Alone on life’s highway

Women’s rights, along with technological and economic developments, have led to major social change. Indicative of this is a report in The New York Times this week that, for the first time, a majority of women in the US (51 from 35 percent in 1950) are living without a spouse. Also, 2005 was the year when couples living out of wedlock outnumbered married couples for the first time. We do not have figures regarding how many women in Greece live alone but it is obvious that things have changed here, too. In 1984, 8 percent of weddings ended in divorce. In 2004 the figure had risen to 22 percent. Also, in 2004 5.1 percent of births were to single mothers, almost double the 2.8 percent in 1994. In Greece we were accustomed to seeing mostly elderly women living alone, seeing as they have greater life expectancy than men but also because they usually married men who were older than them. Old women dressed in black were, for ages, one of the most usual images of the Greek countryside. Divorcees were referred to as «zontoheires» (or living widows), and they stuck out like sore thumbs. Today, there are probably more women living alone because of divorce rather than the death of a husband. Also, more women delay getting married because they are studying, pursuing a career, or simply feel they haven’t met the right companion. These women need not fear the ridicule or the sympathy of those around them. All they need fear is loneliness, which strikes men and women alike. The social standing of single women (whether mothers or not) is changing, as developments are sweeping away prejudice and bigotry. Today, societies – in terms of social security systems as well as personal solidarity – must change radically to deal with the fact that most people live, grow old, fall ill and die alone. Personal freedom is a wonderful achievement, but it takes skill to endure it.

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