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Singly independent

Fri., May 26, 2006

The news drifted through the assembled mob at Bistango with all the gentility of a plutonium cloud; bumping into patrons and tipping over mintinis, slipping slyly into half-drunk scotches, adding a chill to the cool spring air: The U.S. Census Bureau results were in.

Men and women are waiting significantly longer to get married, according to the bureau. More Americans are living alone today than they were in the 1970s.

This can’t be good news for the American single, can it?

Jaime Svoboda, a 22-year-old surgery scheduler at a medical clinic, stirred her pomegranate martini and laughed.

“It’s not 1955. We’re not in the kitchen cooking and taking care of the kids,” Svoboda said. “I’m having more fun right now than I’ve ever had.”

In 1980, the median age at first marriage for a woman was 20.8 years. Last year, it was 25.8 years. The median age for men rose from 23.2 to 27.1 years.

Several bargoers suggested it was the “Sex and the City” factor, the media’s portrayal of successful, empowered single women.

Leah Masten, a 24-year-old broadcasting student at Washington State University, said the dynamics of relationships have fundamentally changed in recent decades.

“Women aren’t as reliant on men as they once were – if that’s the right word,” Masten said. “We have our own careers, we have our own goals. I think it’s wise to wait until you’re in a stable situation.”

Alisse Metge said she waited for the right man. By the time she married, Metge had a master’s degree with an emphasis on conservation genetics. She wed Will, an architect, when both were in their late 20s.

“I think we brought a little more maturity to the relationship than if we had married earlier,” said Metge, 31. “On the other hand, we both were kind of set in our ways.”

Nicole Jenson, a 22-year-old English literature student, said romance has taken a back seat, for the moment, to education and self-reliance.

“It’s more important to go to school,” Jenson said. “It’s more important to go be ready to take care of yourself.”

Her girlfriends nodded in knowing consensus, and then 21-year-old finance student Melissa Skelton said, “I curl up in the fetal position every night and cry.”

The table exploded in laughter.

Among some singles, the legacy of divorce has left its scars. One-third of all children in the United States don’t live with two married parents, the bureau reported.

Lindsay Shaw, a 23-year-old fashion merchandiser who was raised by her father, said the threat of divorce has caused her to approach marriage with caution.

“My dad taught me that you can’t be with someone until you learn to be by yourself,” Shaw said.

And alone many are. One in four homes now consists of a single person – a dramatic increase from the 1970s, when the rate was closer to one in six households, according to the Census Bureau.

Why aren’t all these singles uniting in connubial bliss?

Perhaps, some suggested as Wednesday night gave way to Thursday morning, men have lost the ability to woo (woo, verb: to seek the affection of with the intent to romance).

But it’s not like they aren’t trying. Witness the inimitable personal ads crafted by men in alternative weeklies: “You: walking by looking inquisitive. Me: in spa with friend. Join us next time?”

What girl’s heart wouldn’t thaw at that prose?


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