Unmarried America II
Bill Long 11/14/06
Reasons for a National Malaise
2. (continued). As I said in the previous essay, girls are on fire when it comes to performing well in college and graduate school. And the commitment continues into the work force. Young women put heart and soul into developing a career, in order to establish themselves not simply as competent in what they do but as stars in their respective fields. But the upshot of all this is that they marry later, if at all, and thus contribute significantly to the number of unmarried American adults.
I think the root reason for why girls/young women are trying so hard to make it in this generation probably has a complex origin but a lot has to do with wanting to please people in authority--from senior men to older brothers to parents in general. We certainly are blessed in our society by having a generation of extremely well-trained and committed women, but it puts additional strains on relationships when women feel they not only have to make things work on the job but also be responsible for making relationships work. Then Georgia O'Keeffe's words begin to ring true: "I have time in life for my work. I have time in life for a man. But I don't have time in life for both."
3. Women Who Have Been Burned
While the younger women are fully committed to learning how things "work" out there, and thus are delaying or even passing up marriage, older women are not re-marrying with the eagerness of a decade ago. Why not? Well, on the one hand women argue that there just aren't many good men around. Who am I to quarrel with that one? But I think there is another something that is happening. That is that older women have been caught in a bind that is different, but no less deadly, than their younger colleagues. They came of age during the first generation of the feminist movement, even if many of their values were shaped by the 1950s and 1960s, before the movement got off the ground. As such they often made unwise decisions about men, dropped out of school before they should have done so, became dependent on the largesse of a man who often, because of his own quest for autonomy, began to question whether the relationship was really something valuable, and then, in many instances, the women got dumped unceremoniously. The result is a generation of women who don't dislike men but have experienced more than their share of male inconsistency and even abuse. Thus, they are not "lining up" to try to get into a permanent relationship with a man. There are too many other things in life to enjoy, and a man might just not be one of them. There is a degree to pursue, travelling to do, friends to cultivate, skiills to learn, and generally a lot of other ways in which to develop the mind and heart. Most women wouldn't mind if a man accompanied them through this journey of discovery in which they now engage, but this time around the man will do it on the woman's terms. Well, that might be slightly overstated This time around the woman is committed not to giving up her choice and freedom for the sake of a man. Thus, the older woman is much more wary and even skeptical that a marriage relationship holds out promise for happiness for them.
4. The Reality About Men--Still Wanting it All
Though some men certainly look for a lasting relationship as something very desirable in life, many men fear these relationships, feel unworthy of the women who are now overachieving and perhaps even outperforming them in the work sphere and wonder if a relationship is a wise thing for them. And even though women have different realities for themselves now than they did even 20 years ago, the guys still generally want things to be the same as they were when their moms took care of them. That is, guys in general seem to want to be cared for. This means that the woman would have to do most of the work in order to make things work in the home and the relationship. But she already is working overtime in trying to be perfect on the job. Thus, the guy's expectation that she continue to "perform" like a traditional wife tends to make relationships ultimately unbearable. Certainly the man and woman can try to "talk it out," and even work out some agreeable compromises. But guys have not yet evolved to the point where they (we) in general know how to apportion our efforts to affirm both ourselves and our women.
A particularly sad instance of this was in the film So Much So Fast, reviewed here. The brother of a Lou Gehrig's disease sufferer devoted all his time to his brother's cure. The wife of the committed brother was interviewed on tape: 'all we women need is about 30 minutes of a man's time per day....' But then, shortly thereafter, they got a divorce because the brother, perhaps wracked by guilt or a sense of needing to do whatever was humanly possible to help his brother, could not even give cute wife enough to keep her interested in him. Another marriage bites the dust.
I certainly don't believe that relationships are doomed to fail or cannot work. But, because of the dominant philosophy of our day they are much more difficult to pull off. Couples that want them to work have to realize that they need to spend lots of time working on philosophy as well as specific problems that arise. But we aren't sure in our society at this point whether these permanent relationships are "worth it." Don't expect clarity to emerge any time soon...
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long