Is living alone the new happy ending?

How 27 women achieved contentment without a spouse in sight

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Could Cinderella have been happy if she had never met Prince Charming? Before reading E. Kay Trimberger's book, The New Single Woman, I wouldn't even have asked the question.

Now, I can't stop pondering it. Why don't fairy tale princesses ever find fulfillment in friendships instead of romances? What do phrases like the classic Jerry Maguire "you complete me" mean anyway? Is a significant other really a life requirement?

With the plethora of books about dating, online dating services, and bachelor/bachelorette reality shows, it appears Ms. Trimberger and I are not the only ones thinking about relationships.

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In a society that is questioning dating methods, singleness, and couplehood, "The New Single Woman" has a lot to offer. It is not a "how to be single" book. It doesn't define what single women of today are like, nor does it argue that most single women choose to be single.

Instead, the book offers 27 examples of women who have created fulfilling lives without marriage or finding a soul mate.

Trimberger bases her book on interviews with 46 single women - ages 30 to 60 - in the mid-1990s, and on subsequent interviews with 27 of these women nine years later.

Many of the women Trimberger interviewed said it was difficult to come to terms with singleness because of societal pressure to couple. She writes, "If you are older than thirty-five and not coupled, it is easy ... to internalize the belief that you can't love, are neurotic, and have issues."

But ultimately most said they were eventually able to work past the social pressure and find happiness in singlehood. "The new single woman is content and happy with her life and the prospect of remaining single," Trimberger insists.

Trimberger uses a few of their stories in each chapter to discuss issues that single women face - such as single-motherhood, finding a sense of family, or dealing with sexuality.

According to Trimberger, happy single women have a home that nurtures, satisfying work, economic security, satisfaction with sexuality, a connection with the next generation, a close network of friends, and a sense of community.

She writes, "I found that creating a satisfying single life - like building a good marriage - is a process of development, self-discovery, and work."

Although providing this criteria, Trimberger doesn't proscribe to readers what they must do in their own lives to find contentment with being single.

She has a choppy writing style that reads a bit like a textbook. The diversity and number of interviews further accentuate this style. She could have tied the chapters together with analysis, but her small case study does not allow her to draw larger conclusions.

Also, Trimberger expects the reader to remember details about each interviewee when referred to hundreds of pages after introduction. In the end, the only factor holding the narrative together is that each woman is single, as is Trimberger.

Despite these shortcomings, the book does an excellent job of raising the issue of nontraditional families and makes the reader consider the meaning of family. Trimberger effectively convinces us that alternative families and living environments can be just as fulfilling as traditional ones.

She tells of one single woman whose neighbor took care of her daughter after school - providing a sense of family. A divorced woman became best friends with her children, finding that they made up a complete family. Another woman and her ex-husband raised their child in the same house, while both dating other people.

With these examples, Trimberger reminds readers to keep an open mind and to appreciate the rewards of good friendship.

"The New Single Woman" fails to thoroughly examine the increased number of single women and left me with some unanswered questions. Why aren't women coupling? And, is acceptance of singlehood only by default?

Trimberger doesn't comment. Her focus is telling the stories of 27 women who have found peace with being single.

Jennifer Moeller is an intern at the Monitor.

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