As I told you a few days ago, I’ve been working hard, doing some editing, and catching up on some work (a LOT of work, it goes in phases, and sometimes I am swamped!!), and I took a break this week to have dinner with some young women I know, in their 30’s. I always find it interesting (and enjoyable too), to catch up on a particular group of people, or women, and to hear what their most prevalent concerns are, it kind of keeps me abreast of what’s happening in the world (my work/writing is very isolating, since I do it alone for weeks or months on end, alone in a quiet room). The young women I had dinner with were in their 30’s, from 30 to 39, and I have another good friend of my daughters’, also in her 30’s, whom I see frequently. None of these young women are married, and although some women still marry young, very few women in big sophisticated cities marry before their mid thirties these days, and some of them even later. They don’t feel ready, don’t want to, and are building their careers. Not everyone of course, but many. It’s very different than when I was young, when the pressure was on by 21 or 22, people got married the minute they graduated from college, if they went to college, earlier if not. And you weren’t ready to walk down the aisle as soon as you graduated, you were almost considered an old maid. Twenty-five was about the outer limit. If you married at 30, you were considered old (people wanted to finish having their kids by 30, nowadays they don’t even want to start having kids til their mid or late 30’s), and I had one sister in law who got married at 35, and had been considered almost beyond hope. She had 4 children in 4 years as soon as she did, and caught up. (I was early, because I had started everything early, went to college at 15, and got married at 18, that was considered young even then, but not as young as it would be considered today. I would have been horrified if any of my kids had married at 18).
And today, a lot has changed. Science has come up with a lot of ‘help’ to allow women to have babies well into their 40’s. That doesn’t always work, but often it does, and even women in their 50’s, with IVF, frozen eggs, donor eggs, and hormone treatments. But even without a lot of help, it’s common for women to have babies in their late 30’s and 40’s, so the biological clocks aren’t ticking as loudly. More women are deciding not to have children at all, which was covertly or overtly frowned on in earlier generations. Now some women just openly say and decide not to have kids. More women are serious about their careers now, and make big money, and they don’t want to give that up, or have a baby til they feel secure in their careers. People live together unmarried, which when I was young was considered shocking. Sex is freer—before my time but not that long ago, you almost had to be married to have sex. I’m sure single people had sex, but it was hidden, officially taboo, and high risk. Those risks have also been diminished. But today many couples live together unmarried for years before they get married, or decide not to marry at all. In France, for many years now, civil unions called “Paxing” have been as popular or more so than legal marriage (The current French president was paxed for many years, never married and had 4 kids, and is considered respectable). Women are a lot freer to make decisions now, with good jobs, and high incomes, in many cases higher than their mates’. So we all have a lot of freedom now, to have sex, not to marry, to live with a partner, and either have no kids or have them late. And I think all of those freedoms for women, have not only given men freedom, but scared a lot of them. There has been a ‘blurring’ of male and female roles. Before, the man was clearly the main, or only, breadwinner. They brought home the bacon, the woman took care of the kids. Simple equation. Now in some cases, the woman makes more money, and some men stay home and take care of the kids. If a man got transferred to another city, the woman followed without question. Now she may not want to give up her job, and it can create major problems about whose job is the most important. Or the woman with the bigger job may get transferred and he may have to follow, which could impact his career. With all of these new givens, relationships are not easy. The more choices you have, the tougher it gets. And men have freedom now too. Freedom not to marry at all, or to marry late, to live for years with a woman and not marry, and sometimes relationships run out of gas during the living together phase. And I think in many cases, men are scared, of commitment, and of being with women who make more money than they do. That can be a blow to a man’s ego, and a woman who makes more money than the man in her life has to handle it with great sensitivity, and not all women do. (It takes a very confident man not to be unnerved by a woman who makes more money than he does). Egos get bruised, and many women are no longer dependent on men financially, they don’t have to stay in bad marriages to get the rent paid, or stay with a bad guy because they have no job training or career. Those situations gave men a lot of license and power that many no longer have. And what do they say to their friends if they become a stay at home Dad? There has been a lot of role reversal in recent years. And in my opinion women’s lib didn’t do anyone a favor. You can struggle down the street carrying heavy packages or a suitcase, and no guy is going to offer to help, for fear that you’ll be insulted and want to be ‘independent’. No one will open a door for you, and as you juggle a stack of packages, the door slams in your face. Thanks, guys. The point is we as women have a HUGE amount of freedom now, in this country, because of science, our careers, simple biology, and the politics and mores of our times. There is damn little a woman can’t do. A man has those freedoms too, and he also has the freedom not to commit. No one’s father is going to show up on his doorstep to ask his intentions, he can’t be forced to marry the girl he’s dating, and even if they live together, she may not want to marry him, or anyone. And it seems to be a lot harder for people to find each other, romantically, a lot of people work from home on computers, which is convenient, but you don’t meet a lot of people that way. And other elements enter into the dating game too. It is more common and more open now to cross age barriers, as well as all others. I know a number of women in their 30’s who are dating men ten years younger. (And women considerably older than that who are doing that too), which they say is a lot of fun, but relationships are less likely to be serious or long term if the man is that much younger. Traditionally, we’re used to older men and younger women, but less so to younger men. So life and the dating world is a smorgasbord of freedoms and opportunities that apply to both sexes, and it seems like with fewer boundaries, and more independent women, dating has also become more difficult and fewer men want to commit (and some women). They just don’t have to.
Back to dinner with my younger women friends the other night. The main topic of conversation was dating (that hasn’t changed anyway!!) and how to meet the right men. The conversation turned instantly to all the dating sites on the Internet, the free ones, the paid ones, the dating services, how reliable they are, and even how dangerous. (They always scare me in theory, what if someone is lying? is a sociopath? fresh out of prison? or married and not telling you? There is no screening process on those dating sites, I would rather meet someone through friends who know something about that person. But I’m of another generation, and not that brave. It’s hard enough if you know something about someone, if they are a total stranger, how scary is that? But people meet people in bars, I guess the dating sites are no more dangerous than that). I was somewhat overwhelmed by hearing about all the dating sites. There are even some for casual sex. In France there is one for married people looking to cheat on their mates, leave it to the French!!! You can do that at a dinner party, and lots of people do!!! There are religious based dating sites, and all the ones we’ve heard about. And I know two very nice couples, people I’ve worked with, who met on dating sites, and have good marriages, so it does happen. But I was struck by how MUCH energy these women put into their online dating lives, and searches for men to date. They have systems and theories, ways to weed out the bad ones, and all had had a number of lemon dates, and some good ones too, but no serious relationships had come of it yet. Then at a higher cost, there are matchmaking services. The impression I have from those is that the women are looking for serious relationships, and a screening process, but many or maybe even most of the men who use them are just looking to increase the number of women they can sleep with, and don’t think of it as more than that. Also, in a matchmaking service, you are at the mercy of how good the judgment is of the person matching you up, and sometimes it’s not so great. There are decent reasons for using a matchmaker, people who are too busy and have no time to do the ‘research’ themselves, people who are too shy, or are in jobs where they simply don’t meet new people. I think matchmaking services are flourishing these days too. Of the four women in their 30’s I talked to in depth about this, two are going out with much younger men who are unlikely to want to get married in the next decade, three are worried about their biological clocks and want children. And all have used Internet dating services to meet someone for a serious relationship, which seem to be elusive these days. Maybe men are having too much fun to want to settle down. And two of the women have serious careers, and two have lesser ones they would shelve for the right guy. It’s hard to know too who the right guys are these days. And with women so able to make big salaries, many of them, a lot of men are not anxious to support anyone, or be the sole support. Why should they? We’re just as able to go out and make good money as they are, as women point out to them constantly to demonstrate their independence—-but then why should a man want to support us? Why should they carry all the weight if we can do it ourselves? Why should they open doors for us when a whole generation have told them not to? Why should they settle down if they don’t have to? Why should they take the risks associated with commitment?
I don’t know what the answers are, but the impression I have is that dating is not easy today, finding the right person, maintaining a relationship, and having it end up in marriage. People still get married, but not as easily, not as early, and not as many. And I think all people are scared of commitment, more than they used to be. The statistics are not encouraging. Over 40, or 50, or later, it is certainly hard to meet someone for a serious relationship, and I always thought it was due to age. But I realize now that it’s not easy under 40 either, or even under 30. The vast number of online dating services tells you that people are having a harder time meeting each other. It happens, but it’s not as easy as it used to be. I think a lot of men (and maybe women) are gun-shy, and there seem to be a lot of people out there who are commitment phobic, for all the reasons I mentioned. What’s the answer? How do you meet Mr or Ms Right? Damned if I know (or I’d be married or living with someone too, and I’m not). One thing did strike me in my conversation with the young women, maybe women are trying too hard to meet the right mate. Maybe it has become too scientific and too high tech. I hear women of every age talk about the list of qualities they want, they want this and that, someone athletic, a tennis player, skier, non smoker, a guy who makes X amount of money a year, or drives a certain kind of car, went to the right college, or is on a serious career track. They sound like they are looking to hire an employee, or buy a new car with sunroof, 4-wheel drive, and snow tires. Wait a minute. What happened to falling in love with someone and accepting them as they are, with some flaws, maybe a thing or two you don’t like (like his mother, or his dog who tracks mud all over your house). Maybe we are leaving out an important element here, and we’re forgetting that this is not a shopping list. We’re talking about meeting a human being we fall in love with, maybe by accident, or serendipity, and accepting them as they are, not as a tear down or a remodel. And maybe, just maybe, the guy we fall in love with won’t come ‘fully loaded’ with all the options, like our car. I’d settle happily for fewer ‘options’, without the sun roof or the TV screens in the back seat…..but a real person, a good one, a kind one, whose flaws I can accept and live with, who would also accept mine. I’m not sure how well I would stack up on someone’s shopping list, or how fully ‘loaded’ I am. Maybe we need to put a little more compassion, tolerance and above all humanity back into dating…..and maybe if people relax a little, the right opportunity will come along, not online, but in person, that person you meet and know he’s the right one, without ulterior motive, without a ‘dating counselor’ to tell you how to do it, or a matchmaker (a ‘meet and look see’ can cost you upwards of $2,000.00), but just a real person, a man or woman you genuinely fall in love with, without high tech help or computer selection process for the ‘perfect match’…..maybe love is a lot simpler than people think these days, and once in a while, the old fashioned ways are best. Maybe everyone is trying too hard these days, and if you relax about it, love will find you……I hope so!!! I wish that for all of us, in a healthy, simple, genuine, loving human way.