As Valentine's Day approaches and married people take a moment to express their boundless and eternal love for their spouse by buying chocolates made in faraway China a romantically long time ago, they tend to take pity on single folk. They imagine a vast tribe of female lonely hearts roaming an emotional Sahara, confounded by mirages that look like marriage-minded men. But according to what may be the biggest study of single people ever, that image is, like the enthusiasm for the chocolate, quite false.
Single men are, on the whole, as likely to want to get married as single women, the survey found. They are more likely than women to be open to dating people of a different race or religion, more prone to falling in love at first sight, more eager to combine bank accounts sooner and more likely to want children. (That distant choking sound you hear is thousands of women finding this news hard to swallow.)
The study - of 5,200 people ages 21 to over 65 who weren't married, engaged or in a serious relationship - has a vested interest in understanding the partner-less. "The mechanisms for attachment for men and women are exactly the same. Just as many men want to get married as women do." But the figures need to be parsed carefully. While overall, as many men as women wanted to marry, age played a big role in their preferences. Younger (ages 21 to 24) and older men (50 and up) were more favorably disposed to legal lifetime unions than their female peers.
"Women are much more interested in their independence than men are," says Fisher. They value certain parts of their single lives more than men do: according to the survey, women are likelier to want to have their own bank accounts, their own interests, their own personal space and solo vacations, even if they're in a committed relationship. They also care more about nights out with buddies. From the get-go, women are fussier about whom they'll consider for a partner. More men (80%) than women (71%) don't care about the race of a love interest, and many more men (83%) than women (62%) are flexible on their date's religious beliefs.
However, there are now more than 100 million single people in the U.S.; households headed by married couples are in the minority. It just may be that single people like being single. "We're still carting around the concept that they're workaholics or desperate or can't get on with anyone," says Fisher. "The reality is that many of them may be choosing this lifestyle." Even if it means skipping the chocolates.