Alone in the crowd

The cracks are showing in the singles dream

Judith Timson June 12 1978

Alone in the crowd

The cracks are showing in the singles dream

Judith Timson June 12 1978

Alone in the crowd


The cracks are showing in the singles dream

Judith Timson

Not too long ago Frank Lederer, marketing manager for a Toronto computer company, was on a brief visit to New York when he spotted a bar with a name that caught

his fancy. Chances. He wandered in, found a friendly bartender, who bought him one on the house and chatted amiably with him until the bar’s owner strode in. “That’s my boss,” whispered the bartender. “He was Bachelor of the Month in a recent issue of Cosmopolitan.” Frank remembers being so surprised that he later dug up a copy of the magazine just to make sure the bartender had not been putting him on. “Here’s this guy walking into the room, he’s obviously had a few too many, his white shirt is hanging halfway out of his trousers and his fly’s undone\ That’s your Bachelor of the Month? That’s your Swinging Single?” That was one illusion that Frank Lederer. married at 22, separated at 26, and on his own now for nearly four years did not

mind having shattered. He returned to his own singles’ existence in Toronto no doubt reassured that it was all right if he didn’t fit the stereotype. Hell, the stereotype didn’t fit the stereotype. In which case he could enjoy the carefully acquired symbols of an enviable existence—his maroon Corvette, his luxury apartment—without actually having to live up to them, without feeling quite so subversive about sitting home alone on a Saturday night or preferring to play baseball rather than to hustle the ladies.... This is an age in which singleness has become glorified, trendy, and in the case of the liberated woman almost heroic. Quickie paperbacks with such promising titles as Single Blessedness, First Person Singular, and The Challenge of Being Single adorn the psychology sections of book stores. Late last year, some American sociologists were suggesting a “dramatic social change” was in the works, with everyone from real-estate agents to manufacturers of one-serving appliances cashing in on the Living-Alone Trend. One statistician predicted that by 1985,26 per cent of all households in the U.S. would consist of only one person. Moreover the U.S. Census Bureau has forecast that one in three people will divorce, and while 80 per cent of them will remarry the chances for a successful second marriage are even worse. While there are no comparable Canadian statistics, it is not unreasonable to assume a similar situation here, already reflected in the number of single women buying their own homes (“definitely ä

trend” says one broker) and the amount of real-estate advertising geared to the single, separated, widowed or divorced (the SSWDS, as hip agents call them) market. It is a market that has not escaped the attention of astute film-makers (An Unmarried Woman, Looking for Mr. Gcodbar), since there has been a pivotal change in society’s perception of the single state, according to Peter Kiviloo, who pioneered the Creative Divorce course at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. Ten years ago, he says, the collapse of a marriage was a terrifying experience. The reluctant splittees were pushed out of the relative institutional safety of marriage and into the cold, cruel world of aloneness. But now, the siren song of singleness (sung to the tune of “I Did It My Way”) beckons. Divorces multiplied five times in Canada from 1965 to 1975. “People are being pulled out of marriage and into what they perceive as a much warmer world,” says Kiviloo. “Some of them can’t wait to get out there.” They create traffic jams during the summer on Montreal’s Crescent Street, that golden, glittering block of bars and cafés. They stream into Ottawa’s trendy bilingual discos. They boogie with abandon in Vancouver’s fashionable disco-bars. And they line up for hours on the weekends just to command their one square foot of space inside Toronto’s sweltering singles bars. To the uninitiated or the naïve, the image could translate as a Single’s Paradise, Hugh.Hefner crossed with Saturday Night Fever, Disneyland with a touch of Dom Perignon. Unfortunately, most of the people who dance the night away, in singles bars are not exactly single. And young women with faith in their fellow man could eventually find,tjaemselves, as did attractive, 26year-old Vicky Umlauf of Toronto, badly burned. "He told me he was crazy about me, he told me he wanted to meet my parents, he sent me flowers, wrote me notes, bought me dinners... and then he told me the truffi^Hë was living with anolHbr woman.” Umlauf went off to Puerto Rico

to mend her broken heart and when she returned all tanned and glowy, where did she end up? Back at the bar, but this time with a different attitude: “I belong here, but I don’t belong. It’s a good place to have a drink, laugh with friends, not so hot to meet your Prince.” What she left unsaid was that it was also better than sitting alone in your room. If there is any message struggling up through the welter of myth and confusion surrounding the single life it is, as one 35-year-old twice-married woman said, “that it’s bloody hard to meet someone—and harder still to get involved.”

In Ottawa, Jan St. Amour, the appropriately named instructor at the city’s only singles course, also runs a high-tone date swap for separated and divorced women: They each show up with a man they are not personally interested in, and trade him off to their friends. In Toronto, Barbara Danuke, 33 and single, has organized, with considerable determination, the Toronto chapter of Who’s Who International, the singles club “for quality people over 30.” Lynn Tribbling, a sociologist who calls herself Ms. Singles Queen, has countered with a club, Facets—“something new for selective singles.” A Toronto Unitarian Church hosts a weekly get-together with the ghastly name of Lib-Lib. Vancouver lawyer Mark Skorah, 28 and single, predicts that night courses “will be the new singles bars.” Dan King, who is studying at the University of Toronto, muses about “joining the NDP to meet women,”'

It is not only feminists who agree that women’s liberation has irrevocably altered the relationship between men and women, a relationship “that has never been as acri-

monious as it is today,” maintained editor Clay Felker in introducing the new biweekly Esquire magazine. Feminist Shere Hite has written a book about women and sex with a section entitled “The Future of Intercourse,” implying there mightn’t be any. More women—and some men—are admitting to being tired, frustrated and bored by casual sex. Some have opted for celibacy. One attractive social worker eschewed sex for almost two years because he could not emotionally connect with anyone enough to enjoy it. Another man, a 30-year-old former teacher, says: “The heavy part is that most men can’t handle sexual relationships today. They haven’t read The Hite Report that shows women are not satisfied sexually by men, and even if they read it, a lot of them wouldn’t believe it.”

For single women, it seems to be a question of higher standards, both in and out of the bedroom. The older they get, the more money they earn, the more able they are to

provide themselves with an interesting and attractive lifestyle, the less able (and, say sociologists, the less likely) they are to find someone with whom they can share it.

There is a woman. She is 37, highly educated, attractive, professionally successful—and alone. She rode in on the crest of the liberation wave and she thought she could have it all—a career plus marriage plus children? But somehow the choices she made took her further away from that possibility. Now she lies awake nights and worries about the future. Her career has become a job, and not enough to centre her life around. She does not regret her feminism or her resulting strength and independence but she wonders whether she could have made more realistic choices. She warns a journalist: “I don’t think you should portray the single life as anything too wonderful.”

There is another woman, younger at 28, brasher, vital now with the energy of what she is doing. Jill Manny plans lifeskills

programs at the YWCA, designed to help people deal with loneliness. She has lovely skin, large expressive eyes, and a humorous conviction that most men are not worth the trouble. “I’ve been single a long time, it’s hard for me to make compromises.” There may be an underlying desire to have a steady relationship, but the need for that is not the focus in her life.

A terrible irony emerges. While many women have not stopped wanting children, some seem to have given up the idea of a husband: Barbara Greene, a controller in the Metropolitan Toronto suburb of North York and an unmarried woman of 32, recently floored her colleagues and constituents, not to mention her mother, by giving birth to a baby daughter. “I would have preferred to be involved in a long-term relationship,” says Greene, “but it just hasn’t worked out that way.”

Women like Greene have a common complaint: Where are they going to find men their equal? “I make $35,000 a year and I’m deputy-mayor of Canada’s fourth largest municipality. Who wouldn’t be intimidated?” The New York Times Magazine recently devoted an article to the aftermath of the feminist movement in which the male writer concluded that all of the women he talked to had an “explicit and implicit belief that their lives are more interesting and significant than men’s lives; a concomitant belief in their own superiority.”

The contrast is painful. At a singles encounter session in Toronto a man in his forties is half-way out of his chair exclaiming: “You tell women to stop looking down their noses at us. Tell them!”

The pendulum swings. A man who has spent the last five years obsessed with his career and socially swinging free slows down and wistfully thinks how fine it would be to have a steady companion, even a family. A woman in her midthirties, with a husband and two adolescent daughters, quietly

packs her bags and moves out, aching for solitude. For one person regretting not having settled down, there

are at least five clamoring to get out of an unhappy domestic situation, believes sociologist Tribbling, whose goal is to let people know there are options to what used to be known as the inevitability of marriage.

Barbara Greene has considered those options—and for the time being has come to terms with her singleness. So has Frank Lederer. Both of them would agree that while the world in general still resembles a giant Noah’s Ark, the single person in society is no longer viewed as a victim. That many others have not come to a similar conclusion only confirms Toronto psychologist Marty McKay’s assessment that “the problem is not being single but how you view it.” Dr. McKay, who taught a course on the single state for three years came out of it with a bleak impression: “Very rarely did I come across someone happy or content being single; they all viewed it as a transitory state.” Single men seem more isolated than single women who, perhaps because of the new emphasis on sisterhood, seem to have built up stronger support systems of friends and relatives. Studies have shown that single men are the unhappiest creatures on earth, while married men are the happiest. “It has always been my contention that marriage offers more to men than it does to women,” says McKay. For one thing, it offers them the chance to live longer. Single men die sooner than married men.

For another, it may guarantee them greater professional success. A study released by Univerity of Toronto sociologist Rubin Todres showed that a third of the men thought they had been discriminated against in their jobs because of their bachelor status. Todres feels the U of T study took a tiny step toward dispelling the myth of the single winner (“Hey, let’s get a Concorde to Paris this weekend”) and loser ( instant dinner on a hotplate in a dismal basement flat; two cats and no love life). He points out that many of the 29 men and 86 women—almost all of them

wer the age of 30—who volunteered for the study fell happily into the middle ground with friends, lovers.

well-paying jobs and a healthy sense of self-esteem. “But at the same time, most of them said they were single more through circumstance than choice. And most of them said they would still like to get married if the right person came along.”

Dr. Velio Sermat, who has been conducting studies on loneliness since 1964, does not believe there is going to be a living-alone trend. “The truth is that many people do not want to live alone.” Instead he sees a rising tide of realism in which men and women who have first learned self-reliance, mate in a much more practical fashion, with the awareness, he says, “that there is no conceivable long-term relationship that does not get in the way of personal goals.” Dr. Sermat believes the bloom is already off the singles rose: “Just getting out of marriage doesn’t feel as good as it used to. I am sure there’ll be a rising chorus of voices asking, Who wants to meander anymore?”

In a three-room Tudor style upper duplex in Toronto, Lynn Tribbling runs her Centre for Rational Living. There are 15 rather uncomfortable looking men and women gathered in the airy prettiness (pale green rug and hanging plants) of the Growth Room, taking a singles survival

course, titled, significantly, “Pairing: The Art of Relating and Mating.” Tribbling’s approach is a blend of wisecracks, the power of positive thinking and Albert Ellis’ popular approach to psychology. Sometimes the approach wears a little thin. But mostly there is method to her triteness. She points to statistics that show only one in five women over 35 who have never married will eventually marry; that less than 40 per cent of divorced or widowed women over the age of45 will remarry, and concludes: “A lot of people are going to be single anyway, so they might as well enjoy