Lately I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman in 2015. It’s not just because it’s Women’s History Month again, or because I’m going through The Change. It’s not just because of experiences like I had last week where, as I wrote to one friend:
It’s moments like these when I’m in a suit and shiny blouse typing away on my laptop on the Internet … while hurtling through the air… (alone and unaccompanied….!!)…looking down at all the city lights below I think….. DAMN I’M RICH! …. and HOLY SH** CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE HOW THIS WHOLE SCENARIO WOULD BLOW SOME 19TH CENTURY PIONEER WOMAN’S MIND!!???
I never cease to be amazed by how far we’ve come, and by how many aspects of my life as a woman that were unbelievably radical notions just a few decades ago (living alone, owning a home, running a business) are becoming common and normal. Even childfree women like me are increasingly legitimized, even marketed to.
It’s inspiring and humbling.
But there’s one feature of my life that not only doesn’t inspire me, it makes me sad, frustrated and confused: the difficulty finding a fantastic man to share my life with. I’m not alone – many of my closest friends and business associates are also single, not necessarily by choice. I’m even seeing more dating services designed specifically for “six figure women” who are attractive, successful and independent – yet struggling to find a quality mate.
What’s going on?
In March 2014 I wrote that one of the last bastions of sexism we have yet to master/mistress as women is “being in juicy, fulfilling, joyful love relationships with men who are our equals”. I asked “What internalized oppression and deep beliefs of inferiority or scarcity have we inherited from our mothers that we tolerate less than mediocrity in this one area of life?”
An answer: more and more of us are less likely to tolerate such mediocrity – because we no longer have to. A year ago I touted my then-relationship as an example of a juicy, fulfilling, joyful relationship with an equal, but the following months proved me wrong. I wanted better than mediocre in a couple areas important to me and said so, and he couldn’t go there. So it ended.
I think the difficulty many fabulous women have in finding a suitable long-term mate is a good thing, because it demonstrates positive change. Healthy, happy partnerships (by today’s standards) have always been the minority. Perhaps too there has always been a scarcity of truly high quality people – men and women alike. What’s different now is that women no longer have to be in – or stay in – a relationship with a man that doesn’t work for us. Middle class USian women are no longer dependent on men for economic stability, a last name, an acceptable social standing, to legitimize our children, or to even raise children at all.
There is a downside. Because it’s easier to leave, many of us leave too soon or too often. True intimacy and commitment take time, stamina and courage. Divorce and breakups are painful and devastating to the former partners, their extended communities, and any children. But I would argue that devastation is no less than that suffered by those of us who grew up in households run by angry, depressed, addicted or emotionally stunted parents in toxic or deeply mismatched relationships that insisted on staying together.
The upside to (cause of?) a dearth of adequate partner prospects is today women can afford to be more choosy. We’ve raised the bar. We don’t just need a partner who is responsible, kind, generous and honorable (although I do find many modern women eschew some of these essential basic traits in favor of trivialities like specific physical appearance, income level or interests!). We need a partner who supports us emotionally, listens, expands our world, protects and champions us, makes us better people and is our best friend. This is a tall order for most men, because the “us” that now needs and wants these things is more evolved than women of previous eras. It’s difficult and confusing for men, because the rules and the world changed around them. Relationships are no longer basic economic transactions of resources for monogamous sex and heirs. Too many good men out there are lost, unsure of how to manifest their beautiful masculinity, resorting to one side of the duality of sweet doormat or macho asshole.
Women are looking for our equals and they’re not to be found – yet. Perhaps we Generation X women are a lost generation. The triumphs of our great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers in the 20s, 40s and 60s reverberate throughout our lives today. And yet it might take one or two more generations for men to catch up. It might take more initiatives like The Good Men Project. Maybe we Gen X women are meant to explore being single and living alone in service of women’s evolution. I hope not, but perhaps. As they say in México mejor sola que mal acompañada – better to be alone than poorly accompanied (by a man).
Meanwhile, as Liz Gilbert points out with her usual grace and frankness, women need to lighten up on ourselves, especially since we’re forging a totally new path:
We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we each race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep.
So are the rewards. I’m happy being a single childfree woman in my 40s. I’m happier this way than when I’m in an unsatisfying relationship, and I feel strong and calm in this knowing. I refuse to adopt well-intended advice that I be “less _____” to avoid scaring potential suitors. I just don’t have the energy nor the desire to self manage that much, and a man who’s scared by the full, authentic me isn’t for me. I can imagine the joy, challenge and deep fulfillment of being in relationship with a beloved who is my equal in all ways that matter. I’m deeply excited about those possibilities and about the fact that, if necessary, I can live just fine without him.
I hold a space for possibilities for women past, present and future. I hold a space for joy, success and fulfillment in all areas of our lives. Perhaps we Gen X women aren’t a lost generation, but a bridge generation – to something we’ve never experienced before and may never see ourselves. And yet how exhilarating to be a part of something so grand and noble – so much larger than ourselves, and larger than this one point in time.