Readers respond to Laura Miller's essay "State of the Single Woman."

By Salon Staff
Published December 13, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

Thanks, Laura Miller. It's voices like yours -- and not fictional flakes like Ally McBeal or Bridget Jones -- who assist in the validation of the New Lifestyle. Your opening paragraph cataloging all of our heretofore unexperienced freedoms was alone worth the price of my Salon Exclusive subscription. Eye-opening.

I'm 32, well-educated, well-dressed, making a colorful living as a freelance and corporate writer in a capital city. I just bought a new downtown loft condo. I've been single as often as I've been "boyfriended" and my relationship experiences have been better than those of most women I know. I've been with Mr. Perfect for nearly a year now, and there is talk of moving in together (it will be my second foray into cohabitation, his first). As wonderful as he is, and as wonderful as "we" are, I can't honestly claim I'm any more cheerful in this great relationship than I was when single. It wasn't any less of a life -- just different.

Maybe the trick to beating the system is not aching after the Supposed To Be. I have never matched myself with a man for the sake of being matched (and consequently have never been hurt), and I don't lie awake at night listening to the ticking of a phantom biological clock. I also ignore the condescending "I never knew how unfulfilled I was before the kid" remarks of young mothers pointedly directed at us singles with pristine wombs -- those things just make me question their motives. As adults, come on; we all know there is so much to get out of life, one option cannot possibly suit all.

My boyfriend who, like me, doesn't have a breeding goal in life, once pointed out that none of his parented friends seem very happy. Just tired and cranky and disgusted and mad half the time, their laughter less jubilant. While I believe 100 percent that many adults strive to marry and be parents for the right reasons, and are amply rewarded in the fulfillment department when they meet these goals, I can't wait for the day when my choices are as well-regarded -- or, at least, underided. For whatever reason (envy or misguided "sympathy"), those people can spare themselves the dime and stop worrying about my welfare.

-- Jody Cooper

I think the author of this article makes the same mistake she accuses many other women of doing -- that is, confusing magazine articles, books, and TV shows with real life.

It's easy to say it's OK for a single woman to have kids these days, but the reality of raising them is another matter, especially if you don't think it's a great idea to toss the baby you've yearned for into day care full time at six weeks.

It's also popular to trumpet the death of economic and status reasons for getting married. But that doesn't mean everyone must now stop wanting to find a life companion or be branded as deluded and weak-minded. Some of us actually do believe in lasting love, see examples of it, and want to live our lives that way, single, married, straight, gay, men or women.

I certainly know unhappy married women whose husbands create extra work for them and play helpless with child care and housework, but geez, it's not everybody. I know women in devoted partnerships as well, who feel constantly dismissed and insulted by single women and the media as stupid domestic patriarchy-collaborating throwbacks. The singles are not willing to marry for security, but aren't always thrilled with endless dating either, or with serial monogamy. Life isn't that simple.

The media loves to set women against each other, telling us how to feel, what to want -- we hardly need more of the same from Laura Miller.

-- Sara Catterall

I am a recently married 27-year-old man who has mostly gay and female friends -- and who is a faithful reader of anything Salon puts out in the marriage/bachelor/women/kids/lifestyle department. My question today as always is: How come none of these books and articles you critique ever distinguishes between getting married and having kids? And how come you (the progressives of Salon) never distinguish between the two? I'd like to think that my new wife is as happy, free and unencumbered as any singleton. We don't plan on having kids and god forbid we would ever move to the suburbs. Surely we have more in common with the quirky free spirits than the confused and depressed family folk. All your articles are starting to make me paranoid -- is it so hard to believe that women would want to get married for other reasons than reproduction or to be "taken care of"?

-- Justin Neisuler

James Merrill once wrote that not having children freed him to devote his energy to the people and things he really cared about. But not everyone's so lucky or so talented as to be "fulfilled" by work and friendships. Never mind how many married women are unhappy; how many people hate their jobs? For both men and women, raising a family is often the most -- and only -- deeply rewarding thing they'll do. It's absurd to think there is just one route to happiness, but the lovely freedom to go anywhere and do anything -- and the ability to enjoy and make use of that freedom -- isn't necessarily yours just because you're single.

-- Matthew Flamm

I found this article interesting -- I've been single, married, divorced, and married again, and could relate to much of what was said.

I really didn't want to marry the first time, but I was 23, and caved into family and society pressures.

This was 1958, when there was a tremendous amount of pressure on a woman (or "girl," as we were called then) to marry. I was enjoying life, my freedom and getting to know so much about the world. I married and gave it all up, and was totally miserable for 10 years, during which I had two wonderful sons, the only bright spots in my life, but confining as well.

After my divorce, I enjoyed my new freedom for a couple of years, but also realized that there were many things I was not able to do. I enjoy cultural activities (theater, concerts, etc.) but prefer to have company. The single women friends I made were only interested in going to places and activities where they could meet men. I found myself going to cultural events alone. I dated many men, but they really were only interested in sex -- not that I was an unwilling participant, but I would have liked some company outside of bed.

I went back to school for an MBA and climbed the corporate ladder, but found that whatever successes I enjoyed were empty without someone to share them.

That, I think, is the biggest problem I had in being single -- no one to share my life with. Whatever I did, whatever I achieved, had little meaning without love.

I remarried five years ago at the age of 62. I don't do as much as formerly, primarily because I'm older, but whatever I do is much more pleasurable with my wonderful husband by my side.

-- Barbara Herman

Laura Miller is right on in her critique of the persistent and annoying social and cultural attention that is bestowed upon us single women.

It seems that we keep an eye on the things we don't trust -- the things that are "different." This bears out in our magazines, television, newspapers ad nauseam. Choosing the single life over supposed "marital bliss" is anathema to our culture. The incredulity that overlays the ongoing social analysis of the life of the single woman -- even by authors who should know better -- implies that we are still trapped by male-dominated standards. In fact, I have discovered through my own experiences and those of my woman friends that the guys really need us way more than we need them. We must massage their fragile egos, soothe their furrowed brows, ad nauseam. Phooey!

I am 42 and very happily single. I've never been married and never had a biological clock. It's not that I don't desire the company of a good man -- but I won't compromise on one who wants me to conform to certain societal expectation. Co-habitation? Not for me! A committed, monogamous, long-term relationship? Great -- but only if we can maintain separate residences. Alas, I have yet to meet a man who can handle that ...

-- Anne Castro

"To get the most out of being single, a woman has to develop a skill that is seemingly harder to come by these days than a good man: the ability to be happy even when other people are convinced you can't be."

BINGO!!!! This also holds true for artists of all stripes. Bucking the system isn't easy when the system likes its subjects to be nice obedient scared little consumers. Because when you discover the secret glee of living your way, regardless of how you "should" be, you also discover that you don't need the system. It needs you. So go ahead -- give 'em all something to talk about, and be happy instead of system- and culture-bound and miserable!

-- Kim Tilbury

I just want to express gratitude for Laura Miller's compelling "State of the Single Woman." It's the season when my mailbox starts filling with photos of my friends' children disguised as Christmas cards. Again and again I am thrilled at the chance to see those smiling kids, and again and again I wonder why I don't have any desire to have my own kids to hustle off in red sweaters for photos, and again and again I think how my own unpeopled cards are going to elicit consternation or even sympathy.

What I found heartening about Miller's piece is the recognition that we single women can have a hard time sorting out whether we seek partnership because we want it or because we think we're supposed to want it. My friends and I spend undue amounts of time trying to figure out how to date, how to find a good man, why men don't ask us out when we're so obviously great catches. But I repeatedly discover, when I actually do date someone, that I really liked my life just fine before.

My day-to-day life is great, with close friends, space to pursue my creative goals, freedom for travel and visits, and a cozy little house (complete with single-woman-in-her-30s cat) to come home to. At some gut level, I know that I'm alone because I've chosen to be alone. Why is it so hard to be OK with that?

So thanks to Laura Miller for opening that dialogue (and pointing to the books that will help) for me and others. Bravo!

-- Vive Griffith

Sexual attraction, in some part, is based on fertility. Fertility in women decreases after 35. Fertility in men diminishes as well, but men can replace this decrease through greater financial stability while women do not seem to be able to play the money card as well. This phenomenon is presumably why we don't commonly see grandmas having children even as Michael Douglas marries Catherine Zeta-Jones and has a child.

I am reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld skit in which he implies that men are less picky when it comes to women: "Mortician, huh? Niiiice," he says about a man asking about a woman's career. The fact is that men are usually less particular and are able to compensate for age more easily than women. As a result, as a man becomes older, his mating pool decreases but not as dramatically as when a woman ages. As such, 30-year-old men can easily date and marry 23-year-old women and few will bat an eye; a 30-year-old woman finding and then marrying a 23-year-old man is a more difficult feat.

A woman's youth is precious and quite possibly the most powerful catalyst in the world. She therefore has more options at hand when she maximizes this power.

-- Matthew Rafat

All I can say is kudos to this article! I understand completely the pressure of single women (especially by American families) to marry. Every family wedding I attend turns into a "who would be a good one (man) for Ani?" My 25-year-old sister is just starting to "feel the heat." I've often had arguments (from the age of 24!) with my mother on the "necessity" of marriage. She would always argue: "The best time for a woman to have a baby is from the ages of 24-28." I am now 29 and suffering the consequences of a family hell bent on "marrying me off!" Reading this article has allowed me the courage to brave the family Christmas party this year!

-- Ani Richard

I concur with Miller that there exists no "single, righteous standard of successful womanhood." But Miller shows her hand when she invokes, as a "rational account" (already an appeal to a "presumably obvious standard" she purports to reject), a "middle-class American single woman with marketable skills," who, if she's "lucky," does not desire children.

Why can't we support women -- whether lesbian, straight, single, partnered, parents or not -- for the choices they would like to make for their lives?

-- Jalane Schmidt

I enjoyed the article on women and the single life enormously. I'm single, always have been and expect I always will be. Over the years, I've fended off insulting, annoying and plain rude questions about my marital status and sexual orientation -- questions even in our modern times almost no one would think to ask a man. I still laugh to this day over the comment made to me when I was 23 by a young married friend of my mother's. This woman, only 10 years older than I, with a husband and three children, asked when I was going to marry. I replied that I was happy being single. Her comment was: "You've been happy long enough! It's time to get married!"

While I have my days of "what ifs," on the whole, I enjoy not having to answer to anyone about anything -- limited in what I do only by my own time and resources. Quick trip to London for theater? No problem. Up all night finishing a book? No one can say boo about it. Decide to paint the bedroom ceiling indigo blue? No voice raised in protest. I've often noticed that even the happiest of married relationships have daily tensions and little battles that most women compromise or surrender to. I never have to deal with that. If I sometimes yearn for a bit of romance and a sex life that was a bit livelier, well, I know many a married woman who wishes the same. I don't -- and never have -- lived my life according to anyone else's expectations. There is no such thing as perfect happiness -- but at least I'm free to work on the process as I see fit.

To those who want to marry -- do it! Those who don't -- man or woman -- make your choice and live it to the full. Take advantage of your freedoms to fulfill your own talents and ambitions.

-- B. Lynch Black

I found your article especially interesting because it addresses the role that generalizations take in modern media, and how grossly inadequate they are. But it is no mystery to me why there is a glut of the kind of media you attack. Intelligent, confident, articulate and successful women have no need to wish to be in any role that they are currently not in. They know how to get what they want and have gotten it. In short, they are doing much better things because they are not second guessing themselves. Culture is molded by them and that is why I find them so attractive.

Alas, I do think if you actually had read or heard Steven Pinker speak you wouldn't have made that cheap shot against him. He embraces the complexity of life, and acknowledges the diversity within species and their sexual subsets. He makes claims to determinacy, but he makes no claim that this process is easy to divine, or condenses down to a succinct female nature. He also knows amateurish cultural explanations cheat the complexity of the process, and are baseless.

Pinker knows it all comes down to what's in your head, and unfortunately many women who are looking for guidance get their natural self-doubt (as in human nature, not just female) reinforced as something wrong with society and wrong with them. This further handcuffs them as they look on the world with hopelessness, further damaging the one thing that will get them through every challenge they will ever face: confidence.

-- Peter J. Bartek

I find myself "aghast" that we're still having these conversations after all these years. Are U.S. women really desperate to know how they should live? God knows, I'm not. And I don't find "status" in being married or not. And I don't know anyone who does.

My suspicion is that this is largely just magazine article fodder.

-- Barbara Brown

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