Q: I’m a woman in my 20s, and I go back and forth between wanting a guy in my life and wanting to be by myself. If I want love, and I do, shouldn’t
I feel more compelled to be in a relationship? Also, I’ve found that when a man falls in love, whether with me or friends, it’s all about him being in your face every second.
My women friends seem to be OK just having a man, but don’t need him there all the time. (I’m not counting my crazy girlfriend who changes her political or religious attitude to the tune of her boyfriend.) Do you think men or women are more dependent?
— Just Curious
A: In children’s stories, the boy is never the one imprisoned in the tower: "Sit tight, look pretty, and if you’re lucky, some girl will gallop up on her horse and save you. What’s that? You’re bored? I dunno, try brushing your hair three or four thousand times." Maybe you and your female friends are independent, but in my experience, women are usually more dependent, thanks partly to princess culture, which comes out of fairy tales about girls who could be considered the very first slackers. There’s Sleeping Beauty, sending the message "Just nap, and some guy will drop by to wake you up and marry you."
Snow White wasn’t just napping; she was in a coma when she got her man. And then there’s Cinderella: Menial labor is abuse, but if you’re pretty (and have really tiny feet), some prince will run around with your shoe looking to spend the rest of his life with you. Although alternative fairy tales are cropping up, princess culture is pretty pervasive and plants the idea in a girl’s head that she can avoid the grubby business of becoming somebody, and instead become somebody who sits around checking her watch: "Is Prince Charming here yet?" This sort of thinking spurs women to get impractical educations, take impractical jobs, and lead impractical lives.
In "Get To Work," Linda R. Hirshman deems this "the Frida Kahlo problem": "Everybody loves Frida Kahlo. Half Jewish, half Mexican, tragically injured when young ... abused by a famous genius husband. Oh, and a brilliantly talented painter." But, writes Hirshman, "If you’re not Frida Kahlo and you major in art, you’re going to wind up answering the phones at some gallery in Chelsea, hoping a rich male collector comes to rescue you." I’m not saying women shouldn’t follow their dreams, but if your dream involves roping off air in art galleries, you’d better have a backup plan, and not one you met at a bar.
This starts with acknowledging that, in the real world, "How will you be paying for that, ma’am?" isn’t answered with "I’m living happily ever after!" Only when you have financial and emotional independence are you at your best, personally and romantically. The good news is, you don’t seem to be a girl who needs a guy to be happy. The bad news is, you seem to think you should.
It’s OK if you aren’t ready for a relationship, and it’s especially okay if you aren’t ready for a relationship with a man who can’t leave your side. Find men who aren’t needy and let them know how much or how little relationship works for you; for example, that when you say "hold me," you don’t mean like the creature from "Alien" that suctioned itself to the guy’s face. © 2008 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.