A while ago, I bumped into a friend at a lunch party. She’s about my age, has recently got married and had a baby. My friend introduced me to her senior colleague— let’s all her Angela— a stylish, beautiful woman in her mid 40s. I liked Angela immediately and we struck up a conversation. After she left us to get dessert, I told my friend what a wonderful colleague she had.
My friend nodded, “Yeah, Angela is a really nice gal.” She then lowered her voice, looking almost embarrassed and slightly disapproving, “But I heard she’s never married.”
“I mean. Just so you know. Don’t mention it to her!”
I was taken aback, not sure whether I should be angry, sad, or amused. I thought, “Geez! Where are we? The goddamned 18th Century?!” But it would be useless to accuse my friend of being ridiculously judgmental. After all, she was simply giving a voice to the prevailing collective consciousness.
It amazes me how much slower our beliefs about reality seems to evolve than the reality itself. A prime example of this is women’s belief about relationships.
As a woman, it used to be the case that if you didn’t marry yourself off by a certain age, your very survival would be in jeopardy. Because women was confined to the domestic life and economically dependent, securing a partner used to be the most important mission in a girl’s life. As a woman, you were expected to get married and, like it or not, your success as a human being was judged almost entirely upon whom you partnered with. It may have been an unfair judgment. But at least it was for very realistic reasons.
But that reality has shifted long ago. Today at least in many parts of the world, your ability to survive and prosper has little to do with your gender. Workplaces are teeming with strong, smart, successful women. And you regularly see women making more money than their partners. A relationship is no longer an economic necessity for women, but rather, an enrichment of life, something you are free to pursue, or not.
One would think that such fundamental shift in reality would change beliefs and attitudes, and revolutionize how women think of relationships. But it turns out that beliefs are slow-moving planets unwilling to alter their orbits even when proven obsolete.
Most women I know, regardless of age, still see dating as merely a tool for securing a “commitment” from a guy, even when it’s obvious that they themselves bring more to the table. Never-married women over 35 are still judged upon as freakish creatures, but mind you, only by three groups of people: 1. Her mother; 2. Her girlfriends; 3. Herself. You rarely see a guy disapprove a woman’s relationship status. (Because… they aren’t crazy enough.) The societal judgment is almost entirely imposed by women on ourselves. (The same with beauty standards. But that’s another topic.)
We women are like the proverbial circus elephant. Once a baby elephant was chained to the stake and couldn’t break free, it grew up believing the chain to be unbreakable. So the circus trainer is able to restrain a grown-up elephant with the same tiny chain from early days, because the elephant, though now having the perfect strength to unshackle itself, never thought of trying again. The psychological prison is no less effective than a literal one.
I was a circus elephant myself, having spent the majority of my twenties totally convinced that I had only two choices in life, marriage-and-kids or going to hell. I knocked myself out to join the former camp, simply to avoid the latter, and didn’t realize what I was doing until after many years and many rounds of soul searching (of course, frustrating relationships also helped).
Once you’re able to see the chain as what it is– leftover cobweb from the old days, you begin to own the freedom you already have. You begin to consciously choose whether to have a relationship and the form it takes. You begin to create relationships out of vision, instead of fear. And at the end of the day, the world is a better place because of your conscious choice.
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In this week’s BananaOnFire, I talked about how the evolution of women’s social-economic status has changed relationship dynamics and why you should go ahead and set your own dating rules.
(Watch the video on YouTube)