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Divorce: Feminist Perspectives

Divorce and Feminism: A History of Empowerment and Autonomy

The history of divorce and feminism intertwines in a complex relationship, with the feminist movement playing a significant role in transforming societal attitudes and legal frameworks surrounding divorce. This article explores the historical journey of divorce within the context of feminism, highlighting the ways in which the fight for gender equality has shaped the understanding and experience of divorce.

Early Perspectives on Divorce:

In traditional societies, divorce was often stigmatized and heavily controlled, particularly for women. The prevailing belief was that marriage was a lifelong commitment, and women were expected to fulfill their prescribed roles within the institution. Early feminist thinkers, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill, challenged these societal norms by advocating for women's rights and autonomy within marriage, including the right to divorce.

First Wave Feminism and Divorce Rights:

During the first wave of feminism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, women began to assert their rights and demand greater control over their lives, including the ability to end unhappy or abusive marriages. Suffragettes and feminist activists fought for divorce reforms, arguing for laws that recognized women's right to dissolve a marriage. This period saw the emergence of divorce laws that granted women limited grounds for divorce, such as cruelty or desertion, though divorce still remained a challenging and socially stigmatized process.

Second Wave Feminism and the Liberation of Divorce:

The second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s brought a renewed focus on gender equality and challenged traditional gender roles. Divorce became a crucial aspect of this movement as women sought to break free from oppressive marriages and reclaim their autonomy. Feminist activists fought for legal reforms that made divorce more accessible and equitable, including the introduction of no-fault divorce laws that allowed couples to dissolve their marriages without proving fault or wrongdoing.

Economic Independence and Divorce:

One of the central tenets of feminist ideology is economic independence for women. As more women entered the workforce and gained financial autonomy, divorce became a viable option for those seeking to escape unhappy or abusive marriages. The feminist movement emphasized the importance of financial self-sufficiency and the right to leave a marriage that no longer served the best interests of women.

Intersectionality and Divorce:

Intersectional feminism, which recognizes the interconnected nature of gender with race, class, sexuality, and other social identities, has further highlighted the complex dynamics surrounding divorce. Women from marginalized communities often face additional barriers in accessing divorce, such as racial discrimination, economic disparities, and cultural stigmatization. Intersectional feminism continues to advocate for inclusive and equitable divorce laws that address the unique challenges faced by women of diverse backgrounds.

Divorce as a Path to Personal Liberation:

Throughout the feminist movement, divorce has been viewed as a means of personal liberation and self-realization for women. It has provided an avenue for women to escape abusive relationships, pursue educational and career opportunities, and define their own identities outside of traditional gender roles. Divorce has also facilitated the formation of support networks and spaces for women to share their experiences, contributing to a collective understanding of gendered power dynamics within relationships and society.


The history of divorce within the context of feminism showcases the transformative power of the movement in reshaping societal attitudes and legal frameworks. By challenging traditional gender roles, advocating for women's autonomy, and fighting for equitable divorce laws, feminists have contributed to a greater recognition of women's agency and the right to dissolve marriages that are detrimental to their well-being. Divorce, alongside the broader feminist struggle for gender equality, continues to empower women to assert their autonomy and forge paths of self-fulfillment and liberation.

See Also:

  • Anarchy and Divorce

    Divorce Statistics in the USA

    With skyrocketed divorce rates (in the United States the divorce rate is roughly half the marriage rate) its easy for people to point the finger at the feminist movement as to the cause. But in reality there is so many other reasons why divorces happen:

    [Statistical Information from UK management consultants Grant Thornton.]

  • Adultery & Affairs: 27% of all divorces are caused by adultery and affairs.

  • Addictions: e.g. alcoholism, gambling, internet addiction - 6% of all divorces are caused by some form of addiction.

  • Bisexuality: Sometimes spouses just want something else.

  • Cohabitation: Sometimes its best not to invite the grandparents to live with you.

  • Domestic violence/Emotional Abuse: 17% of all divorces are caused by domestic abuse.

  • Friendship: Spending too much time with your friends can strain the marriage.

  • Family Interference: 18% of all divorces are caused by family strains.

  • Homosexuality: Sometimes spouses just want something else.

  • Incest: Sleeping with your relatives is simply bound to end badly, not to mention child abuse issues if it involves children.

  • Intimacy: If you can't trust your partner and be intimate with them then why are you married in the first place?

  • Jealousy: Spouses can easily become jealous of work, hobbies, friends, salary, other people. Sometimes its just imaginary.

  • Love: If there's no love the marriage is finished.

  • Marriage: When the honeymoon is over some couples just aren't cut out for marriage.

  • Mid-life crisis - 13% of all divorces are caused by a mid-life crisis.

  • Pederasty: Abusing small boys isn't just a priestly occupation. Men and women are just as likely to abuse children.

  • Polyandry: Sometimes the woman doesn't just want the man in bed, she wants the man and his friend(s) or brother(s) in bed.

  • Polygamy: Some people just don't want to stay with only one person.

  • Polygyny: Sometimes the man just wants more than one woman sexually, at the same time.

  • Sexuality: Sometimes couples just aren't getting enough, or they just wanna a break from all the wham-bam-thank-you-mam. There is a variety of reasons when a couple's sexualities may simply not be compatible.

  • Swinging: Threesomes, foursomes and group sex frequently ends with jealousy and divorce.

  • Workaholism: 6% of all divorces are caused by one partner working too much.

    Some interesting facts:

  • Men are only slightly more likely to cheat: 55% of all marriages that end as the result of adultery is because the man cheated. 48% were caused by the woman cheating. Notice the overlap? That means in 3% of marriages they both cheated.

    Emotional and physical abuse were more evenly split, with women affected in 60% and men in 40% of cases. In 70% of workaholism-related divorces it was men who were the cause, and 30% women. A survey done in 2004 found that 93% of divorce cases were petitioned by women, very few of which were contested.

    The American National Center for Health Statistics reports that from 1975 to 1988, in families with children present, wives file for divorce in approximately 2/3 of the cases each year. In 1975, 71.4% of the cases were filed by women, and in 1988, 65% were filed by women.

    Between 1999 and 2003 the Canadian public had approximately 70,000 divorces each year.

    Repeat divorces have also been climbing in Canada: In 1974 5.4% of husbands were repeat divorcees. By 2003 it was 16.2%. For women it rose from 5.4% in 1974 to 15.7% in 2003.

    In Canada there is a 37% chance that a couple will get divorced before the 30th anniversary. In the United States its a 44% chance.

    Articles about Marriage & Divorce:

  • Monstrous Domesticity
  • The Politics of Housework
  • Traditional Womanhood
  • Like Omigod! Britney cheated on Kevin before her divorce!
  • Fix your underperforming husband
  • Christian Sex: Yes! Oh God! Yes!
  • What Makes a Marriage
  • I Am Single!

    "A Klingon divorce is much simpler to perform than a Klingon wedding. One spouse (the party that wishes the divorce) backhands the other, looks at him or her, and says N'Gos tlhogh cha! (Our marriage is done!). The spouse finishes it by spitting on his or her partner."

    Britney Spears may have been cheating on Kevin Federline before she filed for divorce!

    Typical Tabloid Crap - December 20th 2006.

    Like omigod! Britney Spears may have been cheating on Kevin Federline before she filed for divorce!

    Friends of the 'Toxic' singer like told reporters she was "fooling around" with music producer J.R. Rotem before she officially split from Kevin in November 2006.

    Like a source said: "J.R. worked with Kevin on his album and something started going on between him and Britney before she filed for divorce."

    But another source refuted the allegations, telling the magazine: "There was definite chemistry between them but Britney waited until after she had split from Kevin."

    Britney - who has two sons, Sean Preston and Jayden James, with Kevin - is now dating J.R. as well as working with him on her comeback album. The music producer could also be the reason the 'Oops... I Did It Again' singer has cooled her friendship with Paris Hilton, as the hotel heiress also dated J.R.

    The source said: "It was nothing serious, just a few hook-ups. I bet a million dollars that J.R. tried to keep that a secret from Britney. She would probably flip out if she knew that he'd romanced Paris first."

    Like, it has also been reported that Britney has been taunting Kevin about her fling with J.R. and the lavish lifestyle he is missing out on since the split.

    A source told reporters: "Britney called Kevin and asked if he'd seen the pictures of her kissing J.R. Then she started bragging about the great sex she'd had. It was really bad. He didn't even know whether to believe her, but she just started pushing his buttons. He got mad and started screaming at her."

    Kevin is like reportedly gathering evidence of Britney's wild partying to like use against her in a custody battle over their sons.

  • Fix your underperforming husband
    How to do it: draw up a 'scorecard' and read him the riot act. Then, 'no going back.'

    Julia McKinnell - June 12th 2006.

    "We were so anxious to get rid of our spouses that we even helped them pack. Which is no great surprise," write the authors of a new book called The Scorecard: How to Fix Your Man in One Year or Less. "It was second nature for us to clean up their messes; at this point we couldn't even depend on them to know how to get dumped without our help."

    Julie Bell and Donna Brown share uncannily similar stories of marital wrack and ruin. Both are high-powered United Airlines employees. Both are their families' main breadwinners. Both were fed up with their husbands. Bell's was a "househusband" who drank too much. Brown's husband was surly and uncommunicative and directionless in his career. Independently (neither woman was aware of the other at the time), Brown and Bell booted their mates out, believing that their marriages were over.

    The authors don't talk about how they finally met, but once they did, and compared notes, they saw so many parallels it occurred to them that other wives must be just as frustrated and miserable. Each wanted specific changes to her husband's behaviour. They write, "Do you ever ask yourself, 'What happened to the guy I fell in love with? Is he in there somewhere, hidden behind the beer-stained sweatsuit and three-day stubble?' " Both were ultimately flabbergasted that within a year of reading the riot act, their husbands had effected a total metamorphosis.

    The ultimate product of the "scorecard" is a major overhaul on everyone's part. Bell and Brown concede: "We weren't exactly the most delightful people to live with, either. The nagging and screaming had become a vicious cycle: we were stuck in the role of Nagging Mom and our husbands had been cast as the Bitter, Sullen Teenagers."

    For wives who want to try this at home, the authors suggest first making an inventory of problem areas with your husband. The book's example scorecard includes such items as: don't take your anger out on me; do your own laundry; share the yardwork; teach each kid a sport; help plan birthday parties; don't turn every back rub into sex; stop paying ATM fees. Under a category called "Evolve," they asked their husbands to "find a therapist" and "be honest with yourself."

    "You must step back from your relationship and, to the best of your ability, look at it as you would a business problem," they advise. "We did it first by identifying the areas that needed improvement and defining our expectations, and then by giving our partners specific tasks and determining the necessary measurements to hold them accountable for improvement. It may sound cold and rigorous and corporate, but it was all we had to fall back on."

    Write down your issues and prioritize, they suggest. If you've been nagging him to shop for groceries, maybe this is an issue you can back off on -- for instance, if you can find an online service that offers home delivery. The scorecard isn't so much a report card as it is a "gap analysis," they explain, which in business is a map that "enables a company to compare its actual performance against its potential performance, and then determine the areas which must be improved." The book shows you how to chart your map and carry out the analysis. "The biggest obstacle to change was actually to tell ourselves 'I deserve better,' " they write. "It took more courage than we thought to say with confi-dence that we needed something."

    The authors also offer tips on how to communicate with an underperforming husband. "Much research suggests that women have roundabout ways of telling their partners what they need." For instance, Bell says she used to make generalized requests of her husband such as "Please take out the trash." What Bell meant was, "Please take out the trash in the next 15 minutes." What her husband heard was, "Please take out the trash sometime this weekend."

    Separation from your husband isn't necessary, they claim, although it may be the only way to force change. The main point is, "once you've determined that making a change is really important, you must take a course of action and stick to it. No going back, no compromise, no 'wait and see.' "

    The book cautions, however, that wives "Take Stock of Your Own Expectations: if you married a working-class guy who's perfectly happy living paycheque-to-paycheque, and you want the BMW and the month-rental in Tuscany, well, you've got the problem."

    Yes! Oh God! Yes!
    For some Christians, better sex is the best way to save their marriage.

    Ken MacQueen - September 11th 2006.

    Conservative Christians -- who see marriage under attack from infidelity and divorce, from common-law and same-sex unions -- are increasingly taking to the bedrooms in a stirring and often joyfully kinky defence of the institution. Bedrooms, in fact, are the least of it. Kitchens are hot. So are garages, the back seat of the family sedan, and maybe a secluded corner of a public park, if the spirit so moves. The point being: sex within a monogamous marriage has plenty to offer the amorous adventurer, so why deviate?

    The image of the Christian marriage as a dutiful vehicle for procreation or, worse, as the institution where sex goes to die, is obviously a bum rap. Not that there's anything wrong with bum raps between consenting marital partners, judging by the spicy menu on offer at church-sponsored marital enrichment classes, in religious self-help books, and at conferences. Then there's the new breed of websites, where scripture coexists with unblushing advice on spanking, bondage and oral sex -- and where the product line ranges from lace-up leathers to restraint chairs. The new openness is not just an attempt to keep the oh God! oh God! oh God! in the Christian marriage. It's a way of fostering intimacy, honesty, joy and fidelity.

    "It's a little slower in Canada, but the church is, by and large, ready for some healthy sex," says Doug Weiss, a Colorado-based author and marital counsellor. He travels extensively in both the U.S. and the Canadian West, and offers advice at He spoke at 44 conferences last year, mostly in churches, offering seminars on building happy, healthy sexual relationships as an alternative to pornography and infidelity. Congregations, he says, "are tired about the old message that sex is bad and nasty, but save it for the one you love."

    Weiss was a featured speaker in June at the annual Smarter Families conference staged by six theological schools at Trinity Western University, a private Christian university in B.C.'s Fraser Valley. The conferences are billed as a way to "strengthen the institution of traditional marriage, to reduce the prevalence of divorce in our churches and communities." Or, as Weiss puts it: "If you're going to have sex, you might as well have good sex." Make love with the lights on, he advised conference goers. Communicate with each other and keep your eyes open during orgasm, the better to store memories of your partner's pleasure. Couples should draft a "sexual agreement" as to how often they will have sex, and to share responsibility for initiating it. He also advises they create a "sexual garden" of acceptable acts. "Then, play with the fruits they agree are in the garden," he says. "That cuts down a lot of wear and tear sexually."

    Other conference participants included Anne and Brian Bercht, an Abbotsford, B.C., couple and co-authors of their tell-all book My Husband's Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me! The book, and their website,, focus on strategies to prevent affairs, or to rebuild trust and intimacy in damaged relationships. Happy marriages offer longer life, better health and "a lot more sex," the Berchts promise. Weiss offers a similar pitch for traditional marriage. "If Christians are having as good a marriage as they could, it wouldn't matter what the government did about [same-sex] marriages, people would be teased into Christian marriages because this guy is having more sex." Studies show, he adds, "the people who have the highest frequency and quality of sex are religious women."

    Tap into -- a forum for married Christian couples -- and you'll see they may be onto something. The site, created by a Texas couple, Rev. Paul Byerly and his wife, Lori, is a fetching mix of the chaste and the downright randy. A case in point: the site's ex cathedra musings on "What's Okay? What's Not?" The general consensus -- from sex toys to sexual position -- is that married couples can make all the joyful noise they wish. It's in the Bible. That said, coveting thy neighbour's spouse is still out of bounds. So is sex before marriage. And homosexuality? Not a chance. Still, to judge by the chat forums, Christian marriage is one fun club remarkably free of Thou Shalt Nots. The thread on striptease, one of the more demure, would make Carmen Electra blush.

    Then there's, based in White Rock, B.C. The site has a bawdy charm all its own. It sells devices from penis pumps to the "Butterfly of Love," and enough leather and chains to clothe a bikers' club. Yet it abjectly apologizes for displaying its lingerie line on female models. To limit their sexual allure, photos of breasts and belly buttons are electronically blurred, and heads and legs are cut off. Still, the site advises: "Wives, may we suggest that you look alone at the lingerie pictures if this is an issue for your spouse."

    For at least one satisfied customer, who signs himself "Father of Six," this seems not a concern. While it may be true that sex is bad, he writes in the customer comment section, it gets better with practice.

    What Makes a Marriage
    Allowing gay couples to wed reflects our evolving view of a key element of society.

    Anthony Wilson Smith - March 29th 2004.

    A CLOSE friend of mine grew up an only child in a single-parent household in an era when divorce was a rarity. Divorced parents were viewed then with suspicion by other parents, as if their status automatically implied a character flaw, and that presumption often extended to their children. At school, teachers would take for granted that all students had parents who lived together, and make routine references to that -- which added to the sense of being an outcast for children who were exceptions to the norm. My friend recalls classmates whose parents forbade them from playing with the children of divorced parents. It made for a lonely, unhappy time.

    It's tough being the outsider who doesn't quite fit in -- especially if you really want to. That's why it's important for people in the majority to show understanding for those on society's edges -- and to welcome them into the mainstream in whatever ways possible. But the problems begin when people feel that opening new doors to others might somehow endanger their own position and comfort level. To someone whose own marriage is fragile, a divorced person is a reminder of the overall fragility of the institution -- and therefore unwelcome. If you feel confident, on the other hand, about your own marriage, it's less likely to be an issue.

    So we come to gay marriage, which provides a striking example of the social and cultural distinctions between neighbouring countries. Canada has a long history of interventionist government -- but on same-sex marriage, the federal government has effectively decided to butt out and let the courts handle the issue. South of the border, George W. Bush came to office promising to give individual states more rights, and to keep government out of the lives of individual citizens as much as possible. But Bush is proposing to trample states' rights -- and make the federal government more interventionist -- by introducing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex weddings, even though jurisdiction over marriage is a state, rather than federal, responsibility.

    The institution of marriage provides one of the crucial underpinnings of our society. That's why it would be wrong in either of our countries to diminish it by creating a new, lesser alternative -- the "civil union" -- as has been discussed at times within Canada as an option open to everyone, and in the U.S. as a specific category for gays. Marriage is more than just a business merger or fusion of previously held assets: it's two people formally declaring a common emotional bond and commitment in the most profound way possible.

    Most arguments against same-sex marriage are based on semantics -- as in "who is the wife if two men marry?" -- or religion, citing various lines from the Bible. On the first count, a choice of words can't be considered a serious obstacle. As to religion, the separation of church and state is supposed to be a given in North America. If a religious institution doesn't want to marry same-sex couples, it shouldn't have to: they have other options anyway. The real challenge to marriage has been the widespread acceptance in recent decades that it isn't always forever, and that it can be ended via divorce without shame or stigma. Not everyone, we thus acknowledge, is meant to marry and stay married. But everyone deserves the chance.

    I Am Single!
    More Canadians than ever before are choosing to live alone -- and liking it.

    Irma McCue still remembers how alone she felt back in 1971 when she separated from her first and only husband. But that was so long ago. Nowadays, the bubbly, mid-50s blond is a symbol of all that's good about the single life: a former small-business owner, she headed to design school in her 40s and now works as an interior decorator for a Calgary home furnishings store. Her two daughters and one son are grown now, and she has the time and money to travel and to enjoy the company of a wide circle of male and female friends who share her passion for fine dining, live theatre and jazz clubs. She is currently seeing a man who is 15 years her junior, and while she says she is enjoying the company, she describes the relationship as casual, not serious. She loves her life alone. "You are free to make your own mistakes when you're single," she declares. "I probably wouldn't have done any of the things I've done if I had been married. But since I was alone, I could gamble. It's total freedom."

    Being single did not always look that good. Only a generation ago, unmarried women in their 30s were pitied as spinsters living sad, unfulfilled lives and never-married bachelors treated as losers who were unable, or unwilling, to find a mate and settle down. Those perceptions began to change in the 1970s, when single women looking for pop-culture role models could turn to female characters on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Rhoda, modern gals at the time with careers, friends and a spirit exemplified by the "You're gonna make it after all" line in the show's theme song.

    But Mary and Rhoda now seem so dated compared with the aggressive, independent, stiletto-heeled heroines from Sex and the City. Nowadays, cool, attractive, 30ish singles dominate the TV airwaves on hit shows like Friends, Will and Grace and Ally McBeal. They crowd the big screen in movies such as The Next Best Thing, featuring a pair of real-life singles in Madonna and Rupert Everett. They even sit atop best-seller lists with books like The Diary of Bridget Jones. Statistics indicate that more people are spending more of their lives single than ever before, and everywhere Canadians turn, they get the same message: the solo life is something to revel in, not a source of embarrassment.

    Make no mistake: as the continuing boom in dating services, personal ads and meet-a-mate Internet sites indicates, the majority of singles are still seeking relationships. Today, though, a growing number of people are single by choice, not because they failed to find or keep a mate. Women, in particular, are embracing the single life. They still feel pressure to marry by the time they enter their 30s, but that has more to do with their biological clocks. Otherwise, experts say, today's professional women no longer need a husband to provide housing, financial stability or social stature. The gap between salaries for females and males is steadily narrowing. Those improved economic circumstances give them the clout to exert their independence, regardless of what the old world thinks.

    Diane deBruin of Toronto might once have felt panicky about being 29 and single with no man in sight. Instead, she has been dating casually since the breakup of her last serious relationship in 1996. She wants to settle down someday, but there's no hurry, she says. DeBruin, who has an undergraduate degree in science and an MBA from York University in Toronto, now works as manager of research and development for a major pharmaceutical company, and loves her single life. She can afford a home in a pricey, central Toronto neighbourhood, and to go on golf and ski vacations. And she doesn't feel the absence of Mr. Right: she has a career and the company of friends and family. "When I meet the right person, I will spend the rest of my life with him," she says. "But I'm financially stable. I don't need a man for his money. I want someone who will challenge and motivate me."

    Randy Tan's priorities are what keeps him single. The 51-year-old Tan operates a thriving movie studio on the Squamish Indian Reserve in North Vancouver. Divorced for 15 years, he now mostly dates women 20 years younger, and says he never lets things get "too serious," even though he admits he would like to have children someday. For the moment, the member of the Peguis First Nation in Central Manitoba says life is too busy to accommodate an intense relationship. His studio is hopping, he enjoys his regular bicycling trips to places like Las Vegas, Mexico and Brazil, and he spends off-time kayaking and cooking meals for friends. As well, he is pursuing interests he had as a young man but had to forgo while married -- studying philosophy, becoming computer literate and brushing up on his gardening. "I've had opportunities to get married, but never with the right person," he says, adding, "I'm a pretty happy guy."

    He is hardly alone in his lifestyle. Statistics Canada figures show that there were 7.1-million single adults in 1999, an 18.8-per-cent increase over 1990. During the same period, the overall population grew by 10.1 per cent. And experts say the growth in the number of people living alone is likely to continue: the marriage rate was the lowest in history in 1998 (the last year for which figures were available), with only five Canadians per 1,000 choosing to walk down the aisle. In 1972, that figure was 9.2 per 1,000. At the same time, those who do marry are doing so when they are older, an increasing number of women are raising children alone and the numbers of people living common-law, which now stands at 12 per cent of Canadian couples, continues to climb. "In 10 or 20 years, marriage in the traditional sense is no longer going to be the norm," says Paul Rutherford, a cultural historian at the University of Toronto.

    While some attitudes are changing, experts say that the basic domestic values of Canadian adults have remained constant. Jack Wayne, who teaches the sociology of the family at the University of Toronto, says Canadians today are after the same companionship and support their parents were searching for when they decided to marry and have families. "It is only natural to search for someone to share your life with," Wayne stresses.

    The difference is that love and marriage no longer go together like a horse and carriage. The Free Love 1960s and the advent of the birth-control pill altered the conventional thinking about premarital sex. The increased secularization of society means people feel they no longer need to marry in a church or other place of worship to solemnize a long-term relationship. Canada's Divorce Act, introduced in 1968, meant that marriage was no longer "till death us do part." Eric Sager, a historian and director of the Canadian Families Project at the University of Victoria, thinks the fact that Canadians are living longer than ever before may have something to do with the swelling ranks of singles. "It is often said that divorce today performs the function that death did in the past," he points out. "The promise to live together for better or worse, so long as you both shall live, means something very different if you anticipate a married life of 60 years, as opposed to a married life of 25 years."

    The surprise for many who go through the trauma is that there is life after divorce. Margaret Reynolds is a 48-year-old mother of two and executive-director of a book publishers' association in Vancouver. She lived with a Simon Fraser University professor for 20 years before ending the relationship about six years ago. "When you become single after being in a relationship, you have to reinvent yourself," she says. "This takes time, but it's an opportunity to think about who you are."

    Reynolds, whose two daughters are 20 and 14, says she now has more time to pursue outside interests. She is completing her master's degree in liberal studies at Simon Fraser in addition to working full time, and recently, she finished the 10-km Vancouver Sun Run -- in under one hour, she says proudly. Dating was a bit scary at first, but Reynolds says she has been pleasantly surprised after returning to the scene following 20 years away. "The men are thoughtful and reasonable, and they don't expect you to hop in bed with them the first night," she says. "Things might have gone over differently if we were in our 20s. But we are all adults now."

    Younger people are particularly skittish about matrimony: the last census reports that in 1996, 67 per cent of men aged 25 to 29 had never been married, compared with 35 per cent in 1951. For younger women, the shift has been even more dramatic: 51 per cent in 1996 versus 21 per cent 45 years earlier.

    Christine Ryan, 22, is among those who are not going to be registering for china anytime soon. The first-year human relations student at Montreal's Concordia University says she would love to "have kids, live in a two-income household and raise my children with the love and affection of a mother and a father." But she really doubts that scenario is possible because she has seen too much infidelity, unhappiness and divorce among friends and family and through her previous job as a counsellor for low-income adults. Instead, she wants to start a career, have children and then raise them by herself. "I think marriage is a fantasy," says Ryan, who has had only one serious relationship but dates regularly. "I think being able to live with someone for 50 years and not want to be with someone else along the way is a big myth."

    There are no guarantees that life alone will be as fulfilling for everyone as it is for some. In fact, some research suggests exactly the opposite. A June, 1999, poll by Toronto-based Environics Research Group showed that 61 per cent of single Canadians consider themselves "happy more than they are unhappy," sharply lower than the 73 per cent for married people. And a study released in February by Health Canada revealed that single men are 2.3 times as likely to suffer from dementia as married men -- and 1.4 times more likely to end up institutionalized.

    Mostly, though, singles complain about the day-to-day struggles -- the frustrations of trying to buy food for one, having nobody to act as nursemaid when the flu hits, the lack of companionship. "Sometimes things get overwhelming when you are doing everything yourself," admits Angela Seaman, a 31-year-old single mother who teaches high school in Merritt, B.C. "You just say, 'Gee, I wish there was someone else here so I could go for a walk by myself, have an evening out or just have another adult around.' " Then there is dating, a particularly daunting experience for, say, a newly divorced man who has not been in a club since John Travolta was svelte enough to fit into a white leisure suit. Mel Chisholm, 45, a single freelance photographer, camera store employee and part-time bartender in Halifax, jokes that finding dates gets harder "as you get older and more particular, but less desirable."

    Others are simply disenchanted by past relationships, and no longer wish to pursue anything more than casual affairs. Johnson Chou, a 37-year-old architectural designer and gallery owner in Toronto, says that after three long romances, he now tells every new woman he dates that he is a confirmed bachelor "so that they know immediately just where I stand." Jeff Yardley, 36, a Toronto hairdresser who is gay, remains equally wary after recently ending a two-year relationship. "If I were to get into another relationship, I would have boundaries," he says. "No one is going to change me or control me.''

    Still, being unattached gives Steven Comeau, 29, president of Collideascope Digital, a Halifax-based new media company, the freedom to work 60-hour weeks and spend a week a month on business in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. When he feels like it, he can just hop on his motorcycle for a ride into the countryside, and when he goes out, he enjoys the prospect of getting to know different women. "Dating does not have to be a callow affair," he says. Or a dull one either: in Comeau's view, there are few things as exciting as walking into a club, casting his gaze around the room and realizing that he might go home with someone new tonight. "I have to admit," he says, "that really turns my crank."

    Bill Johnston, 68, a retired trust-company administrator from Windsor, Ont., would prefer a fulfilling long-term relationship over dating. He has been estranged from his wife for 30 years and legally separated for 20. In that time, he has had one full-blast romance -- for nine years with a woman he met in a nightclub. That ended in 1984, and since then he has dated a little but never managed to recapture the intimacy he felt with his wife or girlfriend. "I am not looking now," says Johnston, who helps his three daughters raise his four grandchildren. "But I do dream."

    Many modern singles, however, would rather accept occasional loneliness to preserve their freedom. "I love being on my own," says Vancouver's Reynolds, who has dated about 10 men since her marriage broke up. "I would like at some point to have a deep relationship, but I am not in a hurry to get there. It will be a much bigger decision to enter into a relationship at this time because I know what I am giving up." And that, more than statistics, demonstrates how times really have changed: being single, after all, used to be viewed by many as an empty life. Nowadays, Reynolds and a growing number of Canadians think it can mean a fuller one.

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