Remember this? A 40-year-old single woman is “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married.
That came from an infamous Newsweek cover story on women and marriage 20 years ago this month.
I remember when that firestorm broke out. I was dating my soon-to-be fiance — I was barely 23.
Fast forward 20 years, four young kids, and an out-of-the-blue divorce last year — and, boy, was I interested in the Newsweek story that just revisited this whole issue.
Essentially, Newsweek did a big mea culpa. According to the magazine (June 5), newer research shows that in fact more than 40 percent of single women at age 40 will marry.
(Now, I would say “phew,” except that I didn’t see a category for “single women over 40 raising four kids on their own.” Oh, and add the always attractive, “no sex and the suburbs” qualifier, i.e., I just don’t want to sleep with a guy I’m not married to — and I’m just not sure how Newsweek would crunch my odds!)
In any event, I think what I remember most from 20 years ago is the fireworks about whether women should even “want” to pursue marriage, or whether that was some kind of throwback to a Jane Austen culture.
The question was — and remains — is marriage a responsible “top life’s goal” for a woman?
Well, here’s the answer: if a 24-year-old woman says, “I really want to get married, settle down, have kids. Be a good wife and mom. In fact that’s my life’s goal.” Watch out. She’ll be called desperate. Old fashioned. Limited. A little pathetic.
But if a 24-year-old man says that he wants to get married, have kids, be a good dad — that that’s his life’s goal and he’d like to start pursuing it — my, we’ll say (even if we think he’s a little hasty) he’s mature, responsible, a fine young man and, I might add, a relatively rare specimen.
I don’t blame this all on our feminist sisters. I think it has something to do with the fact that in our culture we set a pretty low standard for young men.
I also think we have a pretty dim view of marriage. I have found this to be the case whenever I happen to mention that I would like to, well, get married again. From friends at every end of the personal and spiritual spectrum I generally get in response, “why in the world would you want to do THAT anytime soon?” Don’t I have a “great” situation as is? Why mess it up?
Yes, I have a “great” situation and I’m happy “as is,” — and yes I want to do THAT too, and hopefully not years from now! I’m not talking about rushing into anything. But I loved being married, and I think that one of the beauties of a faithful marriage is precisely that it can be hard. It calls us out of ourselves and to “other.” God created it even before the fall. I believe that men and women are supposed to “pair off,” and that pairing off is about something much bigger than just two people, and so it’s a wonderful and positive life’s ambition for any adult.
I may be a single parent, but I’m not a cynical one. When I recently started dating again I was, contrary to what seems to be the advice of the “experts,” very upfront with my kids about my intentions. I explained to them that I loved being married to their dad, that marriage is a gift, and that my desire is, at the right time and with the right fellow, to be married again. That in a sense I believe that that’s my calling, for their good as well as mine, even if left to my own devices my personal and selfish preferences might dictate differently.
I’m not sure Newsweek has a category for “me” (and those out there like me). I certainly don’t belong in Jane Austen’s world. And yet I seem to be something of an oddity in this one, too. But as I navigate my own path, I hold to a belief that whether or not I remain a single parent, I’ll never be a cynical one.
(Betsy Hart is the author of “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It.” She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)