She sits alone. The room is shrouded in darkness. A woman of indeterminate age. Alone. Drab. Grey. She sits… and spins? Yes, she spins. Because, she’s a spinster you see – a word used to describe an unmarried woman back in ye olden days. And apparently, to be a spinster meant that for all the days of your life you would be left to… spin. Spin what, we are not quite sure.
What we are sure about is how laughable the notion is now. The only ‘spinning’ happy single women are doing lately is of the gym variety.
Because, yes, ladies, we are in that golden sublime age. Young, old, in between – all we know is that more and more women are (gasp) choosing to be single these days.
Hello, Ms Female
It’s the rise and time of the new Freemale. Single – happily – and reaping the social, psychological and economic benefits thereof.
In the UK, 2013 figures from the Office for National Statistics show that nearly a third of women live alone by retirement age. A charming phrase, ‘silver separations’, describes the prevailing notion that women are coming to realise there’s a lot of life to live past 40, 50 and 60 – so why spend it with the wrong person? And over in the US, Rebecca Traister writes in her book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, that 53 per cent of American women over 18 are single.
Even in more conservative countries like here in the UAE, a whopping 60 per cent of Emirati women are living a single life, says the Federal National Council. Can this actually be? What has caused this sudden avalanche of singles?
Let’s be clear, this isn’t some new fad. Slowly, progressively, Freemales have been coming to the fore, in no small part thanks to the steady divorce rate (globally), women pursuing their careers well into what would traditionally be ‘marrying’ years and a general self-awakening and more insular focus on happiness and esteem that is not built on the shoulders of the conventional relationship status.
Rebecca makes it clear that this new status quo is a profound one. In an interview with National Public Radio in America, she highlighted the exact point of departure. “I think we make a mistake when we create a binary between ‘you’re married or you’re not.’ Once you lift that imperative, you suddenly get an infinite variety of paths.”
Infinite. What a word. So much weight, substance, endless excitement and potential. In 2015, women are more empowered than ever. We might not be right there on the earning scale, but more often than not, scratch an ‘average’ woman and you’ll find an artist, a business leader, a creative, a trendsetter, a someone-special. A someone-special who has more chances than ever to excel, to further her education, to travel the world, to buy her own stilettos, mansion and place in this world.
While marriage still remains an attractive option, it has receded in value and importance. “I think the fact that women have unprecedented economic opportunity, and that they are now permitted to, and in many cases expected to go out and earn money, means they also get busy doing other things. That does not mean that many women and men don’t still have the desire to partner, to fall in love… but the actual economic tolls of marriage and motherhood, which are very real, mean that often they’re electing not to take them on early in their careers when they are now in the position to be out stabilising themselves economically,” says Rebecca.
Career opportunities aside, there’s also an interesting theory that biological factors too have an impact on how women evolve. Researchers at the University of York in the UK conducted a fascinating study into how men and women pick partners, which debunks a lot of the conventional wisdom we have come to associate with male/female relationships. The new research suggests that as women achieve equality on par with men, their relationship criteria change – and in fact, that women are becoming more selective than ever in what they find attractive, and tend to stay out of relationships for far longer based on their needs not being met.
Explaining the paradigm shift, Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Prathna Singh says that women are more discerning now. “There are many women who believe wholly in self-empowerment and therefore think of external approval and affirmation as secondary to their happiness, personal needs and values. For some this may mean choosing to remain single while for others it may translate into adopting higher standards for potential partners.”
I can do better... all by myself
So, it’s 2015. You are free, educated, single, establishing yourself in your career. What does this actually mean?
In the societal context, single people are good news. The 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey (in America) highlighted that single people are great for the economy. They socialised more and contributed incrementally more financially.
Then there’s the actual health benefits of being a singleton. It seems that the couples who stay together, er, gain (weight) together. In 2013, Health Psychology Journal published a survey emphasising that married couples tend to gain weight fairly early on in their partnership. “Without the pressure to attract a new mate, newlyweds can get complacent about their appearance.”
Health issues, in fact, seem to be a stumbling block for those in long-term relationships. A Rand Corporation Survey (2011) revealed that people who had never been married showed higher levels of resiliency in the ability to bounce back after injury, illness or hardships. Not so much for those who were married. Similar findings abound on issues of heart health.
Admittedly these findings, as with most theory and research, are relative and we can never gauge things to an absolute 100 per cent. But, says Dr Singh, it might perhaps be as simple as this. “With the acceptance by women themselves that it is possible to be happy as an individual – and hence as a singleton – things like esteem, inner strength and resilience become the happy by-products of the syndrome.”
It helps immensely that as the world gets bigger, and singledom becomes a natural facet of an increasingly diverse global human population, there is far less stigma attached to the choice than would historically be acceptable.
Unfortunately, it is also evident that this is a slow-swinging pendulum. The UAE may be showing unprecedented numbers of single women these days, but that doesn’t mean that society is as equally progressive in accepting the notion. On the findings from the Federal National Council, a spokesperson was quoted as saying that the situation was “worrying,” implying that an excessive number of single Emirati women would be a serious demographic problem.
This is bound to be an issue in certain cultural spaces, agrees Dr Singh. “Living in a cultural sphere (like the UAE) that emphasises mutuality and union, willingly single people (and women more so) will be viewed with suspicion. Under the cultural norms and expectations of a conservative society that still values traditions, it’s quite natural to feel like a failure for not finding your ‘knight in shining armour’.”
She says that depression, feelings of insecurity and anxiety are expected and normal in these circumstances. “Women may feel like failures because they do not conform to these cultural standards. There may be some degree of conflict that they experience as they negotiate their roles as independent individuals but also try to balance family and cultural expectations.”
There is also the danger of being unable to cross the divide, where you are so comfortable in your single status, it’s difficult to adjust to a relationship when the opportunity presents itself. “It comes down to maintaining your identity, and all that esteem and resiliency you built up as an individual, while making space for a new person,” says Dr Singh.
So, yes is it is possible to marry (pun intended) your strong single persona with a relationship persona when the time comes. But this should not intrude on the exciting territory we currently find ourselves in.
In no way overstating the notion of the Freemale, author Eric Klinenberg in his book, Going Solo, writes, “It’s one of the world’s biggest social changes in the last 50 years. It’s the equivalent of being an anthropologist and discovering some giant island out there with 277 million people.”
Hey, isn’t that kind of how America was discovered? Go forth and be amazing, Freemale!