Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Sometimes it's really nice being alone.

There seems to be a huge fear among adults about being alone. That status is not horrible, to be avoided at all costs. It's actually rather pleasant.

Many of us grew up in an era where one of the worst conditions was being alone. The phrase we feared as young women in the 1950s was becoming an "old maid." The mere thought of living unmarried was something woeful.

The majority of our elementary teachers were old maids. They were spinsters with no sense of style, who wore their white hair in elaborate buns, and daily wore shapeless dresses of black or navy blue with matching lace-up oxfords.

For the most part, these were lovely women, devoted to a life of teaching. When their careers had begun during the pre-war years, many school systems did not allow women teachers to be married. This restriction eased over time but too late for many of these single women who found that time had passed them by. There were a few married women teachers at our grade school. They were far more stylish, attired in fitted suits over pretty blouses. These teachers had actual waistlines, wore pumps and lipstick. However, they were outnumbered.

I used to wonder about these single women teachers who appeared to be so drab. They rarely seemed to smile or laugh. Perhaps they were simply focused on the task at hand. Perhaps they even kicked up the heels of their lace-up oxfords on the weekends. But I doubt it.

And so began the image of the mid-century working woman. Remember TV shows like The Ann Sothern Show and The Gail Storm Show? Working women were constantly doing the wrong thing, falling for one hapless adventure or another. On the job, they were either ditsy and efficient like Ann Sothern or rather homely and pathetic like her long-time co-star Olive (played by Ann Tyrell). They seemed completely devoted to their jobs in an era when few women had entered the workplace.

It would be several years before single women were depicted as having good jobs, nice clothes and enjoying life which occasionally included men. Marlo Thomas' That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore's role as Mary Richards brought the image of the unmarried woman into the 20th century and raised our collective image in the process. We began to think that perhaps being a single woman wasn't so darn bad after all. It might even be fun. At least it looked like fun on the small screen.

Still, singlehood was generally considered a temporary and dreaded condition, a status in real life to be ended at all costs. The dreaded condition theory is likely responsible for the increase in divorce rates that began during the 1960s. Young women were encouraged to get married and find a willing young man to be her partner. These rigidly structured marriages, a leftover from the prior decades, were often doomed almost from the start.

So a large number of women -- and men --eventually found themselves alone, despite the fear of the dreaded condition. At least by this stage in their lives, they had sampled married life and had a fairly good appreciation for what was involved.

Many of the people I knew who had a failed marriage soon repeated the pattern by marrying again. Fairly quickly they chalked up two or more failed marriages. I would say the average number of bad marriages among my co-workers and friends eventually stopped at three.

Today finds a significant number of single women who are facing life alone, for one reason or another. Many of us who have reached 65 and are now single, are single by choice. Yes, by choice.

By observing this issue for some time, my experience allows me to conclude:
*Marriage is not for everyone.
*Marriage ain't so great.
*Marriage hasn't evolved enough over the past century to make it attractive to young people today. 
*Everyone needs to know how to live alone without focusing merely on the status.
*Even participants in the best marriages are likely to find themselves alone at some point.

So if you happen to know someone who is alone, envy them a bit. They might be the happiest people of all.   

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