Under the Sun
Women haven't sworn off marriage -- just the need to be hitched
THE young man wanted nothing to do with the conversation the two women were having.
The trio, waiting in line at a bookstore, had spied the cover of a magazine featuring Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with a headline asking whether America was ready for either or both to be president.
The blonde, alternately stroking and squeezing the man's arm -- a declaration of her claim on him -- said with the certitude of youth that she'd "never, ever" vote for Hillary because the New York senator hadn't "dumped Bill" after the "whole Monica thing."
The blonder one said she wouldn't rule out Clinton since Hillary had the wherewithal to shrug off the "woman wronged" image and succeed on her own, showing that Bill's conduct mattered little when it came to her political career.
Blonde countered that no self-respecting female should forgive such a betrayal and that a man who fooled around once would always be a cheater. Blonder said the point was that Hillary was "a survivor," that she didn't need to ditch her unfaithful husband "to be herself."
SEEKING affirmation of her opinion, Blonde turned to her man, sweetly asking what he thought.
He wasn't having any of it. After a few seconds of silence, he mumbled that he was hungry, pulled his arm free and hot-footed over to the coffee counter.
As blonde and blonder watched him flip-flop away, I could almost hear his brain churning, "Women -- you can't live with them, you can't live without them."
Maybe for men, that's the mystifying choice in life, but for women, it appears hitching themselves to a guy isn't the necessity it might have been for their mothers and grandmothers.
According to a New York Times review of census data, more American women -- 51 percent -- are living without a spouse than with one. Though not a big majority, the number has grown from 35 percent in 1959 and 49 percent in 2000.
Some are young and putting off marriage, others were but have outlived their husbands and many more did the marriage thing but found it didn't take.
THE TREND doesn't mean that women don't want to be married, but that stretching for the diamond ring is no longer the driving force in many women's lives and, quite possibly, hasn't been for decades.
I was watching an old rerun of "Sex and the City" recently, the one in which proper Park Avenue Charlotte, drunk on Staten Island iced tea, proclaims her determination to be married within the year. Though the television series leaned heavily toward a woman's desire for wedded bliss, it also separated finding someone to love from the symbolic institution.
The Times' analysis, in fact, found that many women did have a significant other -- for lack of a better designation; "boyfriend" doesn't cut it in middle age -- but choose not to legalize the connection.
Many younger women would consider the concept quaint, but it wasn't so long ago that a stigma was attached to cohabitation, to single motherhood and divorce. Even pity for women who never married -- remember old maids? -- has melted away.
I'M OLD enough to remember predictions of societal chaos as women moved from barefoot in the kitchen to stilettos in the corner office. But the permutations have strengthened rather than weakened society.
Still, the status of women remains a fascinating subject, any change remarkable, excellence considered noteworthy. When the Nancy Pelosis and Colleen Hanabusas shed attention merely for gender, when the question about the nation's readiness for a woman in the White House need not be asked, we will have, as they say, come a long way.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com