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Tracy McMillan Headshot

Single Women Can't Really Be Happy

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Huh. Well, this is sort of a trick question, isn't it? Because the easy answer is, Don't be stupid, of course we can. Women are people and people "can" be happy no matter what -- if they choose to be. So that's a no-brainer.

However -- and this is why I say this is a trick question -- that's not really what is being asked here. No one needs to know what one individual woman could be happy doing. (Anything, or nothing, at all.) What we really want to know is: Can MOST women be truly happy single? And, though I know it's going to make some people think I'm a crazed conservative -- which I'm very definitely not -- I'm just going to come right out and say it. The answer to that question is: No.

Yes, yes, I know. This sounds terribly unfeminist. But in my experience -- and that's what I'm going on here, my experience -- it's true. I've been standing at water coolers for the past thirty years talking to women about their love lives, and here's what I've learned: Eventually, most women I know want to be partnered. This has been true of women I've known in the 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s, and it's been true of women living in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland, New York and Los Angeles. It has been so consistently true, in fact, that I even considered writing it in all caps, like this: EVENTUALLY, MOST WOMEN I KNOW WANT TO BE PARTNERED.

And now that I'm looking at it, I actually don't think that's overstating it a bit.

Okay, so maybe most women aren't trying to be permanently partnered when they're 23, or 26, or 29, or 34. But even in those years, they're not exactly trying to be alone, either. Most women I know spend a decade (or two) enjoying the company of a man or a woman (or several) when they want to, for as long as they want to, in the way that they want to. But if you get really honest, that's not actually single-single, it's just being partnered in specific ways you want to be partnered at certain stages in your life.

In any case, somewhere along the line -- usually not long after you're burned out on your cool job -- it becomes super clear there's more to life than the possibility of some exciting new partner every few weeks or months or years. This is when MOST women take a good look around and say to themselves: I have great friends, some cute outfits, and a job everyone but me is impressed by, but you know what would make my life even more meaningful? A family. And by family they don't just mean a tribe of female and male friends who are awesome and have great orphan Thanksgiving dinners. Nope, sooner or later, most women I know come to define that family as 1) a partner, and 2) a baby.

For more proof, just look at mass media. There are at least a half-dozen shows with either 'wives' or 'housewives' in the title, and "The Bachelor" is in, what, its 16th cycle? Obviously there's something about the partnership narrative that speaks to women in a way that goes beyond anything socially or culturally constructed. Because though it's safe to say there are a whole lotta American gals who agree with the core ideals of feminism, they are somehow nevertheless watching "Say Yes to the Dress" by the millions.

Not that this should really come as a surprise. After all, for umpty-zillion years women have "wanted" men and men have "wanted" women. Without this urge to partner -- go ahead, call it a need -- none of us would even be here. Couplehood may no longer be necessary for survival, but just tell that to our brains -- which may be a few thousand years behind late-breaking developments in the evolution game like commercial farming, birth control pills, and democracy.

So is our desire for partnership just an evolutionary remainder, a Togetherness Delusion, where millions of women only think they need a relationship to be truly happy? Maybe. But you know what? That's fine with me. Because I believe relationships are the most important thing there is in life. How can I say such a thing in a world where there's Belgian chocolate and white truffle popcorn? I'll tell you how. Because relationships are actually a powerful technology that develops human beings, and by extension, humanity. When a person consistently practices loving another person (as in a good partnership), it creates understanding, peace and compassion -- which in turn builds a human emotional infrastructure that is as key to a flourishing life as airports, bridges and a 4G wireless network.

And women, through our focus on relationships, are the primary architects of this infrastructure. So rather than diminishing the idea of "truly needing" a relationship -- and trying to deny it, shame it, or talk ourselves out of it -- why not just celebrate it? It's exactly what the world needs.