What Are The Realities Of The Lives Of Single Women Today?

The rising numbers of single women choosing this life shout out clear and loud that patriarchy and sexism will no longer break or chain us.

Another book on singlehood? It seems to be the season for books on the joys and freedom of being single. But Demystifying and Dignifying Singlehood: Life Journeys of Single Women Across the Globe by Uma Jain is different. The book does not glorify or glamourise the lives of single women in any way. These are real stories – with the good, the bad and the ugly, all there.

The book tells the stories of 15 single women across the world. A feeling of deep understanding and empathy fills you as you read the book and understand the challenges faced by the women who are single – by choice or chance. Some of the women chose to be single because they faced discrimination and even abuse as girl children. Some others had abusive marriages and sought divorce.

The tag line ‘Crafting pathways on rough terrains’ on the cover page is enough to tell you that this is a serious take on the issue of singlehood. If it focuses more on the rough than the smooth, that has been the reality for the 15 women.

The book was published in 2023 by NTL institute, an imprint of Libri Publishing. The Vadodara-based author, Uma Jain, 72, is a distinguished academic. A fellow of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, she has taught organisational behaviour and made significant contributions in the field of applied behavioural science nationally and internationally. Leadership, values and culture building, and diversity and inclusion are some of her interest areas.

Here is an engaging interview with the author…

What motivated you to write this book?

A decade ago, it occurred to me that there was so much uniqueness in my life – joys, pain and challenges. My life seemed to be so different from, say, my sister’s. I have met so many single women over the years. I felt their rich lives were hidden. I myself never shared much about the issues I faced as a single woman with other people.

People do not see the interconnection between what is happening in society and singlehood. The motivation for writing this book is to bring these interconnections to light. In 2017, I went to France for a writing workshop and realised that I wanted to write this book. I almost framed the title of the book. In 2018, I convened a workshop for single women in Jaipur. Many of the women who participated in that workshop have shared their stories in this book.

Does it matter how a woman comes to be single when it comes to handling singlehood?

Initially, it does. For instance, if a woman goes through a bad marriage and gets divorced. Or, one woman who is featured in the book suddenly became a widow. It takes time to get over these experiences. Yet, I would say the lives of single women are not any easier, or more difficult, whether it is from choice or chance. The facets of living alone, the experiences of managing everything on your own, social reactions, and the things you miss out, remain the same.

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Lives of single women are easier today than it was 30 years ago. Do you agree with this statement?

It is easier to step into singlehood these days. Earlier, it was an oddity. Nowadays, with education and financial independence as well as rising expectations of women it has become more common.

But I am not so sure it has become easier to deal with singlehood. While financial independence helps both in choosing to be single and managing singlehood, patriarchal attitudes and expectations continue. A single woman has to still deal with all this. A single professional has to face some specific impediments on the job front.

What are the major hurdles single women face?

I am focusing on three people-related aspects. One, lack of having a stable, constant companion is a major issue. I am not just talking about romantic and sexual life. Companionship includes socialising, travel, managing a home together – so many things. It is difficult for single women to find ways to live a fuller life.

Two, at social gatherings, women tend to get together and talk about their husbands and children. The single woman gets left out. Moreover, many wives tend to look at single women with suspicion. In fact, some people feel uneasy inviting single women to parties. This causes social isolation.

Three, it is hard for single women to reach out to men and socialise without being misunderstood.

How do single women deal with issues of physical safety and financial security?

Personally, I don’t carry the feeling of being unsafe in my mind. I have travelled alone. Even married professionals travel alone. So, physical safety is as much an issue for single women as it is for other women.

However, financial security is a major issue that single women have to watch out for. They have to save for their future and manage their finances well. But my sample (in this book) are of mostly financially independent women. In fact, the single largest reason for rising singlehood is the increasing financial independence of women.

Interestingly, even today, when it comes to distribution of property many families think that single women do not need anything. The old-fashioned perspective prevails that single women should live a simple, frugal life. Why?

What are the advantages of being single?

lives of single womenThe major advantage of singlehood for me has been the freedom. I could pursue what I valued. In fact, I have mentioned in my story that I could not accept several proposals that came my way because the prospective groom and his family had certain expectations from me – they wanted me to have a stable job as a college lecturer. For instance, I have taken a sabbatical and not earned for a long period. I was free to do that. I don’t think the marriage system gives a woman a choice in this regard. If she is working and earning, she is expected to continue that.

Another advantage of singlehood was that I could travel without adjusting my schedule to a partner’s schedule. Also, I could interact with people freely without being bound by role-based expectations.

Is singlehood advantageous professionally?

Yes, single women have the freedom to pursue their professions. But there is a downside to it. When a single woman wants to grow in her career, she is often asked why she is so ambitious about her job or about money. She may be told that she is doing well at work as she does not have other responsibilities. Another factor is a single woman may miss a promotion when aspersions are cast that the boss is partial to her. Also, entertaining and networking for professional gains become tougher for a single woman.

How can a woman lead a ‘happily single’ life?

It’s crucial to focus on self-development and cultivate your own interests. To give our best to your profession is also important. Moreover, a woman must look beyond the notion of an immediate family. The best part of marriage is nurturing and giving. A woman can give affection and care to anyone. She does not have to restrict herself to her immediate family.

Through rising singlehood, society is showing a different way of life. It is showing that patriarchy and sexism are no longer viable. There are several identities that are seeking to find a place in society. Singlehood is one of them.

Want a copy of this book?

If you’d like to pick up Demystifying and Dignifying Singlehood: Life Journeys of Single Women Across the Globe by Uma Jain, use our affiliate links at Amazon Indiaand at Amazon US.

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Image source: a still from Piku, and Book cover Amazon.

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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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