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Part 1 of a 4-part series

Satisfied singles

More of Tampa Bay's women live life without a man... and love it.

By LEONORA LAPETER
Published April 24, 2006


[Times photo: William Dunkley]
Jacqueline Knight, 48, left, talks about her situation as her niece Anita Cameron, 13, practices her grammar in the living room of Knight's Tampa home. Knight has been single for 15 years and a year ago took in her sister's 13-year-old daughter.
MICHELLE BOWEN, 37: Divorced, has declined three proposals.
MONIQUE HECKLER, 41: Never married, makes six figures.
KAT LANFORD, 37: Divorced five years ago, seeks "Mr. Right."

Charts: The rise of single women
It's Your Times: Are you single and
loving it?


 

Twenty-five years ago, married women outnumbered single women in the Tampa Bay area by 35 percent.

But a demographic trend, unmistakable and unrelenting, has been on the march as it has become more acceptable for women to be just fine, thank you very much, without a man.

Now there are about as many single as married women in the area. In Pinellas, the numbers are more pronounced: Single women have overtaken married women by 11 percent.

Yet married men still outnumber single men - by 30 percent.

What in the name of match.com is going on out there?

Monique Heckler and two of her friends have an explanation. They're out at the St. Petersburg Ale House, the topic: today's mixed-up dating world.

Heckler is 41, never married. Her companions are divorcees: Michelle Bowen, 37, and Kat Lanford, 37.

Heckler says women have changed - but men have not.

"We don't need them for money anymore," said Heckler, who makes six figures as a sales rep for a mortgage lender. "Women have changed and many men have not kept up."

Bowen, an interior designer, and Lanford, an IT professional, agree: They're financially self-sufficient and unwilling to settle. This has led to dating failure after mating failure.

Women like these three are pushing the demographic swing that has single women surpassing married women in Tampa Bay. Nationally, married women still outnumber single women by 12 percent.

The Tampa Bay area singles include those never married (45 percent), divorced (30 percent) or widowed (25 percent.) The divorcees are the fastest growing group, with never-marrieds also on the rise. The number of widowers is shrinking.

Bowen and Lanford, divorcees, would like to rejoin the married group.

"I'm looking for Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now," said Lanford, who divorced five years ago.

It's not easy out there. Lanford tells of the guy who invited her to dinner at Red Mesa, ordered $150 in food and sangria and, deadpan, informed her he had no money. She covered the bill.

Bowen, divorced 13 years, says many of her boyfriends have been too controlling, including one who didn't want her to work.

She has declined three marriage proposals. "Marriage would be great," she says, "but it's not an absolute."

Heckler has been engaged twice, is not in a relationship now and has been seeing a relationship counselor to see if her "picker's broken." But singledom works for her: She likes her freedom, and her income frees her from having to rely on someone else.

Will she marry? "I go back and forth with it."

* * *

"As soon as women went out of the home and started to make money, this plan was set in motion," said Marcelle Clements, author of The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life .

"The more education and the higher the income is where you find the greatest percentage of single women."

Many divorced women don't feel desperate to remarry quickly, as they used to. More independent economically, they can take their time. They're looking for someone, but they may not need the picket fence.

"Not only is it not remarkable to be a single woman, there's no stigma attached," said Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist from the University of Washington and a relationship expert on PerfectMatch.com. "You see more and more women choosing to be single as well as happenstance."

Happenstance happened to Jacqui Knight.

Now 48, she has spent the 15 years since her divorce building her marketing and communications company. She wants to meet someone, maybe remarry, but it hasn't happened.

A year ago, her 13-year-old niece from Chicago moved into Knight's home in South Tampa, and she thinks she'll be raising her brother's 6-month-old son from Minnesota as well.

Knight accepts that this will reduce the chances she'll find that someone.

"I'm getting out of the habit of waiting for anybody," Knight said, as she signed her niece's progress report. "People still ask me out. But the stakes are higher. I'm building a family and I'm nesting. If God puts someone in my life, I'll be happy with that as long as it's the right person. If it doesn't happen, I'm okay.

"Not everyone is anointed to be married. Some people are anointed to be single."

Family dynamics and family roles have changed, leading to fewer marriages and different family combinations. More singles, including gay and lesbian couples, are cohabitating, another factor experts point to in the increase in singles.

"I think roles used to be more defined," said Jodi DeLuca, a psychologist and relationship expert who is studying singles in the Tampa Bay area.

"It was expected women got married and had children and that a man provided. But things have changed dramatically in this area."

Internet dating has made it easy to meet singles, but it also has spawned a new culture of disposable dating. If one option doesn't work, there are dozens more a few clicks away. In the 40 to 60 age range, for example, there are 500 men on match.com within 35 minutes of St. Petersburg.

"It's like a kid in a candy jar," said Melanie Dodson, a St. Petersburg Internet dating coach.

"Some people are too dismissive. Some are dating people and they won't try to work things through because there are other options right around the corner. ... On the Internet, you can log on in the afternoon and have a date that night."

* * *

The setting: Friday night, a singles expo outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tampa. Two dozen booths touted such groups as Tampa Bay Tall N' Terrific and the Single Gourmet Club.

Roland Wilson, 59, scanned the crowd of more than 1,000 men and women. He and his 57-year-old friend, Randy Johnson, flirted and danced with a smorgasbord of passing women.

Over the past 25 years in Tampa Bay, the percentage of men who are single has increased more than the percentage of women who are single. But there are still way more single women - roughly 81 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women.

Divorced men tend to remarry at higher rates than their female counterparts. By the time they are 60, about 88 percent of divorced men will remarry while only 66 percent of divorced women find a new husband.

Wilson, divorced 24 years, is no exception. He wants to marry again, the sooner the better.

With so many more unmarried women than men, you'd think Wilson would have an easy time accomplishing his goal.

Not so, he says.

"I know lots of women from the singles scene, and we find that women are too independent," said Wilson, a mortgage broker. "We find most women in our age group have been single for a while. They don't want to make changes."

Johnson, who was busy waltzing with a woman he knew, interjected: "I base all my relationships on sex, and unfortunately a lot of girls don't like that."

Wilson smiled at his friend's comment. The singles scene has changed, he said. Two decades ago, lots of women were seeking long-term relationships.

Nowadays, he said, many of those who have been through divorces want more casual relationships. "They don't seem to have the need for a man."

--Times staff writer Matthew Waite and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 24, 2006, 08:23:13]


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