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Women: Single and Loving It

Are women better off alone? Marriage is no magic bullet for happiness, some say.
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WebMD Feature

The Sex and the City ladies were feisty, gutsy. Our Friends girlfriends had great ... friends. Thirty years ago, our mentor was Mary Tyler Moore. In the 1960s, our guru was Helen Gurley Brown with her liberating book, Sex and the Single Girl.

But medical studies show just the opposite -- that married people are happier and healthier than single women. The pressure to marry is even greater than ever, says Bella M. DePaulo, PhD, social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the book Singled Out.

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"It's an old-fashioned message, that you're better off if you find a man," DePaulo tells WebMD. "It's this idea that you can be single, have your big career and all your friends, but that's not the route to happiness, it's not deep or meaningful like marriage is. That's ridiculous. The best friendships often last longer than marriages ... you don't have ridiculous expectations of your friends like you do a spouse."

Yes, those old, mopey stereotypes are still alive and kicking.

"The stereotypes that single women are either promiscuous or don't get any are a scam," she says. "It's like if you're married, all you have to do is roll over and have perfect sex. Anyone who reads the divorce columns knows that's not true! Single women can now get sex outside of marriage. It's probably quaint not to. Single women can even have kids without a husband, and without having sex!"

DePaulo's favorite line: "Single women can pick up the check at work and sperm at the bank."

The Happiness Bullet?

Marriage isn't a magic bullet for a wonderful life, says DePaulo. "But it has that appeal that you will meet this person and everything falls into place. Yet if you look to one person to be everything, it's not fair to that person, not fair to you, and it's not healthy. And if the marriage doesn't last, it's devastating."

One study tracking 1,000 couples for 15 years found that marriage brought only a "tiny blip" of happiness during the brief time closest to the wedding ceremony. "But on average, afterwards, people go back to way they were before. The researcher's perspective is that we each have a baseline of happiness, and marriage on average isn't going to change that -- except for that little blip," DePaulo says.

In fact, most married vs. single "happiness studies" are seriously flawed, she adds. "They lump all single people together - divorced, widowed, always-single - without factoring in the transition period, the really unnerving period in your life after divorce or becoming widowed," she tells WebMD. "Over time, you go back to the person you were before. But studies don't take that transition period into account."

Here's an eye-opener: In one survey, moms were asked what they most wanted as a Mother's Day gift. "The overwhelming answer was 'time to myself.' Women who have the dream -- marriage and kids -- just want time to themselves," says DePaulo.

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