Sunday, 5 August 2012

Schaer, C., "All the single ladies", Vogue Australia

Despite the fact that a growing number of women spend more time outside a relationship than within, there's still a stigma attached to flying solo.
... One fiftysomething woman relates how, since the death of her husband, she has fallen off the invitation list of many couples they knew. ...

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of lone-person households is projected to rise from 1.8 million in 2001 to around 3.1 million in 2026. Of that, almost 60 per cent will be female. 

Fewer Australians are marrying and, if they are, it's later in life. The same goes for having children. Additionally, the ABS suggests that approximately one in three marriages will end in divorce.

Dr Lixia Qu, a senior research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, based in Melbourne, has been looking at couple formation and family relationships for more than 10 years. "As there are more single people," Dr Qu says, "the view of single changes." By that she means that the more single people there are, the more people will feel okay about staying single. ...

"Yes, I have been asked: 'Why are you single?'" notes Emily, a 30-year-old marketing manager. "But actually I think there should be more appreciation for my decision to look for quality in a relationship. I'm not just going to go out with the next guy I meet on the corner!" ...

Talking to both academics and single women, it seems that one of our biggest problems with singledom stems from common assumptions about love, romance, marriage and possibly, most importantly, what we expect from life. When you're younger, you imagine it might be kind of linear: education, first job, serious relationship, move in together, marry, 2.4 kids, retire together, so on and so forth. But in fact, that is far from the norm now.

"These days you're more likely to have a period of being single, then a period of having a partner and then a period of being single," says Dr Qu. "It becomes increasingly hard to define who is single; we need to become aware of the different shades of relationships. It's not like in the past, where you were either married or you weren't." ...

Other research has also challenged assumptions about couples. Far from being the building blocks of our society we think they are, couples and families can tend to turn inward, focus on one another and become selfish, American sociologists Natalia Sarkisian and Naomi Gerstel wrote in their 2012 book, Nuclear Family Values, Extended Family Lives: The Importance of Gender, Race and Class. Whereas singles, they found, are more altruistic and giving in social terms.

"I think couples could actually learn something here: that is, not to be so focused on a romantic relationship," Hanna, 35, a translator, says. "You don't get everything from one person."

In 2005, American professor of women's studies E. Kay Trimberger published The New Single Woman. In the book she came up with various conclusions about what makes a single woman's life more satisfying, after interviewing 27 single women. These included having a nurturing home, connecting with the next generation in some way, being satisfied with one's work and having a network or community one could rely upon in times of trouble.
Trimberger felt these conclusions were particularly important because previously there had been, "no positive cultural narrative about single life. ..."

And that, Trimberger declares, is why a redefinition of modern singledom is so important. Examining singledom this century makes both couples and singles look at being solo in a different light. It's "a consciousness-raising process", she concluded, one that will help us all become more accepting and aware of different kinds of family units and ways of living, as well as recognising, she argues finally, "a wider variety of ways to lead the good life."

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