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Cover Story: Just Another Freakin' Gift

Is being single in a married world really a piece of cake?

By Jessica Canterbury · May 10th, 2006 · Cover Story
slim Jim Puvee

Are you married, or a slut? The phone rings. It's your girlfriend, whose quivering voice reveals wonderful news: She's engaged. Your response? That depends on your answer to the first question.

It's not a fair categorization by any sense, but it's how single women feel the unattached and married sets are most commonly broken down these days.

But why the off-putting label of the unhitched? And are the lives of single and wedded women so different? In the words of a few local unmarried women, absolutely.

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Confessed gut reactions to friends' engagement announcements:

"Sometimes I fake being nice about it."

"I get sick to my stomach because I feel like, 'One more? What's so wrong with me that I can't find Mr. Right?' "

"... and you'll be divorced in a year."

"Initially, I'm happy for them. It's just a shock. Sometimes I feel like, 'What am I going to do now?' "

"Another one bites the dust."

"I kinda have a problem with it because at my age I'm not ready to get married, so why are you?"

"Please don't ask me to be in your wedding." (This woman will have been in nine weddings by the end of 2007.)

These are the thoughts that race through the heads (but never come out of the mouths) of three local women when faced with such a situation. Amanda is a never-married Westsider and a 26-year-old white high school English teacher. Susan, 27, a white middle school math teacher from Northern Kentucky, is her college friend who also never married. Maria, 37, is a divorced African-American housing specialist who lives on the East side.

The three women draw similar if not the same conclusions on being single in a so-called married world: They all have more married friends than single; all find it more difficult to meet people when they have mostly married friends; all agree that married women typically don't trust unwed women; two of them will opt to make different nighttime plans when they know friends are going out in a couples-type capacity; and two are reluctant to be "fixed up." The other one is somewhat of a serial dater.

Less is less, or 'marriage lite'
Not fewer people, just fewer marriages. And fewer divorces.

According to sociology professor David Popenoe and author/social critic Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-authors of Rutgers' National Marriage Project report, "The State of Our Union 2005," Americans are less inclined to marry than in the past, with a marriage rate decline of nearly 50 percent from 1970 to 2004. Trends affecting that decline include waiting until later ages to marry -- the median female age went from 20 in 1960 to 27 in 2004 -- the rise of unmarried cohabitation (or "marriage lite," as they call it) and a slight decrease in divorced people remarrying.

Linda Marshall, a Cincinnati/Dayton-based relationship coach, says that, while more couples are cohabitating, that trend isn't necessarily proving to be beneficial.

"The marriage rate is declining," she says, "but more (people) are cohabitating, and the failure rate for cohabitation is higher than marriage."

Marshall sees more couples than the unwed at the Tourmaline Life Center in Blue Ash. Most single women she sees are divorced, and their primary concern is making better decisions in the future.

Based on her general coaching experience, she says having a successful marriage is highly important to young people. So maybe young people are waiting longer to marry today because they take it more seriously -- then again, that conclusion can easily be refuted by the proven overall later transition into independence among young adults.

"I think everyone just wants someone capable of emotional intimacy," Marshall says.

Nevertheless, since 1960 Americans are less married, less divorced and, according to the Rutgers report, less happy.

This dating life
"What dating scene?" is the answer most commonly given when asked of the local outlook. All three women agree that the Tristate's singles scene isn't particularly conducive for meeting people, unless at a bar.

"And then they're either 21 or 47," Susan says.

Yet when these women do go out to bars, there's the trust issue with married women, who can view them as promiscuous.

"Whenever anyone has that one single friend in the group, everyone knows that (she) can still do the things they used to do, whether it be one-night stands or flirting, that they don't want to have their (other) married friends around," says Maria.

"You're either the token single who people want to fix up or you're the bad guy, the slut," Amanda says, after recalling a recent confrontation with an old friend's wife.

Susan has had her share of attempted date set-ups, the most recent being a coworker picking up a random bank teller's business card and giving it to her, suggesting she call him.

Susan and Amanda rehash events from a recent night out at a bar, which include them meeting an "old guy" and a 24-year-old who has since called Amanda twice. Apparently, "old guy" also offered to marry her. This after they'd just come from a friend's wedding.

On the subject of weddings, none of the women say they feel awkward going to bridal showers, weddings or friends' children's birthday parties. Showers, in Amanda's opinion, are "not weird, just not fun sometimes. It's the whole registry thing. You pick out what you want, and then people buy it for you. They wrap it up and give it to you, and then you act all surprised about it."

While both Amanda and Susan admit to not being ready to take the marital leap, none of the women object to the institution of marriage or the idea of unwed mothers -- yet neither Susan nor Amanda envision themselves as mothers. Maria says she does want children and is considering adoption and sperm banks.

"I'm getting up there in age," she says. "And if I want to wait to meet someone, start dating and then get married, I'll be 40 years old."

"Kids scare me," Amanda says.

"When people call and tell me they're having kids, I think, 'God, everyone's like two steps ahead of me,' " Susan says.

"I'm not maternal," Amanda adds. "That's why I teach high school, so I don't have to baby them." ©



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