Independent women today are increasingly choosing the solo lifestyle. We discuss why marriage is becoming as out-of-fashion as last season couture.
Girl is single. Girl meets boy. The right boy. Then ensues some drama but eventually, they fall in love and get married. The end.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that our favorite rom-coms ended in marriage, or at least the start of a long-term monogamous, traditional relationship, and left us with a fuzzy feeling. No matter whether you were dating or single, it would reassure you that eventually, you would also meet your man, get married and live happily ever after.
But this paradigm couldn’t be farther from the reality of the single ladies today. High-earning, well-educated, confident and independent, these ladies have it all – except a man in their lives. The idea of marriage doesn’t give them the fuzzy feeling. And that’s okay for them, whether temporarily or forever.
So how did we get here?
Somewhere between the era of those rom-coms and now, the ‘table for one’ became a bold statement instead of a lonely whisper. In the age of social media where everything is peer pressure, how come #relationshipgoals doesn’t seem to give the singles FOMO (fear of missing out) anymore? High on self-worth, these happily single women won’t let a relationship status define their lives, and won’t let external validation, whether from happily married women on social media or men in (or not in) their lives, define their worth.
These single women aren’t all Gen-Z either. In fact, the older you are, the less likely you are to get married. I talked to 20-40 year olds to understand – are they single by choice or just sick of modern romance? Or is it something else entirely?
It’s not about loneliness; it’s about independence, self-discovery, and yes, unlimited “me time. They say being single in the city is a badge of freedom, but is it really? So, put on your best shoes, and let’s strut into the world of the fabulous and single, where every day is a love affair with life itself.
Single and Fabulous. Period.
If you think about it, the rom-coms I’m talking about were the heart of 00s – the decade that was the height of traditional relationships. It’s been twenty years since then, so no wonder we’ve come a long way in how we think about relationships now.
Twenty years ago, men were either the sole or the main bread-winners among couples, and marriage helped maintain traditional gender roles. However, that wasn’t always fair to women, because arguably, earning money was appreciated more (by both genders) than home-making, elder-care and child-rearing, leading to male dominance.
From “I work all day to bring food to the table, what do you do all day?” to “I do everything to run this house while you just sit around,” women heard a lot. It seems that all the criticism women have endured during all these decades, and centuries, made them self-improve so much that now they’re independent, running the house, running errands and even single-handedly, raising children. But then, for these women, the question arises –
What do men bring to the table?
“Who cares about any boy?” asks Sara from Dubai, 40. “Boys are useless. Singlehood shouldn’t be a way to even define people. Marriage doesn’t feel like an ultimate thing anymore.”
Marriage in Itself is an Irrational Decision
To understand the psychology behind wanting to be single, let me take a step back and understand why people actually get married in the first place. The idea of considering marriage as something unnecessary is hardly new. Being financially and (often) emotionally independent, I myself used to think and rethink this before I decided to find a husband.
While women like to overthink everything, perhaps a better answer would come from a man. So I asked my husband, “Why did you want to get married?” and giving a marriage-compared-to-marketing analogy, he replied, “Do you think we are we capable of making rational decisions?”
In Abhishek-code, this means, we’re just wired to desire a romantic relationship, company and maybe, permanence. We can’e explain this desire; it’s evolutionary. Just like we want to buy a product from an expensive brand. Sometimes it’s even counter-intuitive, so if you overthink it, you may not even want it.
The Divide in Men and Women’s Role Preferences
While men used to earn more than women in most marriages, nowadays, in nearly 29% of marriages, both partners earn roughly equal amounts. This change has tripled in the last five decades.
In fact and more surprisingly, many men don’t want traditional gender roles to change. This means that the men you meet don’t desire you to be their equals, which could be a significant reason for women choosing to remain single.
According to a research done in 2023 by PewResearch, 48% of American men prefer to earn more than their wives. However, only 22% women want their husbands to earn more. Essentially what this means is that when you try to find a spouse, high chances are that you’ll both be disappointed in what you each want from a marriage.
And remember how I mentioned earlier that housework is appreciated less than earning money? The truth is even scarier. This same research shows that people say that men’s work is valued more “at work”, while a majority of people believe that for women, both household and “work” work is valued equally.
So earn, but also equally take care of the house. Oh, but also, don’t earn more than your husband. Surely, seeing it from this perspective, choosing to stay single seems like a retaliation on the part of women.
“One of the men I met through a matrimony website,” says Sadhna* from Delhi, 32, “was so specific about his expectations for a wife, saying she should have a certain type of job, looks, should also be able to take care of the house and kids, and on and on the list went. And I was like, what are you giving?”
Shweta’s experience was similar (Delhi, 29). “This guy I met who lived in Atlanta, said he was looking for a girl who could ‘balance’ her job with home-making and child-care. His parents would also move in with him later on, and I asked him if he knew how to cook. He said ‘no’.”
“I don’t blame men for unrealistic expectations. I blame other women, for setting their standards so low,” Sadhna adds.
Singlehood and Its Modern Reasons
Surely, the decision to stay single or delay marriage indefinitely isn’t all about finding the right match. For some women, it’s just a personal choice, who aren’t even trying to meet men. The change in parental and societal expectations is one big factor, too.
The post-Covid social media infested society, it turns out, is perfect for embracing solitude without whispering apologies to society’s expectations. As we get more and more disconnected from our peers (in real life), there is less pressure from friends and family to get married. Women feel free to make their own choices, and to challenge the stigma of staying single.
As societal norms evolve, the traditional milestones of marriage and family are no longer seen as the only path to happiness, with many women choosing singlehood as a valid and fulfilling lifestyle.
A 2022 survey revealed that 57% of single adults are not currently looking for a relationship or casual dates, prioritizing enjoying being single and having other priorities.
“The decision is staying single has more to do than the decision of being with a man,” adds Sara. “Given what the world has to offer in terms of work freedom, space and lifestyle – I have to be too blind in love to decide not to be single anymore. The qualification or type of a man are not the only criteria for this decision nowadays.”
Younger women are no more inclined to settle down than older ones. ”I don’t need a date to validate my worth. Self-love is my priority right now,” says Ayesha Khan, 23. “Everyone seems to ask why I’m alone. I wish they’d celebrate my choice instead,” adds Emily Davis, 22. “I’m taking a break from dating apps. It’s liberating to not swipe for validation,” says Priya Desai, 24.
Other factors include increasing divorce rates, online support communities, and even prioritizing self-care. Certainly, the fact that career is so time-consuming in today’s competitive world, and the countless options available to spend your time make the need for a partner less urgent.
“I would rather wake at 10 and make omelette for myself than wake up at 7 and make a full breakfast for someone,” Sara goes on to say.
The gig economy and the passion culture have also helped people stay single and happy, as more and more women chase their dreams in the boardrooms, and content creators are able to make an income for one doing social media influencing or blogging. This is changing the need to find a partner for fulfillment and validation. Love? Well, it might just be a click away, but it’s the love for what we do that’s stealing the spotlight. So are we romancing ourselves in a world where likes are the new love letters?
“You get unlimited ‘me time'” and “Being single can help you become more independent,” writes Leigh Weingus in a blog “50 Reasons Why Being Single Can Be Flat-Out Wonderful” on Silk + Sonder.
“You have more time and space to focus on personal growth and hobbies, writes a blogger at Live Well Diary. “Pursuing further education, travelling, trying new activities, and exploring your passions are just some things you can do without worrying about a partner’s needs or preferences. Being single offers an uninterrupted focus on professional goals.”
A 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology highlights various reasons why people choose to be single, with factors such as ‘I am too picky,’ ‘I want to be free to do whatever I want.’ There’s something intoxicating about making decisions on a whim. Midnight movie? Last-minute trip to Paris? When you’re the master of your itinerary, life is an endless possibility.
Singles’ Silent Revolt: The Harsh Reality of Modern Dating Culture
While some are prioritizing self-love and other their careers, there are some who are rejecting the romantic landscape. The way dating apps prioritize looks over substance, the way influencers overshare their intimacy on Instagram to the point it looks fake, and the way ghosting is as normal these days as a first date itself – all these factors affect relationship preferences.
The constant comparison and pressure from #RelationshipGoals on social media lead some women to question the authenticity of forced romantic pursuits, opting to remain single until genuine connection occurs. Why settle for a mediocre love story when your solo journey is a blockbuster hit?
And then there’s the paradox of choice. In a world where you can swipe right faster than you can say “I’m single,” are we becoming victims of choice overload? Commitment is daunting and some would rather stay unmarried than navigate the anxieties of choice. It’s like standing in the biggest shoe sale of the century but leaving empty-handed because, well, can you ever really choose just one pair of shoes?
And even if you choose, how can you trust them to only want you when having online interactions is so easy? In an age where sliding into DMs is the new courtship, trust can be as elusive as a good hair day in Mumbai humidity.
I wrote a whole article related to this as our last month’s cover story, about how women these days may find it hard to prioritize between wanting sexual freedom or traditional relationships.
Dating apps promised us a buffet of romantic possibilities. But it seems like a grand adventure until you realize you’re looking for a diamond in a very rough, very vast cyber space.
“At the end, that’s what everyone wants – old school romance,” says Sadhna. The white dress and picket fence dream is getting a rewrite. Today’s woman might want it all, but on her schedule and terms. Because why rush to the altar when life’s a grand adventure waiting to be explored?
* names have been changed.
Shilpa Ahuja the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion. Other than defining the direction of the magazine, she also writes about fashion & beauty trend forecasts, industry analysis, and opinions.
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University.
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