Bridget is back, and she could not have returned at a better time. The character who once spoke to a generation about the joy of friends, Chardonnay and splashing about in the dating pool has returned to where she started: a column in The Independent.
A decade has passed, however, and Bridget Jones is now past 40 - like the many women whose thoughts, aspirations and fantasies she seemed to be able to express. She is still single and still childless - a prospect that would have horrified the young woman invented by Helen Fielding 10 years ago and who became hugely popular in books and films (played by Renée Zellweger, below). But Britain has changed, and Bridget is no longer so alone. Singletons, as she would call them, now make up 48 per cent of the population, and the figure is rising. Single people are not seen as sad any more - they're more likely than the "smug marrieds" to be happy and successful, according to a survey published last week.
Of 1,000 men and women questioned to mark National Singles Week, which begins tomorrow, 82 per cent said being single gave them the chance for new experiences. A similar percentage said their career was more important to them than to their married or cohabiting friends. Free of the shackles of a relationship, or even a joint mortgage, they thought they could work, play and holiday as they liked.
"We resist the tyranny of coupledom because we would prefer to be open to the possibilities that life has to offer than be in an unsatisfying relationship," says Sacha Cagen, who is so proud of her single state she coined a term that defined its advocates - Quirky-alones - and wrote a book of that title. "We are the puzzle pieces who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces. Romantics, idealists, eccentrics - we inhabit singledom as our natural resting state."
The benefits of being single are, Ms Cagen says, obvious. Paul Armstrong, a careers adviser, agrees: "Single people are more flexible and able to make career-change decisions. There is a myth that single people are flighty." They are actually less inclined than married people to take stupid chances with their money, he says, because nobody else is going to share the cost of a mistake.
The pro-singles evangelists such as Mr Armstrong made their cases to support the survey last week just as Bridget Jones was returning to The Independent. Helen Fielding's new column found her weighing 9st 4lb (a crisis a decade ago, but not so v bad now) and still on the fags (still bad).
She was also plagued by visions of a terrorist-driven apocalypse, fretting about not having had a baby, and back in bed with the "man-whore" Daniel Cleaver.
Perhaps Cleaver is just like the one in seven of our single men who is riddled with anxiety, according to another survey published last week. Or maybe he had read the report announcing that single people will spend £266,000 more on living costs than marrieds over their lifetimes.
The reasons for that discrepancy are many, says Paul Samrah, a financial expert with accountants Kingston Smith. "There is the straightforward lack of an additional income, and the economies of scale that you just don't get when you're not in a couple."
There are also tax breaks that unmarrieds can't have, no widow's pension and the inequities of inheritance tax. And that's not even counting the wedding presents.
Mr Samrah has contributed to a guide to single living published by the travel company Solo's Holidays. The firm specialises in breaks for singletons, says its managing director, Gill Harvey, because although 89 per cent of people insist that travelling alone boosts their confidence, "... 65 per cent are frightened of going on their own".
That's to be expected. "It is the difference between theory and practice," says Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. "The most important thing to remember is that you can't have a good relationship with anyone unless you can live alone."
Eileen Baines, a lifecoach and management trainer from Preston, is roughly the same age as the new Bridget. She was single for six years, and very good at it. "I was immersed in work, family and friends. I was fine at dealing with the practicalities - bills, property and so on - but I discovered that I didn't like being alone at certain times, such as my birthday. Sunday mornings in bed with the newspaper doesn't have the same shine on your own."
So she signed up with a dating agency, www.match.com, and met Peter Sutton, a company director. They are now engaged. "It's not that I was unhappy before," says Ms Baines, "it's just that, for me, life is so much better as part of a couple."
The world divides into people who are socially dependent and people who are socially independent, Phillip Hodson says. "What is your worst nightmare? Is it being on your own, or being surrounded by people you can't get rid of?"
That's a debate Bridget Jones looks like having with herself for a long time to come. Find your own answer with the quiz on the right.
The joy of being single
Bianca Drakes, 32, an actress and model from Enfield, north London, is a committed singleton.
"I've been single for about 18 months, and I love my life this way. I have no interest in settling down right now, because I find the single lifestyle much more fulfilling. I'm so used to my own space I don't know how I'd manage with someone else's domestic stuff and demands.
"I have been in long-term relationships but I've never moved in with a man full-time. I know I would have to make compromises about my personal freedoms, and right now I'm not prepared to do that. A lot of guys love how you are when you first meet, but further down the line they try to change and control you.
"There's also an issue of trust - I like to be quite spontaneous. I took off to LA recently on the spur of the moment, and then spent a weekend shopping in Barcelona. I often have to go and meet producers and directors at short notice, but a lot of men want to know where you are all the time. I need that freedom, and having a partner could hold me back.
"I've always managed my own money and made my own decisions and I think I'd have to meet someone pretty special to want to share that side of things with them. Maybe I'd be financially better off in a couple, but I'd rather have control of my own life.
"I do have my occasional lonely moments, mostly when I see couples with their children, laughing and smiling. I imagine I will settle down one day, but I won't settle for second best, and I certainly don't envy the 'smug marrieds'. I'm having far too much fun for that. I have a lot of friends and there's always someone to call on.
Men approach me, but on the whole I don't miss sex. I know it's there on a plate if I want it, but I'm not interested in casual sex; there has to be something more meaningful.
The quiz: Should you go solo?
Do you pine for your partner when they pop to the shops? Are you too busy having fun to get caught up in a couple? Or are you just happiest when home alone? Take your pick here, and find out
Who do you spend the most time talking to?
a) My spouse, soulmate, love of my life, fire of my heart.
b) My best friends, colleagues, blokes in pubs, members of local book group, salsa dancing class, soup kitchen volunteer group and Armenian all-naked paragliding society, mostly.
c) The wall.
Where do you meet your friends?
a) We hold dinner parties for the parents of the other children at the Montessori nursery.
b) I don't have time to see all my friends.
c) Dr Who chat rooms.
Who pays the bills?
a) My partner and I share them out over home-baked flapjacks, equally and on a strict rota after the children have been put to bed and the washing-up jointly polished off.
b) I pay them all, and the 25 per cent single person's council tax discount comes in most handy, thank you very much.
c) Bank of Mum and Dad.
What's your idea of a good evening in?
a) Spending some time together to talk about where our relationship is going.
b) Baywatch, Bacardi Breezers and bitching with my friends.
c) A low-fat yoghurt and Alanis Morissette on a loop.
Where do you go on holiday?
a) To a child-friendly Italian villa complex with our parents or other couples from university.
b) Anywhere I like, when I like, and the only baggage I take with me is the kind containing a tiny swimsuit and a hundredweight of condoms.
c) I haven't really felt like it since that embarrassing incident at Cub camp.
How do you unwind?
a) Come home for a cuddle and an improving documentary on BBC4.
b) Go out with friends and get completely plastered.
You think Bridget Jones is...
a) Like all single women in their 30s or 40s, under her clothes, covered in scales.
b) Better off without that loser Mark Darcy.
c) A friend of my parents who occasionally stops by to take me out for a small sherry and a chat.
What's your favourite reading matter?
a) Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby Book.
b) Belle de Jour's Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.
c) The Croydon Courier's lonely hearts ads.
a) Something you remember fondly.
b) Every woman's right.
c) As Woody Allen said, "Don't knock [masturbation]: it's sex with someone you love."
You're happy enough, but do you remember the last time you saw anyone but your partner? Single people are not infectious, you know.
Single life suits you - but admit it, you'll do anything to avoid your empty flat. Are you the girl from the Labrini adverts?
Ever considered getting a cat?
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