Your uterus and ovaries take a turn for the worse at age 27. Age 35? Yours is officially a high-risk pregnancy. Come 40 — forget it. Your chances of having a baby without significant fertility treatments are slim. Women who find themselves facing those chances often also find themselves devastated and broke.
These are facts. Not trends or social movements. You cannot change biology.
Other facts: humans find relationships with other humans to be the most important and enjoyable parts of their lives. Relationships with romantic partners. Relationships with children. Another force of biology.
And yet. And yet this weekend I read with horror in The New York Times Magazine article about college women and the hookup culture, which found that young women are a) so busy pursuing their careers that they don’t have time for real boyfriends, and instead have “hookup buddies” and dole out copious numbers of blow jobs as the sole way they connect with men, b) College women are not factoring in a husband or children into near-term goals, c) College guys get what they want sexually because they are now the minority, and market economics dictates they have the power to get what they want sexually. And what they want are BJs.
This article made me a little sad, and a lot angry. If in your parenting you relegate family planning to an afterthought, you denigrate your children, their innate dreams and desires, and stunt their potential to truly achieve fulfillment in both work and family that we all strive for.
Yes, we have a lot of work to on the front of gender equality at work. Yes it is fantastic that young women see a clear connection between their hard work and smarts and professional potential. But this article quotes numerous college students and experts who say that pressure from parents and society is for young women to focus on professional achievement above all else — and far above marriage and children. A few quotes:
“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy.”
“They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine.”
“A. said that she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.”
“[The women] tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.”
I admit that I have held that latter attitude. I was 28 when I married, 31 when I had my first child. People — and by “people,” I mean New York lefties — often remark how young I was when I married, even though I was a full year older than the national average for women, and pushing my fertility luck when I got pregnant. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my mom casually said: “You should have your kids by the time you’re 30.” At the time that struck me as sexist and old-fashioned. Today it sounds to me simply sensible and respectful of nature.
Which is exactly the message that I will impart on my daughter. It goes without saying that my daughter’s intellectual interests and aptitude will be nurtured. Duh. But what about her personal ones? The standard-issue advice for college-bound women is to establish a career first, then start a family. But the laws of fertility include a time limit. Career does not. The laws of the heart demand spontaneity and serendipity. Women need love — romantic love, maternal love. Career is but one part of a young woman’s development. As a mother, it is my obligation encourage my daughter to develop every part of herself.
I fully embrace the concerns of the women quoted in the article who worry their partners will grow and change in their 20s and 30s — and perhaps grow and change away from them. Which is why I say we need to shake up old ideas about marriage. It is time to return to age-old marriage models that account for biology and the need for romantic love at all stages of life — not just when it’s convenient to schedule it into our career trajectories.
My 10-year marriage model is the blueprint for turning around this worrisome trend. Clearly the current Ozzie-and-Harriet-one-mate-for-life model has failed, and young people are rejecting family in favor of chasing money and professional success. Instead, I urge my fellow parents to help our daughters and sons recognize the simple facts about their hearts and bodies. Help them work towards futures that meld their personal and professional needs. What if we gave them permission to marry and start a family with a fantastic person while their bodies are equipped to do so — then, should they need to, gracefully move on to other relationships that fulfill the next chapter of their lives?
As parents, we are pioneers in this new frontier of women and work. And we have an obligation to help our daughters map out a path that includes a meaningful and lucrative job, as well as a relationship with a man that is more than just an, um, job.Other stories in this project:
- A 10-year contract will save marriage
- Marriage is dead
- Let’s stop celebrating wedding anniversaries
- One spouse is not enough
- What if your failed marriage was really a success?
- Fairy tale marriages: Model of hope AND unrealistic expectations
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