Chained to one mediocre relationship after another for most of her adult life, Jessica, a 32-year-old customer service representative, didn’t feel resentful when her boyfriend of ten years packed his bags last year. Although it came at a time when most of her closest friends had either tied the knot or were preparing to walk down the aisle, Jessica felt liberated, as if a great weight were lifted off her shoulders.
Yearning to devote more time to her own goals and aspirations rather than investing her energies into a stale union, the break meant she could finaly go to grad school and snare the management degree she had been craving.
“When we called it quits, suddenly all the bitterness that had marred our time together drifted away,” she recalls. “I penned him a quick note that succinctly said, ‘Have a great life!’ and taped it to one of his suitcases. I was single again and the prospect of all those delicious adventures waiting to be sampled seemed just too sensational too miss,” she divulges.
What’s more, Jessica isn’t alone in her independence. A heady sense of self-determination is sweeping the country and grown-up girls are finding great success going solo. Rather than being stigmatized as an old maid, being single in the 21st century means being in a grand salon filled with fascinating people, endless opportunities and a buffet of men.
With more money, more status, better health and greater sexual freedom, a larger number of women are taking the single road than at any other time in history. In 2005, 67 percent of 20 to 24-year-olds, 35 percent of 25 to 29-year-olds and 19 percent of 30 to 34-year-olds had never been married. Compared to 1970, today’s 25 to 34-year – olds are three times more likely to have never married while nearly two times more 20 to 24-year-olds are likely to be single.
Those who do opt for marriage today actually walk down the aisle at an average age of 24.5 years, making them the oldest first-time brides in history. Furthermore, gals who get an education and move into the job market before dabbling in domesticity have better paying careers than those who go the more traditional route.
“Nothing could be easier if you focus on yourself as a lovable, dynamic organism going out into the world in a vibrant, positive way instead of on whether you’re single or married,” says San Diego – based psychotherapist Ruth Sucato, LCSW. “What makes us infinitely attractive to those we meet is the sense of self-acceptance and openness to others that we radiate.”
Men – even if they can’t quite put their finger on how the singles scene has changed – sense the movement. And many of them, like 30-year-old San Francisco geologist Brian, love it. “My buds and I talk a lot about how the man/woman thing’s changed since we first started working almost 15 years ago,” he reveals. “We think it boils down to better education and a willingness to take risks. Because more girls have great jobs and the money to travel and buy what they want, they’re not looking for a guy to give them a life. The sexiest thing about the women I’m meeting now is their self-confidence and intelligent conversation because they’re in charge of their own lives.”
For New York publicist Kerry, the opportunity to advance her career absorbs so much of her time that the last thing she can accommodate is a relationship. “People who know me expect I’ll show up at a party by myself, take control of the room and wind up with my choice of men for the night,” she maintains. “I make it clear that I’m not interested in having a boyfriend now, and I don’t have time for all the come-ons. If I meet a guy who’s interesting without being all over me, I’ll often invite him to hang out with my friends and then maybe take him home for the night. Frankly, it’s such a relief not to be one of those girls standing by the bar primping her hair and holding back from having a good time until she meets Mr. Right.”
Forming Key Friendships
Socializing in mixed groups of friends rather than one-on-one dating gives single women a chance to revel in male attention without the pressures of intimacy or commitment. In addition, females whose best friends are men have an edge when it comes to understanding the male psyche.
“Because I’m very laidback, I have more guys than girl pals,” says Ciggie, 28, who works in the fashion industry. “Knowing what makes guys tick is a definite plus in the fashion world, where a lot of the heavy hitters are still men. Of course, other guys are always fascinated by girls who are the center of male attention. Obviously, the potential for networking and meeting someone quite fantastic is there – just like getting a crack at all your big brother’s friends, only better!”
For some, close male friendships occasionally meet other needs as well. “When you really trust someone, sex with a friend can be great and it keeps you from rushing into one night stands which you may regret,” Kerry points out. “Of course, this can be risky business unless you both know your limits and are mature enough not to let the physical thing ruin your friendship.”
Even when they are in a relationship and subsequently move in with their lovers, many girls find greater happiness when they don’t feel pressure to make the leap to holy matri-mony. “If you were raised in the 50’s with the Ozzie and Harriet idea of the perfect family, you start believing that’s how it should be” says Tracy, a 33-year-old secretary from Ohio. “I’ve had several live-in relationships and they were great until I made the mistake of marrying one of them. When you’re living together, it’s a different psychological mindset — more like a partnership. That changed when we married because I was socialized into believing that husbands and wives had definite roles. Even though I was doing the whole head trip to myself, it wrecked our marriage. There must be a 12 – step program for people like me who are role junkies!”
If you have a tendency to make hasty relationship decisions, Sucato argues that your interpretation of childhood events could be to blame.
“If you’re unhappy with where you are in life, look at your childhood role models. Was your mother happy with herself and with her marriage? How did your father feel about your mother as a woman? How did she feel about herself? Even if we’re determined not to be like our mothers, our images of female and male roles are based on what our mothers believed. In that way, even negative history repeats itself. To feel really happy about where you are in your life, be sure the options you select are based on who you are today.”
That’s a point Nancy, a 25-year- old office manager from Los Angeles, tries to communicate to her mother. Although Nancy owns a condo, travels extensively and contributes to a healthy retirement plan, her mother still questions when Nancy will marry a man who’ll provide for her.
“She seems to have forgotten that’s a fairy tale from my point of view. My father was an alcoholic who drank away his money and left us practically penniless when they divorced. Her second husband is a really nice guy who provided for her but never in a way to write home about,” she explains. “One reason I haven’t married is because I love being in charge of my own money. That doesn’t mean I don’t love men or want a relationship; it does mean I prefer depending on my own smarts rather than someone else’s!”
The new freedom to be financially successful allows women the luxury to easily make the transition from one stage of life to another. With more women moving into lucrative jobs, once the domain of the old boys’ club – those who find them-selves suddenly single can afford to reap the benefits. To be wiser and in charge of your own destiny is to acquire a sharp, definitive focus. Best of all, you can change your mind and direction – whenever the moment and the man are right.
Written by Sheila Sobell