“Going Solo,” a new book by sociologist Eric Klineberg, would make a nice companion piece to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart,” which I mentioned in a recent column. Murray lamented the demise among the white working class of the traditional values of the educated elite, i.e., staying married, attending church, and industriousness. Klineberg’s book is about the rise in the number of people choosing to live alone since the 1950s. In those halcyon days (halcyon, according to Murray), only 9 percent of the population in the United States lived alone. Today 28 percent of U.S. households contain one person. The majority are women who are better at living alone than are men. No explanation as to why is necessary there. But Klineberg found that many older divorced or widowed women would rather live alone than marry again and taking on wifely domestic or care taking chores.
Marriage is not the only respectable option for women.
More and more women are choosing to travel alone and live alone abroad, too. At least that seems so among the expat population in Costa Rica. I have been a long-time champion of this choice for women, along with the option of choosing a cooperative household. I have also been a champion of living in the city of San José . . . or any city, for that matter. Cities offer more freedom for a woman living alone, and there are more options, including more places a woman can easily go alone, whether it is the movies, the symphony, a restaurant, or a casino. The options include finding more than one supermarket and feria, hospital or clinic.
There is the University of Costa Rica where one can take classes geared to expats, and the Centro Cultural with its bilingual library, all of which are convenient and accessed by bus or taxi if you live in the city.
I say this as a woman who has chosen not to own either a home or a car and, therefore, avoid the extra expense or red tape involved in either. It is also easier to lock the door and leave your apartment if you wish to travel than it is to secure your home while you are away.
The increased options include more clubs and organized activities to choose from, to belong to. In short, as Klineberg says, cities are better equipped to enable people to live alone without being alone, and they have more social places for singles to meet.
In praising cities, I do not mean to criticize or exclude the virtues of small towns or the beach or sitting in isolated splendor near the top of a mountain. It is important to check out the different environments and weather conditions in the country, and Costa Rica has a variety of them, all within a relatively short distance of each other.
Many visitors and would-be visitors to Costa Rica talk about the crime in the city and their fears. Even Ticos who live outside of the city feel this way. San José is like any big city the world over, with the exception that, as my friend Jorge and I commented one day when he gave me a lift downtown (it is always nice if you are a woman alone to have a friend with a car) what a pleasure it is to look at the faces of the pedestrians. If they are not smiling, their faces are noncommittal and even pleasant. It still is, as I noted when I first moved here, very much like New York City without the hostility and stress one saw on people’s faces. In all fairness that was years ago in New York, and that city has changed.
I am still waiting for hotels and B&B’s, even cruise ships, to offer inviting rates to singles, not just a few dollars less than the price of a room for two. It is time to actually build rooms that accommodate one person. Hotels and B&B’s would be wise to begin aggressively to advertise single accommodations, especially if their location or accommodations, or sailing schedules make them especially attractive to women.