Comfortable with themselves and shying away from potential harm, many young Chinese trade in the stress of being shackled to a partner for the freedom of living alone

By Zhang Yihua Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/21 19:03:39

Many young Chinese opt out of marriage for the freedom of single life.  Photo: Li Hao/GT

Many young Chinese opt out of marriage for the freedom of single life. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Maggie Gao, a 33-year-old sales manager in Beijing, sat bathing in the sunlight coming in from her French windows as she sipped a cup of coffee. It was Saturday afternoon, and all was right with her world.

"I enjoy living by myself," she said. "It brings me plenty of alone time and inner peace."

Gao has been living alone since returning to Beijing after completing her postgraduate studies in the UK several years ago. She has "fallen in love with solitude" and calls herself a "senior solitary."

With a well-paid job and a nice apartment, Gao is free from financial burden and leads a comfortable lifestyle.

"I often meet up with my friends," she said, commenting on how she fills her life. "I also signed up for piano lessons and yoga classes."

She conceded that there were a few men who once confessed their feelings for her but said she was not attracted to marriage because she simply could not see a reason to give up her comfortable lifestyle.

Gao is not the only young Chinese who is attracted to living the single life. The topic "the single life" has attracted more than 1 million followers on China's Quora-like website The supporters share tips on things ranging from eating alone to furnishing an apartment for one person.

Unmarried adults in China rose to 200 million in 2015, an April article on news portal said, citing statistics from China's Ministry of Civil Affairs. The report further stated that just over a quarter or about 58 million of unmarried Chinese live on their own and that roughly 20 million of them are aged between 20 and 39.

According to experts interviewed by Metropolitan, more young Chinese are choosing not to get married.

The Deccan Herald, a popular English-language daily newspaper in India, said in a December 13 report that China is quickly becoming a country of bachelors and spinsters, due to the rapidly increasing number of people choosing to remain single or unmarried.

Many young Chinese are drawn to the single life because it allows for more freedom and avoids potential troubles brought by marriage. Experts say that the popularity of the single lifestyle is indicative of the changing role marriage plays in people's life.


Experts say, the rising number of people choosing to remain single shows that the role marriage plays in people's life is changing. Photos: IC, Li Hao/GT

Experts say, the rising number of people choosing to remain single shows that the role marriage plays in people's life is changing. Photos: IC, Li Hao/GT

An active choice

Gao admits that living alone sometimes entails stress and fatigue. She has shed tears more than once, she said. For example, when having a hard time dealing with real estate agents or once when she was in the middle of a shower and the electricity ran out.

However, she said that the difficulties were only occasional and there was no way she would give up the great pleasure and freedom of living alone.

Apart from work, she has all her time practically to herself. The interest groups she takes part in and the classic or popular books she finishes reading every two weeks make her feel as if she is progressing on the path of self-improvement and spiritual growth.

"That great sense of achievement could not be brought by even 100 dates," she said. "I would never have been able to accomplish all that if I had married and needed to distribute a great amount of time to a family."

She added that another plus was that there was no need for her to make any changes to her lifestyle or adjust for another person. For instance, she could stay up late whenever she wanted.

She found that not getting married and living alone also benefited her professionally. Unlike many of her female colleagues who were terribly busy taking care of their families and quite often had trouble focusing at work, she is more attentive and efficient and completes her task on time, for which she is continuously promoted.

She said loneliness was not a big problem for her as phones and the Internet make it easier than ever to keep in touch with her parents and friends.

Not only for singles

The "single lifestyle" is not only an option for singles. According to Zhang Yang, a 27-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing, it also works for people who are in a relationship.

Zhang and her 35-year-old boyfriend have been dating for more than two years, and she does not plan to marry or move in with him.

She and her boyfriend do not see the point of getting married. "We do not need a marriage certificate to prove our love or commitment," she said. "Besides, it cannot guarantee that we would remain loyal to each other forever."

Another reason she said no to marriage is that she believes there would be no difference between her and an unpaid laborer who has to take care of all the family chores. By not getting married, she could completely immerse herself in romance without worrying about how to be a good wife and mother.

She added that marriage would involve two families, including parents and relatives, and could make things complicated and less romantic, while dating was largely between her and her boyfriend.

"For example, if his family does not like me, I would feel very stressed," she said. "Also, if things get bad, breaking up is much easier than getting a divorce."

She said a few of her friends who were in a happy relationship with their partners were also very reluctant to get married for similar reasons.

"They told me that marriage, unlike love, was not essential to their happiness; I feel the same way," she said.

The other side of the coin

Zhang conceded that choosing not to marry was not 100 percent perfect. Although her life choice does not bother her in Beijing, where different lifestyles are tolerated, family reunions in her hometown in a small city in Liaoning Province put a strain on her nerves.

She gets anxious every year before Spring Festival because her parents would go over the same old routine of reminding her of her age, asking when she will marry and complaining that she is not being a good daughter after getting a vague response.

A few relatives and neighbors even use her as a bad example when trying to convince their children to marry early.

"Hearing them talk about me puts pressure on my parents," she said. "I could not help thinking that I was responsible for that; I felt very guilty."

She takes comfort from her boyfriend's experience with his parents when he turned 30. He told her that her burden of guilt would be lifted as she gets older because her parents would probably start to believe that she could live well by herself, and they would be more concerned with their own health as they age.

Gao had a similar experience with her family, except that she was interrogated about when she would get a boyfriend. She added that besides family and neighbors, the society also exerts pressure, although less severe.

She said that living the single life had become a contradiction in China. While a number of people glamorize the solitary life, claiming that one could live better being single, there is no denying that single men and women are often labeled as "single dogs" and "leftover women."

She said the terms are even used by singles themselves, often as harmless jokes. But she thinks that deep down they mock themselves because they are embarrassed.

"That was the case for me, and I don't think I was the only one," she said.

Changed understanding

Beijing-based sociologist Christina Fan said that more people in China are choosing to live alone and not get married. She attributes the trend mainly to people's changed understanding of marriage.

She said that the concept of marriage or family used to be closely associated with carrying on the family line and economic stability, especially when most women had not achieved economic independence and had to rely on marriage to support themselves.

However, in recent times, marriage is largely based on romantic feelings, so many people are unwilling to step into marriage unless they have found the one, which could be difficult and even unattainable for some.

She noted that some people are horrified at the increasing divorce rates and have lost their belief in marriage, which to them, has come to represent suffering brought by quarrels, fights and even betrayals.

"Many people now regard marriage as more of a burden. They would prefer to remain unmarried rather than marrying and then divorcing," said Fan.

She added that nowadays more women are financially independent, which makes it easier for them to skip marriage and live alone. "Marriage is no longer a must; it's an option," she said.

Gao said the fundamental reason she has not married and leads a solitary life might be that she had not met the one, but she was neither worried nor desperate.

"Until then, I will happily enjoy my life alone. If I can't have that, I will stay single my whole life," she said. "I see no reason to make do and rush into marriage. For me, being alone is not equal to being lonely."

Newspaper headline: Single and lovin’ it!


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