I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m really enjoying this whole ongoing “men and women” discussion. Apparently you have too, since the feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.
This month, I want to take on the myths and realties of the “independent woman.”
Specifically, I’m thinking of a talk I gave to a large group of singles several years ago. They were all grateful that the issues they faced every day were finally being addressed openly, and after I spoke we had a very spirited and enlightening question and answer period.
There was one question in particular that I remember to this day. A guy, probably in his thirties, stood up and asked me about “independent women.” His point was that, at his age, most of the women he meets are very independent and self-sufficient. That was very difficult for him, he said, because he really wanted to take care of someone and to feel needed. But once she had her home and her car and her retirement account, “What does she need me for?”
I can’t remember ever being asked a question that was so sweet, and at the same time so sad.
It was sweet for obvious reasons. I, like most women I know, love the fact that men have a natural instinct to want to take care of us. I find that particular trait very, very attractive, and I think it’s very unfortunate that so much of modern feminism has dismissed or belittled men’s instincts in that regard. I understand, of course, that original sin distorts everything, and that a man’s natural inclination to protect a woman can easily be twisted into a sort of condescension, or a mistaken notion that women are incapable of taking care of themselves. That’s obviously wrong. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. This instinct, as God intended it, is good. And I think most women, if they can get past their fear of its more twisted forms, see it that way.
But I was saddened, too, that this really good guy with such a good heart was reducing this beautiful, God-given instinct to strictly financial terms. Did he really think that material possessions were all he had to offer a woman? Did he really think that was all she would need or want from him?
These days, for whatever reason, many more of us are remaining single longer, or becoming single again after being married. And, by necessity, we’re taking care of ourselves. We get jobs, and over time we advance in those jobs and start to make decent money. To get to those jobs we need cars, and because it stinks to break down without a husband at home to bail us out, we often tend to drive late-model, reliable cars. And it makes no sense to rent indefinitely, and we have a natural tendency to want to “nest,” so many of us at some point buy a home.
Does that mean we have no need for a man in our lives? Of course not! (Okay, this may be turning into a confusing double-negative. To state the positive, “Yes, most of us still want to have a wonderful man in our lives.”)
First of all, a lot of these us would really much rather be at home building a family than out in the world building a career. Creating a new life obviously requires male participation. (Although, I suppose in this day an age that “participation” could be limited an anonymous encounter or a visit to a weird kind of “bank.”) On the strictly material level, the presence of a breadwinning husband frees a woman from the burden of having to support herself, and allows her to either leave or scale back her “career” to focus more of her energy and attention on her family. And, beyond that, ask any single mother about the great and important “gift” the presence of an active and involved father would be in her children’s lives. Raising kids is a two-person job.
But there are so many more “gifts” that a good husband brings to a woman, whether or not they have children. Starting on the material level, there’s relief from the burden of having to support herself, by herself. A man can give a woman’s home back to her, by helping to take on the mortgage. Or he can give her a different home that they share together.
But again, the non-material is so much more important. We were created to only find real happiness and fulfillment through giving ourselves in love. John Paul II, in Love and Responsibility, said that “Man has an inborn need of betrothed love, a need to give himself to another.” Most single women, on some level, long to do that. We want to wake up in the morning thinking about someone else’s good instead of just our own. I’ve written elsewhere about how we as singles “work around” that by building community, by giving of ourselves, by involving ourselves in the lives of others. God “writes straight with crooked lines” and often gives us great satisfaction in our single lives of loving service. But none of that negates the great value, fulfillment and “gift” we can see in the possibility of a truly loving and self-giving marriage.
A lot of “independent women” won’t admit all of this right up front. Quite honestly, there’s a part of me that thinks I’m crazy for acknowledging my own personal vulnerabilities to the extent that I do in these columns. When we have to build so much of our lives in the often “male” career world, we don’t get particularly far by crying in board meetings, or laying our vulnerabilities bare for the world to see. And we grew up in the feminist era, where Gloria Steinem famously announced that a woman needs a man “like a fish needs a bicycle.” (Steinem, ironically, is married — apparently quite happily — today.) In this atmosphere, it’s easy to lose touch with these deeper parts of ourselves, with that inborn desire for “betrothal.” It’s not that it isn’t there. Rather, for some women, it may require a man’s living patience to fully recognize it again.
So guys, please stop selling yourself short. Let go of this silly notion that the only way you can feel needed and take care of a woman is through material and financial support.
You really have so much more to offer us.