The comedy, How to Be Single, released last week as a kind of prophylactic against anticipated Valentine’s Day angst begins, “There’s a right way to be single. And a wrong way to be single.” The right way looks like Rebel Wilson breaking it down in the club, uninhibited and unrepentant, or Dakota Johnson reading a book on her fire escape. The wrong way is spending your days paging through wedding magazines and dating profiles hunting for Mr. Right. It’s an anti rom-com, but the happy ending is still there. It just looks different. Instead of beginning with a single girl and ending with a jubilant couple, the movie begins with a breakup and ends with the heroine’s recognition that she really, truly wants to be single—“to know who I am alone.”
These are the women Rebecca Traister writes about in her new book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Instead of lamenting the absence of a wedding ring, they are embracing and enjoying their single status. It’s a seismic shift in attitudes from the obsessive husband-hunting of a Carrie Bradshaw or Bridget Jones. For most of history, unmarried women have been looked on as tragic and weird—at best, pitied as incomplete creatures doomed to die alone with their cats; at worst, reviled and targeted, Salem-witch-style, as dangers to the social order. The stigma surrounding unmarried women has finally begun to fall away for the simple reason that there are so many of them. In 2009, for the first time in American history, unmarried women outnumbered married women. By 2012, they made up almost a quarter (23%) of the electorate. They occupy every class, region, and racial group in America, and their numbers are rising every year. In 2014, there were 3.9 million more single adult women than in 2010. “We are a new republic, with a new category of citizen,” Traister declares.