More Americans than ever are making the most of being unmarried
It's not that Becky Cohen is anti-marriage. The 35-year-old
Charlotte woman can list several advantages to tying the knot --
companionship, improved finances, ready-made dates for weddings.
But when Cohen contemplates marriage, she invariably thinks
about the drawbacks -- less privacy, less freedom. "I love
living alone," she says. "Once you've been single awhile, you
really get used to your privacy."
In the lexicon of romance, Cohen suspects she fits the
definition of a "quirkyalone," a person who enjoys the single
life and isn't willing to date simply to be part of a couple.
The recently coined word is the brainchild of Sasha Cagen,
author of the new "Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising
Romantics" (HarperSanFrancisco, $19.95).
Just in time to offer a counter-perspective to Valentine's Day
gushiness, Cagen's book bills itself as an inspiring guide and
celebration of singles everywhere. It's also evidence of a
larger trend: Single America is growing.
More of us are marrying later, divorcing or not marrying at all.
America now has more households of people living alone -- 26
percent -- than married households with children, 25 percent.
As their numbers grow, so does the attention being paid to
Ethan Watters' new book, "Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines
Friendship, Family, and Commitment" (Bloomsbury USA, $24.95),
explores the lives of never-marrieds who form friendship groups
that function as quasi-families. (Think "Friends" and "Sex and
the City.") Segue, a new fashion and lifestyle magazine aimed at
affluent, educated singles aged 30 to 55, debuts this spring.
And the right-hand diamond ring has emerged as a hot fashion
trend -- a symbol of independence for the woman who's not
waiting for a man.
Cagen conceived her book after a column she wrote about her own
quirkyalone-ness drew hundreds of responses from singles who saw
themselves in her description. Quirkyalones aren't loners, she
says. But when it comes to dating, they have high standards. "We
want a miracle," she wrote. "Out of millions, we have to find
the one who will understand."
Can men be quirkyalones, too? Certainly, Cagen writes in her
book, though she says the stigma of being single has
traditionally hit women harder. Devin Mendelsohn of Charlotte
thinks the term fits him. "It's pretty nice to be single and not
have that significant other," says the 26-year-old, who works in
logistics and warehouse management. Though unattached,
Mendelsohn has a full social life. At least a couple of nights a
week, he's out with friends, both male and female.
Not so many years ago, nearly everyone married. In the 1950s,
almost 95 percent of Americans married at some point in their
lives, says David Popenoe, co-director of Rutgers University's
National Marriage Project.But since then, marriage rates have
been falling, thanks to factors such as birth control and the
rise of working, financially independent women. The percentage
now stands in the mid-80s, and Popenoe believes it's likely to
dip lower. At the same time, the median age at first marriage
has risen, to 25 for women, 27 for men.
"We have this long stage of life now where everybody's out there
in an historically unprecedented situation -- not married and
not living at home," Popenoe says.
Most will eventually marry. But with single adulthood becoming a
larger portion of American lives, more singles are making the
most of it.
Cohen, who works in southeast Charlotte, owns her home, and when
she recently turned 35, she threw herself a party, inviting
friends and family to her father's home. For vacations, she's
taken several singles cruises.
Such singles-targeted activities are growing. More churches are
offering ministries for the unmarried, and niche singles groups
are ballooning. (Charlotte is headquarters of the American
Singles Golf Association.)
Still, in our family- and marriage-centered culture, many single
people say they're often made to feel incomplete. "You have to
be in a couple or you're not considered normal. That bothers me
a lot," Cohen says.
And even when you're in a couple, says Charlotte real estate
agent Leslie Salls, people want to know when you're going to get
"I get the question a lot, which baffles me," says Salls, 48,
who has dated her boyfriend more than three years. "If a
relationship is working, and a lifestyle is working, I don't see
the necessity of being Mr. and Mrs."
Salls is divorced, as is her boyfriend. "Sometimes I'm offended
by the question," she says. "Why do you feel this isn't working
for us? Why do you feel it would make us stronger?"
In fact, she says, their relationship suits them. They've got
standing dates several evenings a week, but if one person has to
cancel, "neither of us gets offended by it."
While many singles say they enjoy their lives, most hope to
marry eventually. But they say finding the right person isn't
At 32, Michael Koss, a CPA for Wachovia in Charlotte, says he'd
like to get married. But his search for a mate has been
complicated by a career that until recently required frequent
travel and left little time or energy for dating. "People are
dedicating so much more time to establishing their career," he
says. Add to that the fact that he's Jewish and would prefer
dating a Jewish woman. "That does make it a little tougher," he
People have indeed become more discerning about their potential
mates, studies show. Back in 1965, 75 percent of college women
surveyed said they'd marry a man they didn't love if he suited
them in other ways. But a recent National Marriage Project study
found that 94 percent of men and women in their 20s are looking
for a soul mate.
"It would take some very, very special person," Mendelsohn says.
The son of parents who've been happily married 35 years,
Mendelsohn says his expectations are high, and that makes it
harder to find someone.
Even Cohen concedes that marriage could be in her future. "It's
not impossible," she says. Meanwhile, she may soon be the proud
owner of a pair of diamond earrings. She'll be buying them for
-- PAM KELLEY: (704) 358-5271;
1999, Los Angeles-based Unmarried America has worked to fight
the social stigma and inequities that it says single people
often encounter. Among its major efforts: Convincing employers
to revamp benefit programs so they don't shortchange unmarried
employees -- by allowing singles to include family members other
than spouses or children on their health-care plans, for
2002, 49.5 percent of all U.S. households were headed by
unmarried people. That includes people who are divorced or
widowed, as well as those who've never married.
North Carolina, 23.7 percent of housing units are occupied by
one person, the highest of any state in the country.
in learning more about quirkyalones? Check out
www.quirkyalone.net. You'll learn about plans in several
cities (none in the Carolinas) to celebrate the second annual
International Quirkyalone Day on Feb. 14.
-- SOURCES: UNMARRIED AMERICA, AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHICS MAGAZINE.