Can Single Women Really Be Happy?
Posted by Girls Guide To on June 13, 2012 at 11:19 AM
When Tracy McMillan published her blog post "Why You're Not Married" last year, she received a ton of criticism for telling single women that they were flying solo because they were "shallow," "selfish" and "not good enough." And probably rightly so, that’s pretty harsh. Though she couldn't have known it at the time, the post was also an early contribution to the national conversation that has evolved in the last year and a half around the increasing number of women who are staying single and why.
In December, the Pew Research Center released data showing that American women are marrying later and less than ever. The numbers came hot on the heels of Kate Bolick's November cover story in the Atlantic, "All The Single Ladies," which asked whether traditional marriage holds any value for women anymore. Boston Magazine's January 2012 cover story profiled women (and men) who chose single life-- and are happy with that choice.
But throughout all this discussion of the benefits of single life for women, one question that doesn't arise often is one of the more obvious: Don't women (and men, for that matter) still want to be in relationships? Given the choice, wouldn't most women want to find love? Can anyone -- specifically, any woman -- really be happy without that?
The Huffington Post asked Tracy McMillan and author Anna David to debate this idea. You can read their arguments here, but here are some of the highlights.
Ms. David, who believes women can in fact be happy to fly solo, writes, “Of course we can. Or let me rephrase: There are women who need relationships to be happy and women that don't, and the most I can determine about the members of each group is that they spend a hell of a lot of time judging the other. Women who need relationships in order to be happy seem to have a thought process that tells them, on a good day, that life is less meaningful when not shared with another -- that successes are more enjoyable and tragedies more bearable if they have someone to love who also loves them. On a bad day, it seems to tell them that life is meaningless without that….
For my money, the people who go around talking about how unhappy single people are aren't the single people but the married ones. In "Stumbling on Happiness," Daniel Gilbert writes about how terrible we all are at judging our own happiness as well as anyone else's -- referencing research which shows, for example, that losing a limb only decreases people's happiness temporarily while those of us with all our limbs assume it makes them miserable for the rest of their lives. I think coupled-off people often look at single people as disabled -- missing not just a limb but in fact an entire other body. And if that's the case, it's no wonder they're concerned.
But it's just not true. All single means is not attached to one person. It doesn't mean we can't (and don't) have delightful, gratifying ephemeral unions that more than fill the space before we commit to something longer term. And I'd have to imagine that any single woman who disagrees is going to need a lot more than a relationship to make her happy.”
And McMillan, responds,” Huh. Well, this is sort of a trick question, isn't it? Because the easy answer is, Don't be stupid, of course we can. Women are people and people "can" be happy no matter what -- if they choose to be. So that's a no-brainer.
However -- and this is why I say this is a trick question -- that's not really what is being asked here. No one needs to know what one individual woman could be happy doing. (Anything, or nothing, at all.) What we really want to know is: Can MOST women be truly happy single? And, though I know it's going to make some people think I'm a crazed conservative -- which I'm very definitely not -- I'm just going to come right out and say it. The answer to that question is: No.
Yes, yes, I know. This sounds terribly unfeminist. But in my experience -- and that's what I'm going on here, my experience -- it's true. I've been standing at water coolers for the past thirty years talking to women about their love lives, and here's what I've learned: Eventually, most women I know want to be partnered. …
Okay, so maybe most women aren't trying to be permanently partnered when they're 23, or 26, or 29, or 34. But even in those years, they're not exactly trying to be alone, either. Most women I know spend a decade (or two) enjoying the company of a man or a woman (or several) when they want to, for as long as they want to, in the way that they want to. But if you get really honest, that's not actually single-single, it's just being partnered in specific ways you want to be partnered at certain stages in your life.
In any case, somewhere along the line -- usually not long after you're burned out on your cool job -- it becomes super clear there's more to life than the possibility of some exciting new partner every few weeks or months or years. This is when MOST women take a good look around and say to themselves: I have great friends, some cute outfits, and a job everyone but me is impressed by, but you know what would make my life even more meaningful? A family. And by family they don't just mean a tribe of female and male friends who are awesome and have great orphan Thanksgiving dinners. Nope, sooner or later, most women I know come to define that family as 1) a partner, and 2) a baby. …
So rather than diminishing the idea of "truly needing" a relationship -- and trying to deny it, shame it, or talk ourselves out of it -- why not just celebrate it?”
I think both women make good points, so I guess I’m afraid of commitment when it comes to this question. I’ve been happy single and happy in relationships, and don’t see anything wrong with either relationship status. And as someone who considers herself to be a bit of a feminist, I hate the idea of "needing" a man or relationship...
How do you feel about this? In your opinion, can single women really be happy and fulfilled? Let’s start our own debate in the comments.