Thursday, June 4, 2009

Is Independence All It's Cracked Up to Be?

When I said that I had some interesting reading on women and marriage to share I was serious. I'm starting with the mild books for you, my readers. :) I'm sharing the following quote, well, because it so well sums up what I see happening all around me. Agree or disagree, discussion is a good thing! :)

From Danielle Crittenden's book, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Evades the Modern Woman," Chapter Two, "About Love"...

Our grandmothers, we are told, took husbands the way we might choose our first apartment. There was a scheduled viewing, a quick turn about the interior, a glance inside the closets, a nervous intake of breath as one read the terms of the lease, and then the signing - or not. You either felt a man's charms right away or you didn't. If you didn't, you entertained a few more prospects until you found one who better suited you. If you loved him, really loved him, all the better. But you also expected to make compromises: The view may not be great, but it's sunny and spacious (translation: he's not that handsome, but he's sweet natured and will be a good provider). Whether you accepted or rejected him, however, you didn't dawdle. My late mother-in-law, who married at twenty, told me that in her college circles in the mid-1950s, a man who took a woman out for more than three dates without intending marriage was considered a cad. Today, the man who considered marriage so rashly would be thought a fool. Likewise, a woman.

Instead, like lords and sailors of yore, a young woman is encouraged to embark upon the world, seek her fortune and sow her oats, and only much later - closer to thirty than twenty - consider the possibility of settling down. Even the religious conservatives, who disapprove of sex outside of marriage, accept the now-common wisdom that it is better to put off marriage than to do it too early...
In 1965, nearly 90 percent of womena aged twenty-five to twenty-nine were married; by 1996, only 56 percent of women in this age group were, according to the Population Reference Bureau in its 1996 survey, "The United States at Mid-Decade." Indeed, the more educated and ambitious a woman is the more likely she is to delay marriage and children, the Census Bureau reports. And if she doesn't - if such a young woman decides to get married, say, before she is twenty-five - she risks being regarded by her friends as a tragic figure, spoken of the way wartime generations once mourned the young men killed in battle: "How unfortunate, with all that promise, to be cut down so early in life!"

.... In this sense, we lead lives that are exactly the inverse of our grandmothers'. If previous generations of women were raised to believe that they could only realize themselves within the roles of wife and mother, now the opposite is thought true: It's only outside these roles that we are able to realize our full potential and worth as human beings. A twenty-year-old bride is considered as pitiable as a thirty-year-old spinster used to be. Once a husband and children were thought to be essential to a woman's identity, the sources of purpose in her life; today, they are seen as peripherals, accessories that we attach only after our full identities are up and running.... Not until we've reached full maturity - towards the close of our third decade of life - is it considered safe for a woman to take on the added responsibility of marriage and family without having to pay the price her grandmother did for domestic security, by surrendering her dreams to soap powders, screaming infants, and frying pans.

.... But there is a price to be paid for postponing commitment, too... It is a price that is rarely stated honestly, not the least because the women who are paying it don't realize how onerous it will be until it's too late.

.... the truth is, once you have ceased being single, you suddenly discover that all that energy you spent propelling yourself toward an independent existence was only going to be useful if you were planning to spend the rest of your life s a nun or a philosopher on a mountaintop or maybe a Hollywood-style adventuress, who winds up starting into her empty bourbon glass forty years later wondering if it was all **** worth it. In preparation for a life spent with someone else, however, it was not going to be helpful.

And this is the revelation that greats the woman who has made almost a religion out of her personal autonomy. She finds out, on the cusp of thirty, that independence is not all it's cracked up to be.

.... Unfortunately, this is a bit of wisdom that almost always arrives too late. The drawbacks of the independent life, which dawned on Roiphe [author of the Esquire article: "The Independent Woman (and Other Lies)"] in her late twenties, are not so readily apparent to a woman in her early twenties. And how can they be? When a woman in young and reasonably attractive, men will pass through her life with the regularity of subway trains; even when the platform is empty, she'll expect another to be coming along soon. No woman in her right mind would want to commit herself to marriage so early. Time stretches luxuriously out before her. Her body is still silent on the question of children. She'll be aware, too, of the risk of divorce today, and may tell herself how important is is to be exposed to a wide variety of men before deciding upon just one. When dating a man, she'll be constantly alert to the possibilities of others. Even if she falls in love with someone, she may ultimately put him off because she feels "too young" for anything "serious." Mentally, she has postponed all of these critical questions to some arbitrary, older age.

But if a woman remains single until her age creeps up past thirty, she may find herself tapping at her watch and starting down the now mysteriously empty tunnel, wondering if there hasn't been a derailment or accident somewhere along the line. When a train does finally pull in, it is filled with misfits and crazy men - like a New York City subway car after hours: immature, elusive Peter Pans who won't commit themselves to a second cup of coffee, let alone a second date; neurotic bachelors with strange habits; sexual predators who hit on every woman they meet; newly divorced men taking pleasure wherever they can; embittered, scored men who still feel vengeful toward their last girlfriend; men who are too preoccupied with their careers to think about anyone else from one week to the next; men who are simply too weak, too odd, to have attracted any woman's interest. The sensible, decent, not-bad-looking men a woman rejected at twenty-four because she wasn't ready to settle down all seem to have gotten off at other stations.

.... It's in the act of taking up the roles we've been taught to avoid or postpone - wife, husband, mother, father - that we build our identities, expand our lives, and achieve the fullness of character that we desire.

Still, critics may argue that the old way was no better; that the risk of loss women assume by delaying marriage and motherhood overbalances the certain loss we'd suffer by marrying too early. The habit of viewing marriage as a raw deal for women is now so entrenched, even among women who don't call themselves feminists, that I've seen brides who otherwise appear completely happy apologize to their wedding guests for their surrender to convention, as if a part of them still feels there is something embarrassing and weak about an intelligent and ambitious woman consenting to marry. But is this true? Or it is just an alibi we've been handed by the previous generation of women in order to justify the sad, lonely outcomes of so many lives?

What we rarely hear - or perhaps are too fearful to admit - is how liberating marriage can actually be. As nerve-racking as making the decision can be, it is also an enormous relief once it is made. The moment we say, "I do," we have answered one of the great, crucial questions of our lives: We now know with whom we will be spending the rest of our years, who will be the father of our children, who will be our family.

That our marriages may not work, that we will have to accommodate ourselves to the habits and personality of someone else - these are, and always have been, the risks of commitment, of love itself. What is important is that our lives have been thrust forward. The negative - that we are no longer able to live entirely for ourselves - is also the positive: We no longer have to live entirely for ourselves! We may go on to do any number of interesting things, but we are free of the gnawing wonder of with whom we will do them. We have ceased to look down the tunnel, waiting for the train.

.... The fear of losing oneself can, in the end, simply become an excuse for not giving any of oneself away. Generations of women may have had no choice but to commit themselves to marriage early and then to feel imprisoned by their lifelong domesticity. So many of our generation have decided to put it off until it is too late, not foreseeing that lifelong independence can be its own kind of prison, too.


Peachtree said...

I must say 'Amen' and 'Amen' again! Very true!

I can really relate to the feeling of relief, and of not needing to look down the tunnel anymore.

I remember thinking, before I met my husband-to-be, that life virtually ended at marriage. (Looking at it from the perspective of a great unknown,if I would even get married, and how it would go depended a lot on WHO I married.) So, at the thought of marriage, my imaginings/plannings were forced to stop. It was something bigger than I could dream.

But now, on this side of marriage, I look back and almost feel as if my life began after the wedding. New things to focus on, a totally different job description, new goals, new challenges, etc.

I think a lot of the feelings of being imprisoned come from a life that hasn't been yielded to God, whether married or not. Self service never satisfies.

My question is why are we Christians so quick to pick up these attitudes?

Keep posting Mary! I'm enjoying it! :)

Laurel said...

Great stuff, Mary! I'm glad you're posting these tidbits and I'm looking forward to what is to come.

Drebbel said...

I thought I might include stuff from the male perspective on things, caveat lector. I'll also try to be brief instead of making a big blog out of it. The grandmother view gets a bad rap. I know men are supposed to be this ideal Prince Charming, but if that were there case, then a celibate monk might not be a bad career for me. None of us are perfect, either as a prince or princess. But you should really think about what you want in a husband/wife. Be sure to prioritize things; what if this great guy turns out to be a Lutheran or a Methodist? Are you willing to follow wherever he leadeth? I know other things I valued in my wife is that I really enjoy being with her even when we are doing nothing. (One of the big problems with pre-marital intimacy is that it gives a false signal on how much you may actually like the opposite person.) Also, I would not have married her if I did not think she would be a good mother, since a family is an important (and soon to be existing) goal.

The other quick thing I wanted to add is how men often go about trying to get a lady. It’s a really tricky thing, because trying to figure out if someone likes you in return exposes part of the inner-self; something I think most people like to guard because it gives someone else the potential to hurt. So instead of being bold and “storming the castle,” I think most men will throw little “nuggets” out and see how the female reacts. These nuggets can be subtle things like trying to engage a conversation with you or making an effort to see you. The thing is that they are looking for nuggets in return to see if the opposite may be interested whatsoever. Now to complicate matters, nuggets can be difficult to discern, since a person may just genuinely be interested on a friendly level. And it might not do any good blatantly asking which type they are, since it could put a guy on the defensive (hence, deny the nuggets). So I guess if you think you’re getting a nugget, think about it and decide if you’d be at all interested in learning more about this person. Also, if you are interested in someone else, don’t be afraid to give a nugget of your own since a guy may have never considered the fact that you’d be interested in him.

And most importantly, pray about it. For myself, I prayed for God to whack me on the head with a 2x4 to make things painfully obvious for myself, since I am a complete klutz on dating. My wife could probably tell you many things to that effect. One other thing, once you decide to get married, don’t love the person because of the feelings, love him because you swore to God that you would in all circumstances till death.

jl said...
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jl said...

Obeying God's will in every area of your life, especially in the matter of marriage (who, when, ect.) is the most important thing! Furthermore, if God is silent on a matter, I believe that we, as Christians should change nothing about our current circumstances but to continue to seek His will until there is a definitely "yes" or "no." I am enjoying your blog, Mary! It is one of the few insightful, godly, well-writien ones I've run across!