Just recently a well-intentioned friend, a card-carrying member of the male species, saw a picture of me taken when I was in my early thirties and stated, “Wow, you were really something when you were young.”
“Huh…I was really something?”
I could have been highly offended, and justifiably so. Instead, I made a conscious decision not to be. His words, although definitely not seasoned with salt, summed up for me in a nutshell the shared plight of many women over 40. This particularly applies to those of us who, either by choice or by circumstance, remain single. Fostered by a youth-enamored society, the assumption is that rather than being in any way enhanced by age, women are tarnished by it.
And so it would seem to follow that when a woman is alone in what I like to refer to as “the prime of life”, there’s a natural knee-jerk suspicion that the poor thing is lonely, deprived, desperate, unhappy, unfulfilled, and in need.
Couldn’t be further from the truth.
When women have years of life experience and accomplishment under their belt, they can become more self-aware, knowing who they are and what they have to offer. This affords them the wisdom and the right to be selective in deciding with whom they want to share their lives. Many women have either seen or personally experienced the good, the bad and the ugly in their romantic lives. Older women, more often than younger ones, may decide to be alone rather than to allow themselves to languish in mediocre or unfulfilling relationships.
Many older women have adopted the sensible attitude that was espoused by Professor Bella DePaulo, author of the book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. In the article “Why These Older Women are Staying Single – and Loving It,” DePaulo, who is a 60-something-year-old, is quoted as saying, “I found there are such huge benefits to staying single. Women, especially, are more likely to enjoy solitude then men are. Single women find being alone is a wonderful time for restoration, creativity, and personal growth. And there are so many more opportunities to create the life you want, such as traveling, following your passions and doing meaningful work.”
Dr. DePaulo, who has conducted more than 800 studies involving singles, explained, “I was always really happy with my single life.” She elaborated, “I never imagined what my wedding dress would look like or anything like that. Yet for a long time, I thought that maybe I was slow at getting there, that I’d be bitten by the “marriage bug” at some point. I can’t remember when it was I realized, no, I’m never going to want that. Single is who I am. It was so freeing.”
I echo Dr. DePaulo’s sentiments. After too many years in a long and miserable marriage, I have come to the conclusion that I’m happy and content being alone.
Alone, but not lonely.
And I have friends who, by choice have been single for a lifetime. They too are content with their lives. Still, the unfounded notion persists, that singleness constitutes loneliness. And the notion is not a new one.
Author and historian, Stephanie Coontz, addressed this delusion in her book Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. There she examines the drastic transformation of the institution of marriage. In ancient times, the primary purpose of a marriage alliance was to consolidate land and prosperity among families, and little thought was given to the emotional aspect of such unions. Its evolution into an institution centered on couples uniting for love, is a comparatively new one.
The very idea of romance in marriage was a relatively unknown concept until the Romantic era, which originated in Europe near the end of the 1800s.
According to Coontz, “In part, the shift was economic—the rise of wage-based labor allowed men and women to gain independence from their parents. And it was coupled with Enlightenment-era sentiments that championed individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. For the first time, men and women began choosing to marry for love rather than wealth or status.” Coontz continues, “Naturally, what it means to be single shifted over that time period as well.”
Consider the stigma attached to the word spinster.
According to Coontz, the word spinster was coined in the 17th century, when a significant number of women in northwestern Europe were single. The word then referred more pointedly to one’s occupation and not to one’s social status.
Well into the 19th century, the word spinster retained an air of respectability. Spinsters were independent women who earned their own money and supported themselves by spinning wool. However, in the growing belief that male companionship or a marriage union was necessary for a woman’s happiness, the word spinster became tarnished. According to the article, “Single By Choice,” by Janelle Nanos, “ these women, in fact, were celebrated for their unwillingness to compromise their moral standards for the sake of a relationship. But as marriage became increasingly idealized spinster took on negative connotations, eventually becoming shorthand for anyone who remained unmarried throughout her life.”
I thank the good Lord above that the pendulum again has swung. Independence and self-sufficiency in women is once more becoming an honorable trait, one to be admired, maybe even envied. We now have freedom of choice; we can choose to be or not to be single.
So, who needs a man? Not everyone.