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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.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.When Karin Denison was in her early 20s, it seemed that all her peers were coupling up and planning to live happily ever after.She spent the summers after college driving to friends’ weddings, she recalls.

College-educated singles are moving into old downtown buildings and spending money in revitalizing urban centers.

But as Klinenberg points out in his book “Going Solo,” cultural attitudes have changed.

Today, living on one’s own is a marker of adulthood.

“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.

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