It happened far too many times on the book tour. After a reading from my memoir about turning 50 as a single woman (Oh the places I’d gone! The adventures I’d had! The men I’d slept with!), I’d open the floor to questions from the predominantly female audience.
In addition to queries about writing, the publishing world, and the true names of my lovers, I could count on at least one from a 20- or 30-something, clutching her purse anxiously: “Um, can you tell me where I can go to meet guys in the Bay Area?”
I’d smile, sigh, and utter my standard response: One of the best ways to meet like-minded men is to find a cause you’re passionate about and volunteer. I’d relate an anecdote about a friend, an animal lover who helped rescue dogs stranded after Hurricane Katrina, and how she met the love of her life in the Marin County shelter while she was covered in dog hair after two days with no shower.The questioner would nod enthusiastically and smile, cheered to have added yet another arrow to Cupid’s quiver.
But what I really wanted to say was: STOP IT. Stop it right now—the sad-eyed, self-doubting, nail-chewing longing. Eau de desperation is a stinky fragrance, and men can smell it a mile away. And you’re not even 40 yet! Get out there while you still can, sleep around, and enjoy that young body before nature’s forces drag it south.
Of course, this kind of reply would not have sold books and might have even cleared the room. So instead, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m seizing this opportunity to write and send an open letter to all you young ladies pining for a husband. Read this in the privacy of your living room, cocktail in hand, thoughts focused. Are you ready? Whether you land a man or not, you will be F-I-N-E.
Because in case you didn’t get the memo, being single is now a lifestyle—a way of life that women have learned to love and, I dare say, even perfected over the past five decades. The 40-year-old spinster of 50 years ago is now considered to be in the prime of her life, and she’s got a huge sorority to hang with on Saturday nights.
The Census Bureau tells us that 43 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 are single. One main reason for the increased numbers is that we’re marrying later, and if we divorce, we often don’t remarry. No big surprise there. As one who’s been on both sides of the equation—married twice but single for most of my 58 years—I can tell you that I prefer a ring-free left hand. This is partly due to my exorbitant need for personal space; but also, I wasn’t a very good wife. I was apparently born without the selflessness gene. I resented how much of my energy was spent making sure everyone else was happy and thriving and how depleted it left me of time to tend to my own life.
I suppose I could have enforced the current self-help advice, “Take care of yourself first,” but most wives (especially mothers) will tell you that’s an uphill battle. It’s possible I could marry again, but it would have to be an extraordinarily good deal. Guaranteed sexual benefits, written promises of equal toilet-cleaning time, and tons of solitude. Any takers?
Were marriage a better deal for women, I’d understand why women still crave it. But as Isadora Duncan famously said, “Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract and then goes into it deserves all the consequences.” Granted, Duncan lived during an era when wives were little more than indentured servants, but it’s not like things have improved significantly. We won the right to work outside the home but apparently not the other benefit men have enjoyed for ages: The right not to work inside it. Even though men are now doing twice the housework and child rearing they were in the ’60s, studies show that even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework.
But it’s not just about housework, is it? Relationships themselves take work. And we all know who does the bulk of that work. Ask yourself: How many countless hours did you spend in pursuit of his happiness instead of your own, making sure his ego was massaged, his quality of life upheld, his needs taken care of, your needs communicated in the most amenable way? Then imagine if you’d spent half as many hours taking care of yourself as you did of him and the relationship. If housework is unequal between men and women, emotional caretaking is even less on par.
Consider, too, that the financial incentives to marry are no longer what they were. These days, women comprise nearly 60 percent of college graduates, and according to Census Bureau statistics, single urban women in their 20s actually out-earn their male peers. Throw in the fact that if you’re dying to have a baby, you can still do it and join the growing legions of single moms out there who are making a nice life for themselves without the presence of a traditional dad.
Add it up, ladies. Is the single life really that scary and unrewarding? Or does it offer its own deep pleasures and fine times? I’d vote for the latter.
Although being a happily single person does take practice, in my experience in writing about the single life, I can tell you that the happiest, least lonely singletons are those who actively maintain their work ties and friendships and get involved in community or religious activities they feel passionate about. That’s why my response about volunteering, while glib, is heartfelt—there’s no better way to meet great people of like minds.
To make the most of being single, it also helps to acquire a slightly tough hide. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that our culture is officially off its nut when it comes to weddings and marriage. It’s also hard to ignore relatives who cluck their tongues when you come to yet another family dinner solo and wonder out loud why you keep rejecting that nice friend of theirs who sells insurance over in Fremont.
But stand tall, single girl. Stop fretting about your ring finger, and worry more about finding your best self during a time that can be the most fabulous of your life. No perfume in the world is sexier than confidence—and no outlook more sustaining than one that actually bears up to reality.
Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife (Viking Adult) and the anthology Single Women of a Certain Age (New World Library). A journalist of almost 30 years, she is also codirector of Litquake.
*Published in the February 2011 issue of 7x7. Subscribe to 7x7 magazine here.