Single life `isn’t an affliction’

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 30, 2000

Go ahead. Feel sorry for single people. View them as less than, as the smug marrieds do in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

But guess what? There’s a growing contingent of folks out there who are single by choice, and loving it.

“There’s no question that the pendulum is swinging in a different direction,” says Xavier Amador, co-author of Being Single in a Couples’ World (Fireside, $12). “Singles are happy being single. It’s a different world we live in these days. Back in our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, women married for financial stability. Today, you can be an independent woman living alone. You don’t have to be part of a couple to have a sex life.

“Certainly women aren’t the only ones making the choice to remain single. We’re seeing a dramatic shift in general in the number of people who aren’t even getting married once. But for single women between the ages of 25 to 40 who have never married, it’s even more extreme. It has tripled since the 1940s.”

It’s not that singles can’t get dates, either. It’s just that they don’t feel that each one has to lead to a relationship with a significant other.

“If I spend the bulk of my life with one person, then that’s great,” says indie film producer and director Catherine Hudon, 25. “But if I don’t, then that’s great, too. I hate it when people speak in superlatives. It doesn’t have to be all one thing or the other.”

Hudon says that while marriage isn’t out of the picture for her, she has a nontraditional take on what wedded bliss will be.

“I see myself with an artist or a writer who would want to stay home and work and be with the kids,” she says. “That’s not how it has to be, but that’s how I see it right now. But I’m flexible.”

That’s a healthy attitude to have, according to Amador, who cites preconceived notions about what marriage has to be as a common source of malcontentedness for marrieds and singles alike.

Still, in a lot of people’s minds, being a happy single isn’t enough. A good chunk of society (i.e., married friends) still doesn’t consider single people as adults.

“Just because we’re a generation of late committers, we shouldn’t be ostracized,” says Katie Brown, the 36-year-old host of Lifetime’s “Next Door with Katie Brown.” “When I go on vacation with my family, everyone will have their own bedrooms – my sisters, who are married, and even my brother, who is getting married. But I’ll get the pull-out sofa. I’m not even the youngest, but I’m the single one so it’s like I don’t rate a room.”

This scenario isn’t uncommon, according to Amador.

“I wrote about this one guy (who) would rent a cabin in Vermont every year to go skiing,” Amador says. “He would invite his girlfriend, and a few other couples. Well, one year he and his girlfriend broke up, but he still invited the three other couples to stay with him at his cabin. He got there after his friends that year and found that even though it was his rental and he was paying for it, they had kicked him out of the master bedroom. . . . They said, `Oh, we figured that you didn’t need the privacy.’ ”

Andy Cohen, a 29-year-old law student and guitar player for the rock band Silkworm, has his own take on this.

“The thing is, everybody wants you to be happy,” says Cohen, who was briefly engaged a few years ago. “But everyone thinks that their way of life is the best way. So of course my married friends – who account for about 40 percent of my friends – want me to find a nice woman and settle down. But they also respect me and don’t sit there scheming on my behalf.”

So they don’t try to matchmake?

“Oh, they point the appropriate women my way,” Cohen says. “But they’re not real pushy with me because they know that I’m happy being single. I’ve also been happy when I’ve had girlfriends. You draw the best from what you’ve got.”

Ben Kim, 37, says that while he would love to be married someday, he’s not about to push the issue just because it’s expected of him.

“Most of my friends are single,” says Kim, associate editor of the Illinois Entertainer. “So I don’t feel like the odd man out. One of the things that I really enjoy about being single is that it allows me to be spontaneous without worrying if I’m being selfish. I can go out when I want without having to consider what someone else wants to do.”

Or, as Amador says, “Being single isn’t an affliction. For many of us, it’s just a choice at this particular point in our lives.”

*****

I never knew I was a spinster until my bank told me so.

It’s true I am an unmarried woman. I like to think of myself as an independent, financially secure woman who is capable of buying a home by myself.

But I suppose that takes up too much space on the line next to my name.

My married friends didn’t have to deal with this humiliation when they signed up for their mortgages. And my single guy friends were described as “bachelor.”

So how come I was thrown into the same category as the hapless Miss Hathaway from the “Beverly Hillbillies”?

“It’s an archaic legal term that they don’t use that much these days,” says Robert Sternberg, an attorney in the Buffalo Grove law firm of Kovitz Shifrin & Waitzman. “But there are still some people stuck in the Middle Ages who use it.

“I think a lot of the newer documents are using more modern terms, (such as) `unmarried man’ or `unmarried woman.’ “

But why do lenders need to designate marital status at all on these contracts?

“It’s because of the homestead laws,” Sternberg says. “The lender wants to know whether or not there could be any homestead exemption or marital rights that the spouse may have in the property. So they want to make it clear whether or not the purchaser is married.”        Or a spinster.

— Jae-Ha Kim

*****

Feeling singled out for not being coupled up?

You’re not alone, according to Xavier Amador, co-author of Being Single in a Couples’ World (Fireside, $12).

“There is a definite stigma to being single,” says Amador, 40, who is unmarried.  “There was a study done that showed how people view singles as less mature and trustworthy than married people. The participants were given descriptions of people who were the same in every way, except that one was single and the other was married. All the participants–even those who themselves were single–judged the single people as less mature and capable than the married folks.”

Though singles have the reputation as being care-free, Amador says they’re often penalized for not having a significant other.

For instance, he cites a Utah woman who is suing her co-op because she and her other single residents were allotted just one car space compared to the married couples’ three.

“That’s how couple centric our society is,” Amador says. “It’s like you should be ashamed and scorned for not being part of a pair. And couples often treat their single friends in a cavalier manner. Couples will be much more likely to cancel on you if you’re single, and if they do make plans with you, they’d rather you meet on their turf, rather than venture to where you live.”

The happiest singles, he says, are the ones who aren’t stuck on a marriage script that they have visualized since they were children.

“There’s nothing wrong with marriage,” he says.  “When you meet the right person, of course that would be the next step. But there’s also nothing wrong with being single. Some people never meet the right person, and others just don’t want to marry and have kids. It’s all OK.”

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