I had to look twice at the attractive blonde driving past me in a vintage Merc. It was only when she gave me a big smile and stopped to chat that I realised it was my friend Charlotte.
The last time I had seen her she was in bits over her divorce and barely able to get out of bed. Now she looked confident, happy and ten years younger. “I wish I’d done it years ago,” she told me.
Charlotte is one of many people, it seems, who finds single life a ball.
The figures speak for themselves. According to a survey published by the Woolwich Building Society last week (Novemeber 2011), 73 per cent of women buy their first property on their own (compared to 48 per cent of men) so they are clearly not hanging around for a knight in shining armour.
In the same vein, the Office for National Statistics reports that the number of single women in Britain has more than doubled over the past three decades, with twice as many single women buying properties as single men. And from various sources in the US comes the news that 80 per cent of American women “no longer want to be married”.
Strange, then, that the press should tut so much over Hugh Grant’s serial dating habit. But what’s so great about being married? Selina Scott and Penny Smith seem quite happy; so do George Clooney and Hugh.
“This generation will spend more of their adult lives out of relationships rather than in them. We’re all marrying later, divorcing more often, and living longer,” says sociologist Jerusha Stewart. “And quite a bit of that single living will be done during the prime time of our lives after 40.”
The Daily Mail tagged the females of the species ‘freemales’ – women who have chosen an independent life over having a husband and family.
It’s not only women who are avoiding wedded bliss. Eleanor de Goni-Parkes, who has run the Across-the-Room Introduction Agency for ‘discerning and selective members’ for 23 years, says: “I have seen a huge increase in older people using our agency.
“Fifteen years ago some agencies didn’t accept people over 50. Now we have men and women in their sixties and seventies on our books. And they’re fantastic. They seem to have the attitudes of people 30 years younger: fun, adventurous and beautifully turned out. It’s a whole new ball game for us and I love it!”
But why are more people choosing to live out their later years single and dating, rather than opting for marriage?
A Department for Work and Pensions report predicts that one in six of us will live to 100. If you have got a good few decades to go, you may be thinking that you might as well enjoy them. That could mean bailing out of a stale marriage or simply having a good time.
Your chicks have flown the nest, you care a lot less about what people think than you did in your twenties and, having spent a couple of decades looking after other people’s needs, you may decide it’s time to take care of your own.
Dr Ursula Henz, author and senior sociologist at the London School of Economics, says: “More older people are single now because divorce is more frequent. Women in particular are certainly less scared of being on their own and have less need to marry for financial reasons.
“People are much more active in trying to form partnerships in their later years, but they don’t necessarily want to marry. They don’t want to be trapped in a caring role, looking after a new partner. They are looking for someone new, but not necessarily a marriage partner.
“One reason men are not looking for marriage is the rise of the ‘committed father’, men who want to spend time with their children after divorce and remain part of their lives. Some think it is easier to do that if they stay single. They can’t cope with kids, work and a relationship on top, so while they may socialise and go out they won’t want a big commitment.”
Maybe for many – the perfect man? Now if only my friend Charlotte could meet Hugh…