June 07, 2006
It's the 20th anniversary of the famous Newsweek story about a woman having a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married after 40. It seems Newsweek was wrong — about single women and about terrorists.
Here's what they got right, however: couples are more likely to live together instead of getting married; a woman can choose to be a mother without a husband; more lesbians are coming out in the open (I wonder when two women marry if they count that statistically); and many single women are having a ball and wouldn't have it any other way. The latest census figures put a single woman's chance of getting married at 40 at 40.8 percent and that was in 1996, so it's probably only increased from there. And if you wonder about the original "spinsters," a term which has only recently been taken off of English marriage records to indicate the bride before betrothal, Newsweek tracked down 11 of the 14 and found eight of them married with no divorces.
One of the most profound comments to come out of the story is a woman who said her joy in getting married was her sense of family, even beyond her husband who tragically died. Our modern emotional lexicon is extending the notion of what "family" means. In addition to parents and siblings, singles use their great friends, supportive co-workers, and even devoted pets as family. It's not a coincidence that the gay population will ask if someone is "family" meaning homosexual. Aside from breaking new ground in the discussion of female sexuality, the whole point of "Sex And The City" was not that these women were single but that the four of them had formed their own family to support one another through their trials and tribulations. At its best, those are the moments, other than the pearl thong, which I will remember most.
The title of the Newsweek story in 1986 was "Too Late For Prince Charming?" Perhaps another cover story could have been Prince Charming's refusal to grow up, mature, embrace monogamy, deal with his own crap and be ready to be a responsible and caring husband. It's amazing that no one pointed out that one of the reasons fewer women were getting married is because they were dating Peter Pan and by the time he decided to leave Never Never Land, he would be in his forties. In the article, one psychologist called women "spoiled" and said their standards for a mate were too high — the "I'm okay you'd better be perfect syndrome." Little did he realize women might be ready to simply settle for a straight man who was employed.
The obsession with women's age is not really about marriage but about fertility. In the Newsweek story, some of the original women became mothers ranging to age 45, usually with the help of in vitro fertilization. Single women aren't necessarily battling men who don't want to get married; they're battling their own biological clock. Often, when they are fully mature and have their personal life and finances in order and are ready to have children, biology is against them. It may be more difficult to get pregnant at 40 or expensive with all the new technology or simply impossible. That's the heartbreaker — not being single.
So what's the good news? Those who wait until they're older to get married have a lower divorce rate. Younger men are willing to marry older women, increasing the pool of available mates. And women define themselves in many different ways other than just wife and mother – experiencing a great full life.
Perhaps if we spent as much time being concerned about living enriched, fully conscious, loving lives that we would like to share as we did worrying about terrorist attacks, we'd see that after 40, marriage rates rise even higher.
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