Altered Perception 

I recently said goodbye to a friend who’s moving to New York. I won’t get started about how all my friends keep moving away—that’s a different column—but I started thinking about all the ways that 1,100 miles are going to change her life.

There’s the cost-of-living difference, the crazy real-estate values, and how she’ll be selling her car and riding the subway or taking cabs. Cabs! I mean I see them drive by sometimes, but I’ve never actually seen anyone here in the process of hailing one.

But maybe it’s not as different as I think.

A few weeks ago, I said to her, “You’re going to have so much fun. There will be lots of single people for you to hang out with.”

You see my friend is in her late 20s—as, to be fair, am I—and she’s never been married. Assuming that the South is a little more matrimonially inclined, I thought New York would be a good place for her.

And then, on a lark, I checked the stats from the latest census data. According to those numbers, there are roughly 179,000 people in Memphis (over 15 years of age) who have never been married. In New York, there are 2.4 million people in the same category.

In the Big Apple, that’s 37 percent of the population. In the Bluff City, it’s 36 percent of the population. New York might be a bigger pond, but the number of fish in the sea is almost statistically equivalent. Which pretty much blows the theory that Southerners couple up sooner and more often.

In fact, it may be time to forget the idea that the nation is culturally divided along the Mason-Dixon Line. I have to confess: I didn’t go to the Southern Women’s Show a few weeks ago or maybe I’d understand what Richard Simmons and a doggie fashion show—two of the events—have to do with being a Southern woman. Maybe the entire idea of regionalism is more antiquated and less authentic than we think.

During the last presidential election, we divided states into “red” and “blue,” and in some ways, it worked out regionally. However The Stranger, a Seattle weekly, printed an interesting idea after the election: The most important factor politically wasn’t geography but urbanism. Red states typically are more rural, where voters tend to go for the GOP, while blue states have large urban centers with more Democratic voters. Think about the heartland state of Illinois—mostly red, but it’s blue at the top where Chicago sits, and it’s blue enough population-wise to color the entire state.

Have we become a nation culturally divided into country and city mice? People more comfortable around skyscrapers against those more comfortable under open sky? People who shop at Target versus those who shop at Wal-Mart?

In Dallas, a city of 1,188,580, the percent of people who have never been married is a little higher than 34 percent. In Chicago, that number is about 41 percent.

Compare those numbers to those of the sleepy burgs of Joliet, Illinois (population 106,221) or Abilene, Texas (115,930) or North Tonawanda, New York (33,262), or our own neighbor Fayette County (32,289). In these pastoral places, roughly 28 percent, 26 percent, and 24 percent of the population has never been married.

This is only an idea and certainly not a scientific analysis. I’ve simply picked places I’ve been or lived. But if marriage is a significant cultural institution, it’s worth noting how the percentage of “I do’s” differs.

Does the metropolitan marriage divide correlate to other cultural aspects? And where do the suburbs fit in? Could we split ourselves into “Urban cowboys,” “Burbers,” and “Bumpkins”? I don’t know but it would certainly explain the whole city-versus-county thing.


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