Are You Married to the Single Life?

13 Dec 2011

More women than ever are clinging onto the single life long after they are wed. We investigate

Whenever Lisa Jackson’s husband Hal suggested an impromptu night out together, she found herself struggling to hide her irritation. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to spend time with him, or because she didn’t fancy going out, but more because she felt he hadn’t taken her busy schedule into consideration. “I know it sounds ridiculous because most women would love for their husband to be spontaneous and romantic, like Hal, but it used to annoy me because inevitably he’d pick a night when I was going out on a work do or when I’d booked into a yoga class,” admits Lisa, a 34 year-old recruitment consultant from the Springs area.

“He didn’t do it on purpose but my life was so busy that I’d struggle to find time for him. Even at weekends I’d run between friends, catching up over Friday brunch, shopping or meeting for coffee, leaving Hal to his own devices.” She continues, “We got to the stage where he’d suggest a date night and I’d have to grab my diary and schedule one in for three months’ time. Back then I thought that was romantic - planning a special night in advance - but now I realise I was taking Hal for granted. My social life was centred around my friends and the only time I’d spend with him were those rare nights when I needed a rest and just wanted to flop in front of the TV.”

And it seems that Lisa isn’t the only one guilty of clinging onto her single lifestyle despite the ring on her finger. Whereas past generations of women prioritised their husbands and children once they were married, growing evidence is proving that nowadays we expect our lives to carry on in much the same vein as before, despite the marriage certificate.

“In the past women were traditionally the ones who made sacrifices, so whilst their husbands would carry on enjoying lads’ nights out, they would be happy to refocus their attentions on caring for the family,” says Dr. Raymond Hamden, clinical and forensic psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai Knowledge Village.

“Now though, people are increasingly selfish and putting their own needs first - and women are doing it too. They don’t want to be 1950’s housewives, and why should they? They’ve nurtured those close bonds with their friends so why should they let them go just because they are married? They are simply doing what men have done for generations.”

Socialise separately
Dr. Hamden’s observations are certainly backed up by research. According to the Office for National Statistics in the UK, an average working couple with children spends an hour and a quarter each day together. And one couple in four leaves just ten minutes a day to talk. Another US study called Alone Together: How Marriage in America is Changing revealed that whereas in 1980, 53 per cent of couples said they almost always socialised together and 62 per cent shared leisure activities, by 2000 this had dropped to 34 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. And in Dubai this situation is even more prevalent because of the city’s social nature.

This is something that Annabel Grange*, 32, a communications and marketing manager from Downtown Dubai knows only too well. She married her husband Greg two years ago but confesses to being out with friends at least four nights a week.

“In Dubai there are a lot of fickle friendships. People act as though they’re your best friend when you’ve only met them twice. So, if you want to cultivate a friendship that goes deeper than that you have to invest more time in it. Here, that means meeting in a shisha café, making the most of Tuesdays’ ladies' nights or going out for dinner,” she says.

“Greg’s more of a homebody than me and luckily he has no problem with me being out all the time. I just try to make sure that we spend weekends together.” She continues, “Over here you tend to socialise separately to your partner anyway because you meet most of your friends at work, meaning you have separate social circles. You’re away from your family and the mutual friends you had back home. Also I have many Arabic friends who I think would feel uncomfortable socialising with both Greg and I.”

But there are also other factors that mean that marrieds-living-the-single-life is a trend that is on the rise, not least because the average age for a woman to get married is now 29.9 whereas 40 years ago it was 23. This increase in age means that by the time they get hitched they already have a well established network of friends, a home and a career – all totally independent of their man.

“These days women have had more time to build up a solid and meaningful single life, which is why it’s harder now to give it up,” says Mira Kirshenbaum, author of The Weekend Marriage (Dhs47, “Also, women no longer rely on a man for income as we have our own money too, unlike females from previous generations, so understandably we want to go out and spend it however we want.”

And Kirshenbaum believes that as a consequence of marrying later, many women have become set in their ways. “By this stage women have established their independence and are less likely to depend on a man for support or happiness. This means that in a crisis, or even when we have good news to share, more and more of us are picking up the phone to a friend or posting a status update on Facebook before talking to our partners about it.”

But she claims it is this type of attitude that leads a marriage to fall apart. “Marriages, like plants, need watering,” she says. “And the people within the marriage need to know that they matter. When they get the message that they don’t matter, they drift away.”

Dr. Hamden agrees. “Without constant care and attention you run the risk of having nothing in common any more. If there’s no commonality between spouses they become housemates rather than lovers.”

Grown apart
This is exactly what happened between Lisa and Hal. Sadly, their marriage ended two years ago. “After 11 years together we realised we’d grown apart,” she says. “I had my life and he had his but we didn’t have a life together. Looking back I know that was largely my fault. Scheduling in ‘couple time’ is seen as a sad thing to do and I guess I clung onto that mentality throughout our relationship. Now I see that Hal was desperately trying to get some attention from me but I’d spread myself too thin and had nothing left to give.”

Lisa has been in a new relationship for the past twelve months and she says that she has learnt from her mistakes. “I still go out with my friends and my life is always manically busy but our weekends together are sacred. We actually do things together rather than just spending time vegging in front of the TV and not communicating at all.”

And this, it seems, is the key. “You can’t have a relationship with someone when you lead very separate lives, but you don’t need enmeshed lives either,” says Kirshenbaum. “I go by this rule: One real, involving, meaningful connection - besides sex - is all you need. But you need that every day.”

She continues, “A woman has to ask herself what she really wants, and if her current husband can really deliver it. Lots of times a man will say that he wants his wife to stay at home, and when she does he ignores her. So the questions you have to ask are a) Do you want me to stay home more? b) Why? and c) What are you hoping we can do together when I’m home? This is really a conversation about what your relationship is good for. Either you’ll find a better way to connect or you’ll realise you really don’t have a basis for connecting.”

And this is advice that Lisa wishes she had heeded. “I’m happy with my new partner but I do look back at my marriage with regret,” she admits. “Hal was too nice to ever demand that I stay home but whenever he did mention that it would be good to spend some together I’d dismiss it as him having a whinge. Sometimes I’d vow to make an effort and then slip back into my old ways. There was always a reason why a certain friend would have to see me that night, but what I didn’t realise was that Hal needed me too.”

And as Kirshenbaum warns, neglecting a husband can mean you end up paying the price. “If you never feed the dog,” she says, “you can’t be surprised if he wanders away from you.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity.