<i></i>

Photo: Getty

You don’t need a partner to be happy or fulfilled. Do you? You don’t need to meet someone and fall in love and be with them forever to be OK. It is quite possible to go through life single and alone, and not be lonely and sad.

Isn’t it?

The latest Date of the Nation report from online dating site RSVP – owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this blog – is about to be released. Some early statistics found their way into my mailbox. Unsurprisingly, they chart a rise in the acceptance of online dating as a legitimate means of meeting people. But that’s not all.

Being a survey of people looking for love, there is some interesting detail about the status "single". More than 3500 single Australians were surveyed in February this year. Of them, 70 per cent said they were happy being single. Interestingly, it was single women who were more likely to report satisfaction with the single life – 76 per cent female to 67 per cent male.

Why is this? Why are women happier being by themselves than men? The mass media spews up images of miserable, dateless, slightly crazy cat ladies all the time. We’re reminded of the lady bits that tick and the hollowness of motherhoodlessness. Spinsterhood still seems less sexy and fun than being a bachelor. Certainly, stereotypes are silly things to buy into – though isn’t there some small grain of truth to them?

Possibly. Indeed, the notion of a forlorn, forgotten single lady was probably – unfortunately – more relevant 50 years ago than it is now. And I say "unfortunately", because it should never have been a common notion to begin with. Women should have had the chance to envisage their life without husbands and kids if they so desired – just as men did, and still do. Yet women were taught, and are taught, that a lot of their self-worth should come from motherhood and/or wifehood – singlehood be damned.

So, at first glance, I’m encouraged by the figures that suggest more women than men now enjoy the single life. Seems like babes are bachin’ like blokes, finally! However, stats deserve second looks, and this case isn’t the exception.

While single women are happier than single men overall, a closer inspection reveals satisfaction shares a relationship with age. According to the report, women over 40 are more likely to report being happy with single life than women aged between 30 and 39. And women under 30 are also more happy being single than the 30 to 39 age group.

Why? I wonder. Why the depression in the 30-something age bracket?

One theory is that the biological clock bogey-monster is still lurking beneath lady-beds. Women today are warned their ovaries literally fizzle with every blown-out-candle breath from 30 onwards. Women are also warned they must make it career-wise by the time they’re 30, or else coming back after babies will be a lot harder. So, finding a man – specifically a man with whom children might be possible and/or nice – becomes more of a priority. More than it might for younger women who haven’t yet felt, or felt subjected by, the push towards procreation, or the older women who’ve done that dash, or are resigned to never doing it.

But that’s just one theory. It’s not the whole picture. Let’s not forget the fact that surveys about relationships that require self-reporting are plagued by the great problem of social expectation. Yes, this is a very robust, Neilson-weighted study, but even the best academic reviews will have data returned with the taint of "tell it like I want to, not the way it really is".

“Yes, I’m happy being single,” one might say. Though one might also be thinking, deeper down than one perhaps cares to admit, that one really is only saying that because it’s easier than confronting a different truth. “No, I am not happy being single. I am miserable, but I fear I’ll never find true love, so I’ll happily settle for second best.” Rightly or wrongly, this may be the kind of internal struggle that influences an external response. It might be a factor in some report findings.

That is why it’s important to publicly discuss ideas about singledom, and any other status we may or may not enjoy. We do this so social expectations can be accounted for, perhaps remodelled, and sometimes adjusted to better reflect the improved society I hope we’re all trying to cultivate.

So back to my original questions. You don’t need a partner to be happy or fulfilled. Do you? You don’t need to meet someone and fall in love, and be with them forever to be OK. It is quite possible to go through life single and alone, and not be lonely and sad.

And, more importantly, does it make a difference if you are a girl or a boy?

Katherine Feeney is a journalist with the Nine Network Australia.

@katherinefeeney

https://twitter.com/katherinefeeney

katherinefeeney@gmail.com