Being Single, Seeing Double - response to Time Mag'Who Needs a Husband?'
cmfce at his.com
Mon Sep 11 08:39:07 EDT 2000
subject: Being Single - response to Time Mag'Who Needs a Husband?'
from: Smart Marriages
Being Single, Seeing Double
The Washington Post
Monday, September 11, 2000
I'm looking at the recent Time magazine cover that pictures the four buffed
stars of HBO's "Sex and the City," women who talk dirtier and have more sex
than anyone I have ever met. Front and center is Sarah Jessica Parker, with
her tumble of long locks, perfectly highlighted and curled, falling to
breasts encased in a white strapless gown. Her lips are glossed into an
iridescent purple pout; the look in her cat-green eyes says, "Take me now."
Decked for an evening of prowling, these women appear to be appropriate
cover art for an article titled "How to Snag a Mate." Instead, the "Sex and
the City" sirens are a tease for a story on "Who Needs a Husband?," which
points to a growing trend defined this way: "More women are saying no to
marriage and embracing the single life. Are They Happy?"
There is much information presented in the article, which attempts to
bolster the overarching premise that "single women have come into their
own." In 1963, 83 percent of women 25 to 55 were married; by 1997 that
figure had dropped to 65 percent. Time cites a long-term study conducted by
the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, in which marriage rates
were found to have plummeted to a 40-year low. We read quote after quote
from euphoric single women, with good jobs, good looks, even good
boyfriends, all expressing the same sentiment: "Our own lives are full and
free; why do we need to get married?"
I flip from the story back to the photo of the four stars of "Sex and the
City," in come-hither costumes and stiff coiffures, and stumble again on
this cover line, "Are they happy?" Happy is not among the first words that
come to mind. They are clearly stunning on the outside, but they do not
exude real joy from within, and any single woman who has been dating too
long and too much can tell you why: Sex in the city feels good for fleeting
moments; it's no ticket to a satisfaction that endures. And there lies the
ancient reason why most Americans still choose to get married. Being single
is lonely. Humans need long-term companionship.
Unhitched women of marrying age catting around big cities in sensational
garb aren't usually doing so to "embrace the single life." The purpose of
that ritual, quite simply, is to attract a mate so they can stop having to
hang around smoky bars with their girlfriends. Most women don't want
intimacy on the fly with a carousel of lovers. Most women want to finally
find a partner who looks beyond the bottle-gold fibers of highlighted hair,
and into the fiber of their being. Most women want to be able to skip
shaving their legs once in a while and still feel beautiful in the eyes of
Despite new and sobering statistics on the decline in marriage, lots of New
Age women are still getting married with big dreams in big dresses in front
of big crowds. They want what their mothers and grandmothers wanted--loyal
spouses, children, houses with gardens. Many enlightened and hip women,
including Sarah Jessica Parker, wife of Matthew Broderick, have discovered
that being forever single is not that much fun after all.
Most women want fidelity in a partner. They find more fulfillment in a
predictable routine, however grinding and ordinary it can become, than in
the quick hits of ecstasy and inevitable agony that come with dating around.
Even Gloria Steinem surrendered to the archaic tradition she has often
dismissed as a destructive force to women's rights. "I am happy and
surprised," admitted the feminist matriarch when she recently got married
for the first time at the age of 66. Steinem, co-founder of Ms. magazine,
was wed to entrepreneur David Bale, 61, in a sunrise ceremony in rural
Who needs a husband? More people than are willing to admit.
I come to my conclusion not as an academic or psychologist. I come as a nosy
journalist who has spent 2 1/2 years researching a book on marriage, for
which I talked to dozens of people in various stages of relationships, from
infatuation to midlife malaise to affairs to divorce. And what my own raw
data tell me is that people are happiest when they are anchored in a family.
People are happiest when they are connected with someone they love, and if
they don't feel that need, they are generally in therapy to find out why
not. A good marriage can mean a good life. Yet, making the leap is a bold
act of faith, having grown up watching half of American marriages fail, a
statistic that hasn't wavered for close to 30 years.
According to Diane Sollee, founder of Smartmarriages.com, a coalition
leading the marriage-strengthening movement, America's divorce epidemic was
just "part of the times, fallout from the revolution of the 1960s and
1970s." She says that the popularity of "Sex and the City" has little to do
with what is really going on.
"The trend that we see is the opposite," says Sollee, who last June convened
1,200 scholars, researchers and policymakers in Denver at a conference to
discuss the future of marriage. "We are actually at the dawn of a marriage
renaissance. After years of getting it wrong, we have new information about
how to do it right.
"The biggest news is that you don't have to find the perfect mate with whom
you have everything in common and with whom you never disagree. Marriage is
two individuals coming together who will perpetually disagree, so if you
learn how to manage disagreements, and not flee from them, you can have a
marriage that lasts. All the research finds that disagreement is a normal
part of a good, sexy marital relationship. That should help more people
relax, fall in love, and learn how to disagree in a way that builds a great
marriage. Who needs marriage? Many people must, because 75 percent of men
and women who divorce run out and marry again.
" 'Sex and the City' is sex with strangers," Sollee adds. "Sex with a spouse
is intimate and powerful. It is sex with someone you trust and know and love
deeply. It doesn't get any better than that."
As a journalism professor at American University, I frequently assign
students to do a personal essay on "the most important thing that has ever
happened in your life, for better or for worse." Responses range in severity
from getting a bad case of acne while spending a semester in Italy to losing
a brother to AIDS. The most frequent comeback, however, is recovery from
divorce. These students express an unwavering desire to be smarter about
marriage than their parents were.
One former student, Allegra Gatti, 24, told me she is in love for the first
time in her life. She lives in Manhattan, where she works at a sports club
on the Upper West Side, a place filled with lots of singles who are looking
to meet somebody while swearing they love being single. Although Gatti's own
parents are divorced and so are her boyfriend's, the couple is talking about
making a life together. She is hopeful, not fearful.
"I'm not going to make the same mistake my parents made," she says. "I often
wonder if they could still be married if they had recognized what it was
they wanted to accomplish together, and were willing to do the work. I know
that in my own marriage, I'm going to figure out how to keep doing that
work. I want to spend my life with someone else, I know that for a fact.
It's crazy to think you can be really happy living alone."
Bruce Lustig, the senior rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation, will not
perform a marriage ceremony unless the couple has gone through several
counseling sessions with him. It is in these meetings that young people
address ways to move through those central issues before they become major
"One of the difficulties in marriage today is that we live in a disposable
society," Lustig starts out. "Your Walkman breaks, you don't fix it. You buy
a new one. Your toaster oven breaks, you get a new one. And that mentality
transfers over to our relationships. We are often not willing to work at
some very simple issues, and when a marriage gets broken--we toss it.
"When I'm talking to young people considering making a commitment to
marriage, we talk a lot about bumps to expect on the road," Lustig
continues. "I tell them that they can look toward the outside and try to
bolt, to escape things that aren't good at the moment. Or they can keep
their eyes focused on the relationship they are in and work at making it
My own husband is at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, dressed in the
tattered blue bathrobe I gave him a decade ago, a sight that is comforting
and familiar. I am proud that we have been married for 12 years; we know
it's a huge accomplishment. Raising four sons close in age, there have been
plenty of junctures where one of us has wanted to bolt. But we have stayed
in the cage--we have to, we are a family. Am I happy? Generally. Are my
single friends happy, unencumbered and free? Only when what they find during
a night on the prowl leads not to sex in the city but to companionship they
can count on.
Iris Krasnow's book "Surrendering to Marriage: Husbands, Wives and Other
Imperfections" will be published by Talk Miramax Books next spring.
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