Forget His Roses—You’re Better Off Single

On Valentine’s Day, my mind always goes to the women in unhappy marriages and toxic relationships who don’t know how incredible it feels on the outside. 

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A Galentine’s Day event on Feb. 13, 2018, in Hollywood, Calif. (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for PUMA)

“Your husband’s a basketball fan?” she asked, looking down at the giant box of Valentine’s candy dotted with hoops and balls.

“Nope, I’m divorced,” I told the drug store cashier. No need to tell her—and the whole store—I’d been to that rodeo twice.

“Oh … for your boyfriend then?” she asked, giggling.

I laughed right back. A loud, throw-my-head-back kind of cackle that made the man behind me stare. “This is for my 14-year-old son,” I told her. “He’s obsessed with basketball these days.”

I didn’t blame her for thinking I was hitched. After all, in my Norman Rockwell-esque Connecticut town, it seemed like everyone was. Following my first divorce, I felt like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter walking down quaint Main Street with a “D” on my chest. “There she is,” I imagined our tiny town’s residents saying while pointing, “the divorced one!”

Was I upset about having no beau on the big day? Did I run straight to the tissue aisle? Or lose it when settled snugly in my car? Hell no. In fact, my mind went to the poor women in unhappy marriages and toxic relationships who don’t know how incredible it feels on the outside. 

Don’t get me wrong, as a divorce coach with clients across the United States, my heart breaks for them. I coach these trapped women. Often fear—especially of ending up homeless—prevents them from asking for the Valentine’s Day gift they really want: a divorce.

They can be scared of the online dating pool too, for good reason. With the Tinder Swindlers and West Elm Calebs out there, it’s a war zone. As a former investigative reporter, I tell my clients they have to be one too.

But what more and more of us have figured out is that—despite the challenges—singlehood is nothing short of nirvana. Gone is the obligation to cook nightly, pick up dirty socks laying around or make your plans around someone else’s schedule. Besides kid and work duties, you can do whatever you damn well please. We singletons throw ourselves into passions we had little time to focus on before—and it feels fabulous. 

“I love having the whole house to myself! I love having all the closets in the house to myself! I love opening up a bag of lettuce for dinner!” divorcee Lisa Stiehl told me. She admitted on some days she does miss companionship—“but then I smack myself in the head wondering if I would want him here forever?”

“It’s a part-time job if you’re looking for someone on dating apps, and what’s the benefit?” Cheryl Hislop, a 41-year-old professional asked me. “I’m putting my time and value into my own projects and into myself. At the end of the day, having a partner won’t give me peace and happiness but I will.”

Singlehood is nothing short of nirvana. Gone is the obligation to cook nightly, pick up dirty socks laying around or make your plans around someone else’s schedule.

The stats show we’re not alone. The percentage of American adults who are married has dropped over the last few decades from 58 percent in 1995 to 53 percent today, according to a Pew Research Study in 2021. 

The question many of us ask ourselves is: Why the hell did it take us so long to get here?

Looking back, it’s not our fault. Women are conditioned to need a man. Some mothers teach daughters how to “land a husband.” Movies often portray marriage as the pivotal goal in a young woman’s life. Then, there are those feel-good stories spun by fairy tales. Yes, Cinderella, Snow White and even the seven dwarfs are complicit. No need to point out that Valentine’s Day pressure starts before Kris Kringle has even left town.

“I do think that more women are deciding to stay single,” Dr. Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, told me. “I’m most interested in the people—not just women—who do so for entirely positive reasons. They are the people I call Single at Heart. For them, single life is their best life—their most authentic, meaningful, fulfilling and psychologically rich life. It’s not something they’re stuck with—it is something they love and embrace.”

According to the market research firm Mintel, 61 percent of single women say they are content with being solo, while only 49 percent of single men said the same. Sixty-five percent of men said they were not looking for a partner, compared to 75 percent of women who said their singledom was a choice.

Paul Dolan, professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics, told The Guardian that the healthiest and happiest population subgroup is females who never married or had children. So if you’re a woman, don’t bother. 

The single life actually extends women’s lifespan—according to Dr. Howard S. Friedman, psychology professor at the University of California in his comments to CBS News. That includes women who left marriages to become single. Men, however, live longer if hitched.

As a divorce coach, people often think I promote divorce—not true. If someone is happy and healthy in their partnership, or ultimately decides to stay in their marriage, that’s great. But if I have a client who is clearly emotionally and physically damaged in a relationship I point that out and let them decide what action, if any, to take. 

I founded a support group for singles called Strong Savvy Women so no woman would feel alone. It’s growing. And, in a recent “Divorce Success Stories” event featuring a panel of amazing career women, several celebrated their single life. 

Cheryl Hislop said she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I look around at the relationships near me and a lot of them are bad,” she said.”I mean if everyone left work and told me they got into a car accident every time, why would I be excited to hop in the car for a drive or think I’m safe doing it?”

I’m with you, Cheryl. Safely parked. In the garage—having fun with the music blasting! And getting ready to give my only Valentine his basketball candy.

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About

Amy Polacko is a divorce coach and journalist who also runs a support group for single/divorced women. She worked on the Pulitzer Prize-winning team covering the TWA Flight 800 crash for Newsday. As a survivor of domestic abuse, she coaches women trying to escape and is writing a book on the family court underworld. Learn more about Polacko and her mission at www.freedomwarrior.info.