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My girlfriends and I couldn't wait to get out of school and start working and buy new cars, all by ourselves. A shiny new Beamer (it was the 80s) and a funky, urban apartment -- not marriage -- was the immediate goal. It wasn't until our mid-20s that some of us started thinking about the "m" word. By then the immediate pool of available men had subsided, but we were still well connected with our college friends and meeting other new college graduates. In a span of about four years, I wore seven bridesmaid dresses.
And then the weddings stopped, and the baby showers started. Those of us who were still single at this point began to feel alienated from the strange world of suburbia and motherhood. I ran from it. I wasn't ready. A decade later, I've been there and I've done that and now I'm ready to settle down, albeit not in treeless suburbia. But when I look around, where are the men worthy of the rest of my life?
Looking for Love
Whitehead, herself a Ph.D., is in no way advocating that women start dropping out of college or quitting their jobs to get married. She's simply pointing out that the courtship system hasn't caught up with the new way women begin their adult lives.
"This is because the world of love itself is currently undergoing a profound change," Whitehead writes. "At the very time that the new single woman is entering her prime years for seeking and finding a life mate, the long-established system of romantic courtship and marriage that once served college-educated women like her is fading, and a new system is rising to take its place . . . What today's single woman needs -- but doesn't have yet -- is a contemporary courtship pattern that fits her timetable and supports her efforts to make a successful choice of a life mate."
So what is today's marriage-minded woman to do? Unfortunately, Whitehead's book offers little in the way of solutions. "I will confess to you that the prescription is weak," she says. "I would acknowledge that out of not having a crystal ball for the future."
She swears that a new marriage-oriented courtship system is emerging, she just isn't sure what it is yet. Maybe it's friendship networks in which people set one another up. Maybe it's workplace networks. In Boston, she says, a group of Jewish mothers get together and exchange their single adult children's photos and resumes. And, in the absence of the traditional pairing mechanisms -- school, family and church -- the marketplace has stepped in to fill the vacuum. Thus, we have the explosion of the dreaded Internet matchmaking sites and various forms of the dating service.
Having tried-and-hated match.com and lacking a Jewish mother, my options appear rather bleak. The bar scene has failed to deliver anything one could, with a straight face, call a relationship. Lately I've taken to standing on my office balcony and shouting down to attractive passersby, "Are you single?" I abandoned that strategy when a hottie in a red convertible Mercedes turned out to be a woman.
But Whitehead reassures me that the knowledge and awareness of the changing rules will help, well, younger women to focus their search for a mate.
So here I am, 36 and single, with little hope of partnering up. I can't completely blame a social revolution and the lack of a courtship structure for my persistent singleness. I made my choices. I rejected the concept of marriage and family during my prime marrying years. My late 20s and early 30s were exhausted on a live-in boyfriend, a man-child who had no intention of marrying me, or vice versa. I wasted another two years with an unemployed musician nine years my junior, whose concept of work entailed sitting around my apartment (rent free), drinking my beer and writing songs.
Besides, it's not that I think my life will suddenly become wonderful if and when I lasso a husband. I hold no illusions about marriage. I remember my parents fighting. I know of more infidelity than I should. Many of my married friends complain about their lack of alone time and the disparity of the domestic workload. And as much as I sometimes idealize my married friends' lives, I've also seen the spark of envy flash from the eye of a spouse grown weary with the burden of home and family. At lunch recently, a married friend of mine fantasized out loud about ditching his mortgage and surfing fulltime. Jill simply dreams of lazing away a Sunday afternoon, just her and a book. Of course, they wouldn't trade their lives for anything, but it makes me realize I should appreciate mine a little more.