On October 3rd, around 3,000 revellers will descend on the small town of Strängnas in central Sweden for Sweden's Biggest Singles Party. Looking for a future partner is only a small part of the proceedings; this is more celebration of the single life.
Party organizer Maria Kjell is 44-years-old. Married. Mother of three. Divorced. Today she calls herself a ‘professional single'.
“I enjoy being free,” she says.
“I can go wherever I want and do whatever I choose – I don't have to ask anybody. If I'm in a relationship and it's not really good I always feel bad when I do things for myself.”
She's part of a growing army of happy-to-be single Swedes, spreading the word among the ranks of the lonely hearts.
“Some people are ashamed to be single and can't enjoy it because they are bitter, sad and stuck in a period of suffering,” Maria adds.
“There are those who have been married for 20-something years who have only had a social life with couples. When they become single, they don't get invited out anymore.”
And so the idea to create a big bash was born.
“It's a party with our permissions,” she says.
Thirteen buses from cities and towns in the surrounding area have been organized, taking party-goers to and from the venue. It's an all-day event with activities including golf, salsa dancing, wine-tasting, massage, a course on getting the most out of internet dating, and a club evening complete with disco bands – and a probable portion of flirting to boot.
Studies suggest Sweden has long-had a higher divorce rate in comparison with other countries. In the book “Swedish Mentality” (1996) ethnologist Åke Daun writes:
“Couple may break up their marriages or partnerships in order to achieve independence, and perhaps the high frequency of divorce in Sweden has some connection with such a goal.”
The divorce rate in Sweden has been rising significantly since the 1960s. According to figures from Statistics Sweden, there were 50, 149 marriages and 9,563 divorces in 1960. In 2008, there were 50,332 marriages and 21, 337 divorces. If the trend continues around 45 percent of marriages today will end before death does them part.
“Independence as a contributing factor (to divorce) is hypothetical – difficult to test empirically. Nevertheless, one can say that independence, ‘to be able to be one's own person,' is viewed especially positively in the Swedish culture.”
Maria Kjell admits the Swedish system makes for an easier single life for parents.
”You share the responsibility of looking after the children one week at a time,” she says.
“So whilst I can really enjoy my motherhood, I can also enjoy my single life. And at work, many people can pick their kids up at 3pm one week and work late the next. So it does make you spoiled.”
But not all singles are either a) woman or b) have gone through the big D.
Johan Landgren is a 34-year-old Stockholmer has been single for three years with no previous marriage nor kids in tow.
“Young people want to explore life more before committing to a relationship today,” he says.
“It's not the same as it was 20 years ago. I'm more relaxed about being single and enjoy it - I don't think love will come when you are desperately looking for it or going on 1000 dates a week.”
Landgren is co-founder of www.shakemyworld.com - an internet-dating site that challenges the match-making norm. It's about getting singles off their lonesome sofas to network and enjoy activities together – inspiring a fun way to make the most of it together.
“There are single people out there, it's just knowing where to look,” he says.
“Take Stockholm – it has the highest percentage of singles per capita of any other city in the world.”
Single is fast becoming a lifestyle choice and a growing target group for marketers.
Internet-dating is somewhat passé when you consider sites like www.singelisverige.se - a group campaigning for single people's rights.
But for others the word ‘single' simply doesn't suit. If the Swedish word sambo means to live together without being married and särbo means being in relationship without living together, you can add the term självbo to the list, meaning ‘to live with oneself'.
The phrase was coined by Kicki Biärsjö, author of ‘Från Singel till Självbo: Konsten att trivas i sitt eget sällskap' (‘From Single to Självbo: The art of being happy in your own company').
Biärsjö is one of the 80 percent of residents on the Stockholm island of Södermalm who live independently.
“I'm not comfortable with the word single,” she says.
“To me it has negative connotations; if you're single people ask you when you are going to meet someone.”
The journalist and life coach wrote the book to inspire others to live, like her, alone and in harmony with it.
“You need to work with yourself because it's still not okay to be on your own according to society,” she says.
“It remains the norm to get married and have a family but I can see that changing in the future.”
Sweden's Biggest Singles Party on October 3rd is a first-date fling with an idea Maria Kjell wants to develop long-term.
Having already been contacted by a venue in Stockholm she hopes other towns and cities will flirt with the idea of hosting the event.