Not buying the stories of divorcees

The "Year of the Woman" has not been a good year for men. The most celebrated men in the news have been depicted as philandering, harassing sexual retardates. Now we learn they can be replaced by a horse, or even a garden. (Maybe it's the manure.)

Not buying the stories of divorceesTrend watchers and head counters of the man-disdainers have discovered the latest and worst of woman's indignity to man. Women who divorce are not remarrying, because they'd rather live alone, ride horses, plant seeds and cultivate their own gardens than put up with the inconveniences and everyday annoyances of living with a boorish member of the opposite sex.

Women's lack of interest in remarrying is "the real revolution" of the past two decades, Frances Goldscheider, a sociology professor at Brown University, told the New York Times. "Unmarried women do well if they have enough money. They can support themselves in reasonable style. They don't define themselves around men. And they do well socially because they have friends and bonding skills."

That's the good news. Unmarried men are not doing nearly as well, with or without money, if we are to believe the experts. They are unwilling, reluctant, resistant, retread bachelors without a social life, buffeted by their own cries in isolation and whispers of loneliness. They live a life of emptiness, shorn of the intimate consolations of companionship.

In diagnosing male behavior, psychiatrist Willard Gaylin goes further. He says men's biological adaptations in the form of aggression have outlived their evolutionary purpose.

"Allow your macho pride, your instinctual need to assert your masculine presence, to take precedence over your prudence and you are likely to get stabbed by the thug who simply wants your wallet and your watch," he writes in his new book, The Male Ego. "Take a warrior stance in relationship to your boss and you will be fired. Assert your male dominance to those who work for you and who are dependent on you, and they will gradually destroy you by the small persistent stings of passive aggression."

Middle-aged women have other problems with outworn male strategies. Their response could be summed up in one phrase: "Who needs them?"

Lynn Steinhauer, 46, a social worker in Kalamazoo, Mich., who was divorced after more than 20 years of marriage, prefers riding her horse to remarriage. Marlene Jones, 49, a mid-level manager of a Northern California company, likes making popcorn for dinner and prefers White Diamonds perfume to Chanel No. 5, which her husband liked.

Women who are past childbearing and child-rearing years have discovered they like doing whatever, whenever, without responding to the anachronistic needs of a husband, who wants a wife to sew on a button, butter a muffin or rub his back.

In 1970, fewer than 1.5 million divorced men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 remained unmarried; in 1991, 3.6 million divorced women and 2.5 million divorced men of this age group were unmarried. From 1970 to 1988, the rate of remarriage after divorce fell by more than 40 percent in all age groups.

While feminists credit the women's movement with offering independence to women in middle age, these new arrangements have poignant costs. Adult children and grandchildren of broken homes lose the emotional supports that come with an extended intact family. The children often find themselves caught between an aging mother and father, with demands on their time for separate visits when they would like to be pampered a little themselves. Divorced mothers with young children have it worst of all.

My informal surveys of divorced women do not corroborate the phenomenon of undiluted happiness of unmarried women, with or without children and without a man. In fact, I've found that, as they age, both men and women usually seek the companionship that comes from the commitment of marriage.

Mercifully, the stereotypes of the desperate divorcee and devil-may-care bachelor have long since galloped into the past. But it's a sad comment on our life and times that middle-aged women would rather saddle up than settle down.