Following my previous blog, I have read a further article, this time by Kate Bolick, called ‘Why Marriage is a Declining Option for Women’.
It is a fascinating article, detailing the author’s own journey from her childhood when she believed firmly that one day she would meet someone and marry around the age of 30, to the realisation that singleness was perhaps not the temporary state she had once regarded it and should rather be embraced as something more positive. ‘If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I’d be a little… happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.’
Alongside her personal journey, Katie Bolick describes the history of the changes that have taken place in our society, quoting extensively from Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington. Coontz states that “We are without a doubt in the midst of an extraordinary sea change. The transformation is momentous – immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organise their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”
Women no longer need to be married to survive – economically or emotionally. ‘Even more momentously’, says Bolick, ‘we no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don’t want to’. But where does that leave single women? Bolick asks: ‘What are our ideas about single people? Perverted misanthropes, crazy cat ladies, dating-obsessed shoe shoppers, etc – all of them some form of terribly lonely. The single woman is very rarely seen for who she is – whatever that might be – by others, or even by the single woman herself, so thoroughly do most of us internalise the stigmas that surround our status.’
Clearly women are trying to figure out their role in society. Every little girl’s dream used to be that she would one day meet her knight in shining armour who would sweep her off her feet and they would together enter a state of wedded bliss which would last forever – or at least till death would them part. That is no longer the case – so what is it that women are striving towards, aiming for, dreaming of today?
Bolick talks candidly of a breakup of a relationship when she was 28 and says, ‘In the months leading to my breakup with Allan, my problem, as I saw it, lay in wanting two incompatible states of being – autonomy and intimacy – and this struck me as selfish and juvenile; part of growing up, I knew, was making trade-offs.’
Is that the key to our confusion? Do we want ‘two incompatible states of being – autonomy and intimacy’? In my previous post, I talked about putting the large stones in the jar first and then pouring in the pebbles, sand and water. My point, of course, was that we need to give attention to the most important things in our lives first – whether that is our marriage, our children, our career or whatever. At any given stage of life, our priorities will be different – and it is that constant juggling of the balls in the air which is a challenge to most women I know. But my experience is that it is worth figuring out what the large stones are at each stage of life.
However, the danger of the image of the stones in the jar is that we may think we can have it all – so as long as we put the large stones in the jar first, we can then add all the pebbles, sand and water we want. We can’t.
Women cannot have it all. We cannot juggle an infinite number of balls in the air – just as we cannot pour into the jar an infinite amount of pebbles, sand and water, once the large stones are in place.
We have choices to make – and at different stages of our lives the choices will be different. Perhaps you are a single woman reading this: the choices before you may be many and varied, ranging from career options to marriage options. You may be thinking that marriage is a declining option or you may believe that only in marriage – or only in a successful career – can you find real fulfilment. Take time to weigh up your options. Don’t buy into the lie that you can have it all. You can’t.
Perhaps you are a married woman – struggling with the realisation that you have married an imperfect man – or with the realisation that you have many faults too. You have options – will you follow through on your commitment to God and to this man? Or will you believe the lie that happiness lies in walking away from your marriage and finding fulfilment elsewhere?
Perhaps you are a mother and the challenge is to keep all the balls in the air as you take on the relentless roles of teacher, nurse, chauffeur, cook, and so on. You may feel you have lost yourself in the midst of motherhood. You too have options. Will you ask God to show you which are the large stones in the jar of your life?
Elisabeth Elliot says: “Choices are always available. What you choose will depend on how you see things: yourself, your work, your right to express taste and desire and personality, your understanding of the love of God as expressed in His creation and order and harmony.”