Of unmatched proportions

"Singlehood is becoming increasingly common, and yet it is still viewed as a failure."

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Last Wednesday many members of the packed audience at the Jerusalem Institute laughed knowingly, as PhD student Kinneret Lahad referred to some of the socially awkward situations encountered by contemporary single women at the hands of a society both intolerant of, and bewildered by, their status. "Supposedly joyous occasions, such as family gatherings and parties, become causes of dread to singles anticipating a barrage of questions from interfering relatives and well-meaning but misguided friends," the 34-year-old observed by way of an introduction to her lecture examining self-help literature for singles, the topic of the research project for her sociology doctorate at Bar-Ian University. Lahad, one of three speakers at a lecture evening entitled "Aspects of Singlehood," sponsored by the Hebrew University's Lafer Center for Gender Studies, appeared to strike a chord with the mainly female, secular audience, who ranged in age from their early twenties to seventies. "Kinneret's research spoke to me, because her aim was to attempt in some way to come closer to finding a legitimate place for the single lifestyle in society," said one 26-year-old audience member. "Singlehood is becoming increasingly common, and yet it is still viewed as a failure, both by those living it and by society at large, which I think is something that needs to change." A Lafer center employee echoed her sentiments. "Most women go through periods of being single and can relate to the social pressures connected with it," she said. Lahad spoke of society's ambivalent attitude towards singles. "On the one hand, thanks to the economic and social freedoms now enjoyed by women, there are an increasing number of financially independent single women, and people accept that such women can be smart and successful," she said, and referred to television shows such as Sex and the City and Ally McBeal as examples of such depictions. "But at the same time these women are considered objects of pity because they are not in a relationship," she continued. Through her research, Lahad said she identified two types of self-help books. The first "saw singlehood as a temporary situation and encouraged readers to do everything in their power to obtain a partner." These books, which Lahad claimed were a reflection of social norms, "adopted an urgent, and at times almost hysterical, stance towards singlehood." She quoted Rachel Greenwald's Finding a Husband after 35 which asserts that "after 35, it's marriage 911." The second genre, represented by books such as Barbara Feldon's Living Alone and Loving It, saw singlehood as a legitimate social position. "I think these books have something important to offer," she argued. "They propose that you can be happy, fulfilled and enjoy intimate relationships while still being single, and in today's society that's a realistic approach," she explained. "While I'm not against being part of a couple, in today's increasingly complex society many people do not find partners and their lifestyle should be accepted." Masters student Lee Reuveni said her research project, entitled "Sexual Activity among Single Women in Tel Aviv," was also motivated by the complexities of today's society. "The freedoms and opportunities available to modern women mean that they have the option of saying no. They no longer have to commit to the first person who asks them to," she explained. "To me it was fascinating to observe women behaving like men and engaging in sexual activity without commitment." Reuveni says she chose Tel Aviv because it epitomized the many choices available to women today. What most surprised her about her results was the fact that at times women "enjoyed being single and sexually active without any obligations." She explained, however, that most women saw this as a temporary solution and ultimately wanted to be in a meaningful relationship.