More evidence that women’s attitudes toward marriage have changed dramatically: The Pew Research Center, which analyzes census data, confirms what I’ve been hearing from women: the desire to make their own self-expansion as important as it has always been for men and children.
Women want more space in their relationships. Yes, I know, we used to mock men for saying they wanted more “space”– because it was such a cowardly euphemism for “I’m outtahere.” But women mean it differently: They don’t necessarily want to leave their relationships, but they definitely want to expand; to flourish inside their relationships, just as men always have. Hearing the word “space,” though, men tend to hear the worst: they hear the ambivalence; they hear what they call women’s “commitmentphobia.” Funny: That’s the very word women once used to describe their ambivalent, skittish boyfriends, the men who didn’t want to get married.
But now, men do want to get married. And that women are thinking twice about it shouldn’t surprise anyone/ It’s long been clear that women often don’t thrive in the institution of marriage ….while men, emphatically, in every study, do. (If you want to know why, read my book, Marriage Shock.)
Another finding in the census analysis shows two other related cultural changes: First, that financial security isn’t scaring women into marriage as it once did; and second, that more men now “marry up,” wedding educated, successful wives who will bring home at least as much bacon as they do. Single women view this new fact not as an expectation of welcome equality but simply as one more addition to a wife’s should list: you know, that they should be cook, housekeeper, child-rearer, nurturer, lover, relationship-maintainer…and now, money-maker.
The question I’m always asked is this: If women are happy being single, and they’re not racing into marriage either for financial gain or for children (another census finding, incidentally), what do they seek in a relationship? (Besides space., that is?)
They want what they’ve always wanted: connection. Connection with an emotionally present, relationally skilled partner who is also inclined to want intimacy. A partner who sees marriage as women do—as a place for growth and self-expansion for both partners, not just for one. A partner who doesn’t want a high-achieving wife and then switch gears and want her to assume the old, traditional wifely role as well.
Does this sound unreasonable on women’s part? Are women demanding too much?
Not at all.
If a man wants a woman to be a breadwommer. and to marry him on his timetable, then she has every right to make her own demands on him. And if she can’t get what she needs, then why wouldn’t she decide to stay among the unprecedented 110 million unmarried people who make up the majority of households in America? Why wouldn’t she remain outside an institution that she fears might confine her, and instead join those single people who say they very much enjoyi their independent status… and their space?