“I'd like to make room for her in my closet,” a pal of mine, a successful Moscow entrepreneur told me recently of one of his priority New Year’s resolutions. He stressed the word “her,” implying a girlfriend, a hypothetical one whom he is hoping to meet during the year to come. He said he had made the same resolution last year, but somehow it didn't come true. Even so, my friend doesn't complain much about his life. He works a lot, travels a lot and spends his rather limited free time partying heavily in the city's trendiest bars and nightclubs and throwing lavish dinner soirees at his cozy downtown apartment. “It's so easy to stay single in this city, the temptations are so many,” he mentioned somewhat abashedly, confessing that his family has long been pressuring him to settle down. “I know that nightclubs are not the best place to meet marriage material women, but what should I do? Stay home and watch TV? I might as well enjoy life to the fullest while I am still single.”
“In Moscow, you work hard and play hard,” he said.
My friend is in his late 30s — back in the Soviet times, he'd be inevitably labeled “a toxic bachelor” some overly protective Russian mamas would strongly advise their daughters to stay away from. Today, he's an eligible bachelor showered by attention from women of different ages thanks to his charisma and social status. And he, of course, is not alone. The army of seemingly content and comfortably self-sufficient singles of both sexes is rapidly filling up the big cities across the Western world. And although, according to the National statistics bureau, the average marriage age in Russia is still as early as 23 years for females and 26 for males, Moscow stands out as quite a single’s haven. Especially when it comes to open-minded yuppies in their mid-20s to mid-30s who've managed not to have tied the knot in their early 20s or who are already divorced. Many are very much used to being single and would not eagerly sacrifice their lifestyles for a commitment. Their lives appear stuffed with appointments, projects, multiple friendships (many are maintained virtually, through various social networks) and ambitious travel. Some of such unattached city dwellers boast stimulating jobs and some spend so much time at work that coworkers, in fact, become some kind of a family surrogate.
A close girlfriend of mine, Anya, a bright and attractive woman who leads key projects at a large international organization, is 35 and still on her own. She's had several meaningful relationships in the past and certainly would like to have a partner now, but she does not seem desperate about it. “You can't push in these matters,” she said. “I'd rather stay single than be in a relationship that's not satisfying.” Another friend, 30-year-old Irina, a partner at a thriving law firm and quite a fashion victim as well, shares her time between Moscow and London where her parents live. She often talks of how much she's dreaming of a family and kids. Still, her schedule is so packed that I can't help but wonder how a relationship, not to mention a family, could squeeze in there. Or is she just filling the void?
Perhaps, but not only. Some trend watchers insist that the legion of singletons is one of the outcomes of the industrial revolution that took place some 300 years ago. “It was then when a large agrarian family, humanity's key survival engine, started to deteriorate because there was no more need to make a lot of babies in order for the household to function — capitalist economy took over,” explained Anatoly Antonov, PhD, head of the Family Sociology Department at the Moscow State University and one of Russia's top experts on family and demographics issues. He predicted that by 2050, the traditional family as society's core unit might cease to exist altogether: people would live mainly on their own and only the bravest would choose to have children (but one kid maximum) conceived most likely by means of some sort of genetically modified artificial insemination.
I was appalled to hear of such a gloomy scenario worth of a Roland Emmerich-style anti-utopian horror movie and went on to inquire from other experts if that's indeed where we are all heading. “And what about such basic human need as emotional attachment? This one comes first after our basic instincts are taken care of,” Ekaterina Ignatova, a practicing psychotherapist, said and laughed off the idea of our planet inhabited mainly by narcissistic commitment-phobic loners. She said she had not met a single client who felt genuinely happy and complete not having a partner.
Even my charismatic entrepreneur friend confided to me that he and most of his single friends remain “toxic bachelors” only until the day they meet the right girl. And he said they all dream of that more than of any career or short-term nightclub romantic conquests.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.