Isn’t it interesting how fiction would tell us that single women are a bit sad and hapless (Bridget Jones) whereas single men are empowered and masterful (Mr Darcy). Naturally, the truth is rather different.
A new study has blitzed the stereotype of the poor lonely spinster out of the water, revealing that women are actually happier being single than men are. In research by the market research firm Mintel, 61 per cent of single women say they are happy with their relationship status, compared to 49 per cent of single men. A further 75 per cent of single women are not actively looking for a partner, compared to 65 per cent of single men.
Chuck your wedding dress in the bin, Miss Havisham. Stop your ruminating, Carrie Bradshaw. Don’t bother putting a ring on it, Bey. We’re single and loving it. Not merely sitting around supping gin cocktails, waiting for the next best thing to come along. But actively revelling in our solo status, as a long-term and enjoyable thing. All hail the singles revolution…
Saying no to compromise
Back in the 16th Century, Elizabeth I said a big fat no to marriage. Why? Even in the face of overwhelming social pressure, she was smart enough to recognise that matrimony would compromise her sovereignty. She was far more powerful alone. Fast-forward several hundred years, and hooking up with someone else no longer requires us to surrender our crown (so to speak). But it can still mean an awful lot of compromise. This can be a good thing, of course; compromise is the way of the world, a tool of selflessness and growth.
On the other hand, at a time where the gender pay gap stands at 18.4% and there are more men called John on FTSE 100 boards than there are women altogether, you can bet your bottom dollar that (in heterosexual relationships, at least), it’s women who will end up compromising more. This could mean taking a hit on your wage because – shock, horror – you have the audacity to go on maternity leave.
Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit
Or it could be something more benign but still annoying, like being the person who takes on ALL the social arrangements forever more, or being forced to give up the comfiest side of the bed. We might have made it out of the era of Stepford Wives, but a few sacrifices still remain.
Saying no to emotional burden
Of course, many people have wonderful and rewarding partnerships in life. We’re not saying it’s all doom and gloom. But you can understand why – after a long and complicated history of cultural subservience to men – an increasing number of women are choosing to fly solo, and seizing upon the freedom that this lifestyle brings.
We welcome not only the physical liberation of being single, but also the ability to shrug off the emotional burden of a relationship. Typically, women invest more of themselves in romantic partnerships (we get heavily involved in problem-solving and arguments), and it can be a huge relief to draw a line under this draining process. Look to Japan, where a spirit of singledom is being celebrated among many women who once were expected to “stick together like vines”.
“Women on their own are everywhere,” reads a recent article from the Japan Times. “From hotels and cafes to women-only apartment blocks and urban spas, the sight of a ohitorisama [a person living or doing things alone] getting a little respite from the business of living has become common enough that no one gives her a second glance.
“Behind the phenomenon is the low, low marriage rate,” it goes on. “More women are opting out of long-term commitments that would almost certainly cramp their style.”
Saying yes to relationships
Ironically, single women are more likely to be at the focal point of a wider intersection of relationships than either a.) married women or b.) men altogether.
“Single individuals are more likely to frequently stay in touch with, provide help to, and receive help from parents, siblings, neighbours, and friends than the married,” states a 2016 study from Boston College and the University of Massachusetts. “Being single increases the social connections of both women and men.”
Read more: Men are happiest when they travel like this
While married people tend to be more insular in their relationships, singletons are more open. They have a greater tendency to reach out and connect to those around them. And connecting to others – whether in a casual, neighbourly sense or in terms of forging lifelong bonds – is a key pillar of happiness.
This skill for building up a network of relationships seems to come more naturally to women. “Women tend to be better at having alternative social networks and other confidantes whereas men tend to rely quite heavily on their wives for that and have fewer other social ties,” Emily Grundy, social research professor at the University of Essex tells the Telegraph. “Certainly there’s a common finding from a lot of studies that women who don’t have a partner tend to do more social activities and more friends compared to women with partners whereas with men it’s the reverse – men without a partner tend to do much less of that.”
Relationship expert Susan Quilliam, writing in the Evening Standard, agrees. “Women often have a good social life and are good at meeting their needs in other ways,” she says. “Women are sourcing what they need often from a wider support network than men.”
Single women are not only better at connecting with people, we also seem to be better at savouring our singledom. We build up intricate rituals that bask in our ability to fly solo.
Just listen to Linda Rodin (pictured above), a beauty mogul who is single in her 60s and lives happily alone in her Manhattan apartment. “I need time to unwind — no magazines, no music, no phone. I pretend I’m at the beach; it’s very peaceful,” Linda tells the blog Cup of Jo, about her nightly bath-time routine. “In the tub, I feel like a poet. I come up with the most interesting ideas, the best answers to emails, the best ideas for things I want to do around the house, and then I completely forget the minute I step out of the bath. It goes down the drain with the water.
“I’ve always been a very, very independent person,” she adds. “I loved being in relationships with wonderful and really interesting men. I just never felt the need to marry them. I never felt convinced.”
Women, in particular, are able to make a sort of spirituality out of singledom. We draw strength from it, and build our lives around having the space to be alone – not as a transient state, but an aspirational one.
This extends to travel, too. Anecdotally, single women seem to be better at motivating themselves to get out there. They make the most of their solo status and lack of figurative baggage to follow their dreams and explore the world. Kristin Addis, who writes about the joys of being a solo female traveller over at Be My Travel Muse, sums up this open-minded approach pretty neatly.
“The most wonderful stuff sits at the bottom of the ocean, or on a sandy beach, or in the middle of a forest,” she says. “Maybe it’s found by standing on the side of the road, or it’s resting on the top of a mountain. It could be just beyond the next alleyway, in the back of a rickshaw, or just around the river bend. You never know if you don’t go.”
How men can play catch-up
Most probably, single women were never the lost causes they were once made out to be; sobbing into their cornflakes over their lack of a catch. And probably not all single men were smug have-it-alls. But either way, we can accept that there’s been a cultural shift in how we view single women. And while more and more people are choosing to be single overall, women seem to be happier at it. Where once upon a time, the single man of a Mad Men era poured himself a Scotch and congratulated himself on eluding the masses – now the guys are playing catch-up.
This isn’t a catch-all. Some men are perfectly happy single; they’re sociable, well-connected and love to travel the world. But if we’re generalising for the sake of a social trend, then it seems men have a bit of ground to make up. In 2017, we’re in the unique situation where single men apparently crave the joyous lifestyle and attitudes of single women.
Read more: The delights and challenges of dining alone
So, how to re-dress the balance? Maybe single men need to look outwards a little more. Perhaps they need to take more risks, and actively move forward with their single lives. This could mean cultivating rich relationships. Or it could be challenging themselves on a round-the-world solo adventure. By following the path of women, blokes too can actively reclaim their singledom for a life well-lived.