Single women have been in the spotlight lately. From the announcement that unmarried women now outnumber their married counterparts in the United States to statistics that present unmarried women as the latest economic and political force, one thing seems clear: Being single isn’t what it used to be.

A few decades back, unmarried women were branded as spinsters at 30 and were assumed to be sad, unfortunate and characteristically bitter about their solitary status. Social opportunities, even with other unmarried women, were rare, so it was often a lonely existence. In a time when women were expected to

find a mate, it was thought there must have been something about the single woman that made her unsuitable for marriage and an awkward fit in society.

Today’s landscape is more complex. Women are unmarried today for a broad range of reasons, not the least of which is personal choice. Education and careers have enabled women to support themselves financially, and the ability to cultivate a network of friends around common interests creates relationships that aren’t defined by marital status.

Depending on where you are in your life, you may be hoping to meet Mr. Right (someday), or it may be more like,”been there, done that,” and you’re at a place where you’re more interested in cultivating a lifestyle that doesn’t include dating and romance.

Whatever the case, single women no longer feel like they are socially relegated to “singles groups,” which used to bethe default social option for anybody who wasn’t part of a couple, and they’re not necessarily flocking to church to meet the proverbial “nice man.”

Most single women say they are part of an all-inclusive social circle. “A lot of my social relationships are formed through work,” says Linnette Rosario, a 29-year old marketing coordinator. “My friendships are based on common interests, not age or marital status.” Rosario, who moved to San Antonio from the East Coast five years ago, says her friendships include people in their early-to-mid 20s to people in their 40s. Right now, she says only one of her friends is single, which she defines as having no spouse or serious unmarried relationship. “More of my friends are married now; the single friends are fewer and far between,” she observes.”And now my married friends are having babies — four in the past year.”

EDUCATION FIRST

“My mom wanted me to get my education first, so she didn’t pressure me about marriage,” Rosario says. “Now that I have my MBA, she’s starting to ask me when I’m going to get married.” Rosario was engaged, but broke it off. “I thought I wanted to be married, but I realized it was because I was told that is what I want,” she explains. “I found myself making excuses — finding reasons to put off the wedding.” Rosario says she’s comfortable being single and isn’t looking for a relationship. “I don’t want or need to meet anybody right now,” she says.

Her social life includes dining out with friends and Girl’s Night Out in local clubs.”My priority is to be social, to be out with my friends, and not to meet a guy,” she says.

Online dating was becoming very popular at about the same time Rosario started dating. “I did it when I was younger,” she says. “I did a lot of chatting— I wasn’t scared of it.” Rosario says that meeting people online can sometimes be better than making the first connection face-to-face. “You can get caught up in the physical attraction,” she says. “When you meet someone online, you become attracted to the person’s personality and interests.”

THE ONE WITHOUT A DATE

Jennifer Broome is familiar to locals as the chief meteorologist for WOAI-TV. When she’s not predicting the weather, she’s an athlete, a volunteer . . . and she’s single. Broome, who turns 35 this summer, made a conscious choice to follow her career path first, a decision she’s thankful for. “It’s fun being single in San Antonio,” says the South Carolina native.”There’s a larger singles community than most people realize.”

Broome’s social life revolves around a wide circle of friends, some of whom are married, and others who, like her, are single.”I attend a lot of events, I give a lot of time to the community, and I meet friends for Girl’s Night Out,” she says. “My attitude is that I just go and I have a good time; I’m not afraid to be that fifth wheel — the one without a date,” she laughs.

She says that since she often attends weeknight events between her three

evening newscasts, people understand why she attends by herself. Other times, she’s happy to take a friend.”Some people aren’t comfortable going out by themselves,” she says.”You have to be willing to walk into the party alone. You never know who you’ll meet.”

When she is out with friends for a carefree evening, Broome’s sense of fun and adventure is obvious: “I’m the first one up there grabbing the mike at karaoke, and I can’t sing.” Eager to meet people, she prefers to focus on friendships, rather than who might make good dating material.

U WANT 2 MEET L8R?

Broome marvels at how technology has changed the way people communicate with each other. “When I’m on the air, the best way to get through to me is by leaving a text message on my cell phone, asking if I want to do something later,” she says. “A text message may not be the traditional phone call to ask for a date, but being asked out via text message is still special — and just as much fun. It’s just upgraded!”

She enjoys dating, but admits that the demands of her job make it hard to be available and spontaneous. She’s had to develop perspective about relationships that could turn romantic. “I look at dating as doing things I enjoy with another person; it’s about making new friends,” she says. Her advice is simple: “Think outside the box,” she says. “If you tell yourself that you only want to date someone that looks a certain way or is a certain age, you may never meet your perfect match. It’s not always easy to meet new people, but it can be rewarding. I would love to have a husband and a family, but I like my freedom now.”

Right now, Broome takes full advantage of that freedom. “I’m focusing on myself right now,” she says. A natural athlete, she’s a familiar face on the local runner’s circuit. One of her goals is to be fluent in Spanish — she took a week-long language immersion trip to San Miguel de Allende last year. “I could just go home every night and not do anything, but where’s the fun in that?” she asks.

THE CULTURE OF ONE

Maybe you’ve heard the news: There are more American women living without a spouse than with one. When the U.S Census Bureau made that announcement from its 2005 data, it confirmed a shift with origins reaching back to the 1950s. Social, economic and political demographers jumped on the numbers to figure out how this new majority walks, talks and chews gum. Suddenly, single women have a”culture,” and they have opinions that matter to political candidates, who are busy skewing their messages in time for next year’s national election. Government agencies and corporations are studying the impact on social programs and workplace benefits, many of which were structured decades ago on the “traditional family” assumption.

The home building industry has long recognized the influence women have on home buying decisions in a family needs context, but it is now turning its attention to single women home buyers, whose numbers are increasing on a sharp curve. Fannie Mae estimates that by 2010, single women will make up nearly 30 percent of the home buying market.

Home builders are responding by designing”women-centric” floor plans, and major home improvement retailers say that women make nearly half of all purchases in their stores.

Nancy West, allied member, ASID, and owner of Nancy West Interior Designs, sees the trend, both as a professional helping women create living spaces and as a single woman herself. “Women want their homes to fit their needs,” she says. She says single women tend to create bedrooms with a softer feel. Living spaces also have a softer look but are also friendly and useful for entertaining.”Women living alone want spaces that are intimate for one but flexible to accommodate many,” she says.

West, who is 51 and divorced, says that creating living spaces that reflect the individual is “part of embracing where you are in life.” She relates easily to women who find themselves at a life’s crossroads and living in a home that needs a fresh change. Even if unpleasant circumstances got you where you are, “It’s a time when you can say, ‘Now, I get to do what I want,'” she says.

LIVING SINGLE IN A “FAMILY TOWN”

One of San Antonio’s oft-cited attributes is that it’s a family-oriented city. Do singles have trouble navigating in traditional, marriage-minded waters?

“My affinity for San Antonio is based on what I like about it,” says Eva Esquivel. “This is a great place to raise a family, but the quality of life translates to single people, too.”

At 38, the San Antonio native says she is the only single woman in her circle of friends. “People try to make excuses for me being single,” says Esquivel.”People will say things like, ‘Oh, she’s been focusing so much on work, that’s why she’s not married.'” She says that at this point in her life, dating opportunities are becoming more limited. “It’s harder to find someone who’s close to my age, with similar life experiences. I’ve become more flexible with my criteria — you have to,” she says.

Esquivel doesn’t spend time contemplating her single status. “It doesn’t weigh on my mind,” she says. “I’m not a sad, single woman.” She’s open to marriage, but says, “I just can’t approach it casually, like I’m trying it out.”

She says her friends hesitate to introduce her to single male acquaintances.”They don’t want to risk the friendships if things don’t go well,” she explains. Both socially and in the workplace, Esquivel says men aren’t asking for dates. “They don’t even ask for a phone number,” she laughs.

Joan Bailey says her circle of friends is willing to make introductions, and she prefers meeting people that way. “It’s like they’re prescreened,” she laughs. “But seriously,” she adds, “A friend has already thought that this is someone I would get along with, and there’s the connection we both have to our mutual friend,” she says.

Bailey, who is 42 and divorced, says that in her social circle, she’s seen an increase in what she calls “importing”: meeting and dating someone who lives in a different city, and inviting that person to visit for a weekend date, maybe even to relocate if the relationship becomes serious.

As for Bailey, she doesn’t dwell on dating. The director of sales for the Bexar County Medical Society is independent and confident enough to go out sans escort. “I go against tradition, I guess,” she says. “I’m comfortable going out solo or with a friend — often it’s more fun that way.”

ON HER OWN TERMS

When Irene Neaves was a young woman, people got married and had children because that’s what society

expected. When her husband died suddenly 11 years ago, she found herself in unfamiliar territory. Friends stopped calling, invitations to social functions weren’t extended anymore. Neaves learned a lesson about her social identity; it was a fork in the road for the mother of three grown children. The path she chose redefined her. She joined several seniors’ groups where she met new friends who didn’t know her before, when she was married.”They accepted me the way I was,” says Neaves.

During the week, 69-year-old Neaves cares for her grandchildren. “I still have goals,” she says.”The most important one is that I want my grandkids to have good, happy memories of their grandmother.” Neaves also took up ballroom dancing after her husband died, but now prefers country and Western dancing. Most Sunday afternoons, she meets with groups of friends at different dance halls in and around San Antonio. Because people don’t arrive as couples, there aren’t any of the pressures or expectations associated with being on a date.

“I gave up on dating,” says Neaves.”I say,’What for?’ I did what I was supposed to do when I was younger; I got married and had kids. Now, I’m content with hugs and kisses from the little ones. I’m very happy with my life; it’s uncomplicated.”

Chicki Stehle became widowed as a young mother with an infant son. “From that point forward, my son always came first,” she says. “I made a decision that there would not be a revolving door of men in our life.”

Stehle moved from a career in broadcast journalism to advertising, where she had a revelation during one of many late nights at the office, her son asleep under her desk. She left advertising and got a job with the Smithson Valley School District. Close to her Bulverde home, she had a work schedule that mirrored her son’s school calendar.

As her son finished high school, Stehle realized that he’d be leaving home soon, and that she needed to build a life for herself that didn’t revolve around caring for him. Aside from the corner gas station, Bulverde didn’t have a coffee shop. Stehle jumped to fill that void, and Chicki’s Coffee Shop quickly became a fixture for the local caffeinated crowd.

Stehle, who describes herself as an introvert, says that most of her social connections these days somehow revolve around the shop. “Now that my son is gone, my friends are trying to get me out more often,” she says, but she admits that after a long day at work, she usually looks forward to going home for some alone time.

Stehle says that she feels free to pursue friendships that could turn into something more. “I don’t want to grow old alone,” she says. “But, at the same time, I have so much going on in my life that I’m just not thinking about it.”

HOT SPOTS

If you’re wondering where to go on an evening out with friends, there’s more to local nightlife than pulsing dance clubs. Here’s a short list of popular places, offered by several of our readers:

HAPPY HOUR/
EARLY EVENING

For professionals looking to meet friends after work, happy hour is the gold standard for winding down after a hard day or a long week. Food and beverage specials are the bill early in the evening, and the clientele is a broad mix of ages and professions. As the evening goes on, you can expect a shift to a younger crowd and entertainment ranging from karaoke to live bands.

Silo
StoneWerks
Paesanos
Reggiano’s
29 Bar
Ice
Rebar

Author: Susan Sheffloe Speer

Photographer: Liz Garza Williams