Single women and married women used to keep their distance from each other. Cities were for singles; suburbs for the safely married. Single women made money; married women made cupcakes.
But these stereotypes crumbled when the divorce rate soared and a growing number of women were forced out of the kitchen and into the work place. Single women and married women were thus thrown together--first in body and then in spirit.
These are some of the things I have learned from my single women friends about their lives, their loves and the way they look at married life:
On Being Single: Being unmarried is no longer synonymous with failure. Single women today cherish their independence and say they will marry only on their own terms. Not only won't they take a back seat, some women will demand the driver's seat.
On Status: Society has still not caught up to the changing status of single women. Thus, singles say, it is better to have been married and divorced than never to have married at all. Some women will invent a fictional first marriage rather than have the world wonder why they never made it down the aisle.
On Money: "We have the silk blouses and you have the split-level houses," a single friend tells me. Single women are beginning to be cautious about disposing of too much of their disposable income on luxuries. They are signing up for financial planning courses and look at annuities the way they used to look at alligator shoes.
On Marriage: "I'd like to get married but I don't want to compromise," say single women, in classic contradiction. The ideal mate seems to be a man who is always there when you need him and disappears when you don't.
On Marriage and Money: Single women fear losing their freedom to spend as they see fit. The formerly married say they'll never again let men make all of the financial decisions. One divorced woman recounts the high point of her new single state: "I went into a store and the salesperson asked me what I wanted and I realized I didn't have to please anyone but myself."
On Sex: Almost all of my divorced friends say the same thing about sex: "I never knew anything about sex"--meaning not enough--"when I was married." They suggest newlyweds need less Julia Child and more Masters and Johnson.
On Domesticity: The days when marriage meant maid service are over, say single women. The formerly married don't plan to resume their former domestic demeanor if they wed again: "Kids don't demand cooking and cleaning, and husbands shouldn't either," they say. As one woman puts it, "He's not getting a maid unless I get one, too."
On Available Men: All men over 30 fall into four categories: married, divorced with hefty alimony payments, gay or still single because he is too weird to wed.
On Married Men: Dating married men makes sense to some single women. Our mothers were mistaken: Married men do leave their wives, they say. For some single women, there's the other view. "I hope he doesn't leave his wife--I don't want to get married," one friend says. Some single women still steer clear of married men, saying, "If he leaves her for me, who is he going to leave me for?"
On the Future: Most single women still want to be happily married--but they aren't sure it is possible to be happy and married at the same time these days. So they are concentrating on building solid careers and strong friendships, rather than living their lives as ladies-in-waiting.