary festival. I leapt in with both feet. Volunteering changed my life. It gave me something to look forward to doing and handed me a brand-new network of fantastic friends.
Some of those friends will be with me on New Year's Eve. We're torn as to whether we'll do it up Sex and the City style -- in frilly frocks, cocktails in hand, at a San Francisco party -- or at my place in our sweats, watching some silly romantic comedy with bowls of popcorn and bottles of beer. Either way, life feels rich, and it's hard to imagine a happier scenario.