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Women who have chosen the single life sometimes have their own qualms. Singlehood does not yield itself to a simple, blithe embrace. It's complicated, messy terrain because not needing a man is not the same as not wanting one. For all the laughs on Sex and the City, one can feel the ache that comes when yet another episode ends with the heart still a lonely hunter. And if you think being a single woman is all fun and games, just listen to star Parker, who is married to actor Matthew Broderick. Even as she's become a mascot for the feisty new single woman, Parker says she often stands on the set in her spike Jimmy Choo open-toes and see-through shirts, worried that she isn't being a good traditional wife. "I know he doesn't have his laundry done, that he hasn't had a hot meal in days," she says of her husband. "That stuff weighs on my mind." Parker regales single friends with tales of how boring married life is and how much luckier they are to have freedom and fun. Does she really believe it? "Well, no," she admits. "It's just a fun thing to say to make single people feel better."
Even women who generally reflect on their choices with assurance find themselves sometimes in the valley of what-ifs: What if I made the wrong choice to walk away? What if singlehood turns out to be not a temporary choice but an enforced state? "My sister knows that I'm good for a call every couple of months just crying, 'What's wrong with me?'" says Henneberry. "I'm not willing to accept someone who's going to make me unhappy. But there are days when I have a physical need to go to sleep and wake up with someone there." Mary Mayotte, 49, has a successful bicoastal career as a public-speaking coach. But she admits the occasional pang of regret. "There was a point where I had men coming out of my ears," she says. "I don't think I was so nice to some of them. Every now and then I wonder if God is punishing me. Sometimes I look back and say, 'I wish I had made a different decision there.'"
Some feel women are on an impossible search for the perfect man, the one who not only makes you feel, as Julia Roberts said of meeting Benjamin Bratt, "hit in the head with a bat," but also better for it. "Marriage is not what it used to be, getting stability or economic help," says the National Marriage Project's Whitehead. "Marriage has become this spiritualized thing, with labels like 'best friend' and 'soul mate'" Some sociologists say these lofty standards make sense at a time when the high divorce rate hisses in the background like Darth Vader. But others suggest the marriage pendulum has swung from the hollowly pragmatic to an unhealthy romantic ideal.
Michael Broder, a Philadelphia psychotherapist and author of The Art of Living Single, decries what he calls the "perfect-person problem," in which women refuse to engage unless they're immediately taken with a man, failing to give a relationship a chance to develop. "Few women can't tell you about someone they turned down, and I'm not talking about some grotesque monster," he says. "But there's the idea that there has to be this great degree of passion to get involved, which isn't always functional. So you have people saying things like, 'If I can't have my soul mate, I'd rather be alone.' And after that, I say, 'Well, you got your second choice.'"