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Today, she says, “I am unmarried, unattached, and have no partner.” Still, she says, friends take umbrage when Ms.

Dublin calls herself a single mom, since her ex-husband also cares for their sons.

But this seemingly simple demographic explanation belies a huge shift in culture.While openly living with a partner outside of marriage would have been taboo – especially a same-sex partner, as in Wright’s case (not to mention a family such as Ryan’s) – today it is almost expected.The social penalties for sexual relationships outside of marriage have disintegrated, says Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.Hugh Ryan is considered single, as well, even though he lives with two other men in New York, and the three consider themselves a family. Once you recognize that the two-parent, two-kid family that married at 22 and are together till the end of their lives is a rarity these days, everything else seems less unusual.”Denison, for her part, describes herself as “single – sort of.” She has been in a number of relationships since she moved to Boston, some long term, some decidedly short. Two generations ago, this would have been highly atypical.(They recently bought a house in Brooklyn together.)“We have the same stupid fights and the same wonderful stuff as in any relationship,” Mr. A female college graduate getting an apartment on her own would have been seen as indecorous.Last year, for the first time, the number of unmarried American adults outnumbered those who were married.One in 7 lives alone – about 31 million compared with 4 million in 1950 – and many of those are clustered in urban centers.“It’s just the opposite of the stereotype.”Quite often, she says, single people realize that they enjoy living without a spouse.“People used to think of single life as where you mark time until you get married,” she says. It’s the real thing.”• • • But the definition of “single” is a bit vague. And that leaves plenty of room for different family structures. So is Sarah Wright, the board chair of a singles’ advocacy group called Unmarried Equality, who lives with a longtime partner.“I do not describe myself as ‘single’ because I’m not,” Ms. “I am coupled.” When she gets government forms asking for her marital status, she crosses off all the responses and writes in “none.”Tara Dublin of Portland, Ore., is officially single, even though she was married for years.And although single women like Denison – educated, urban, and leading a full life – are often portrayed as the poster children of this new nonmarital world order (think “Sex and the City” and writer Kate Bolick’s new book, “Spinster”), the reality is far more complex.The way Americans now couple – or don’t – offers insight into not only evolving views of marriage and family, but into the country’s growing economic, racial, and geographic divides.

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