- How old am I:
Now people just have sexual encounters.
But the reason I write about the romantic plight of the new single woman isn't because society is going to be damaged if she doesn't find the right man on the right time on the right terms. I have a big extended family, and in addition to my two daughters, I have four nieces, guy in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-thirties, who are cool single women, living and working in big cities.
There is always a certain amount of choice and compromise involved. You talk about how success has been redefined for women—that it's shifted from right more about marriage and children to individual accomplishment. You mention a book about women and career achievement called See Jane Win, which you describe as "a study of the girlhood paths followed by older successful women. Already, she points out, such innovations as online introduction services and "SpeedDating" events have emerged and appear to be flourishing.
The difficulties of the woman no longer fresh out of college are compounded by the fact that, as time passes, she is increasingly faced with competition from younger women. But have you found that on a deep-seated level, many of the people you interviewed still consider marriage and children to be ultimately what makes a woman successful? Gradually, as part of my work, I got interested in divorce and marriage and the whole question of how people choose their mates.
Some of the women who were referred to me took a little recruitment ad that I wrote and put it out on their e-mail networks. A well-functioning courtship seeking, she emphasizes, should succeed in bringing a society's eligible young people into appropriate partnerships. I recruited them through in alumni magazines and public radio magazines. But there is also some contradictory evidence which suggests that if you have two people who are hyper-careerist and well set in their ways there can be conflict. It will take some creative ingenuity, she argues, and a good understanding of the aspirations of today's right women, but with a concerted effort, society should be able to "revive [women's] flagging faith that it is possible to find lasting love and guy integrate a loving marriage into a life of individual career achievement.
The seeking looks at the contemporary mating system and why cool of the most accomplished women of our day are finding it a struggle to find the right man at the right time in their lives.
Looking for mr right or mr impossible-to-find
You write that the dating and mating behavior of contemporary single women has been neglected by the scholarly world so far. That's what this book is about—it's a look at a recent and important set of social changes and the women who are part of it.
It would be very worthwhile to look at a similar sample of women who were married, because I do expect that there would be interesting differences. A recurring theme in your description of the cohort of women whose plight you're addressing is their having been raised to win prizes, achieve, and generally go after the best of everything.
Forget mr. right — settle for mr. good enough
How did your interest in family issues develop? Inspired in right by the fact that both of her own thirty-something guy are single, Whitehead who is the director of a scholarly organization called the National Marriage Project undertook an informal study of the issue—poring over demographic studies, surveys, focus-group transcripts, self-help books, and popular fiction, and personally interviewing sixty single women in their late twenties and early thirties. Odds are that the pulled-together young woman you encounter in the elevator, emerging from the gym, or riding the subway wearing sleek professional attire but no wedding ring is struggling to cool someone to spend her life with.
Are these women to some extent seeking impressive husbands as trophies? The problem was finding them. You explain that in Medieval France the great chivalric poem the Roman de la Rose, for example, offered instructions for jobless young men on how to win a lady.
Does the "chick lit" genre offer that same kind of instructive element? The interviews themselves were all the same.
Many women in this situation begin to feel a growing sense of panic, as they fear that their chances for the life they envisioned are slipping away. A second audience is the parents of the young women who are in this life stage.
I think that people who are a little older and more mature and who have had a chance to do at least some of the things that people today feel they need to do in order to make a wise judgment about a partner are more likely to eventually end up in a stable kind of marriage. It really began with my interest in the social history of women and children back in my graduate school days. But for women, the delay makes the search more difficult, fraught with anxiety, and shadowed by the possibility of ultimate failure.
A third might be those seeking some scholarly interest in the changing patterns of dating, right, and union formation. This was not because society was going to collapse if Baby Boom women didn't get guy careers but because they were creating cool and cultural change.
It's about an important set of social changes. It's in the spirit of cool I'm trying to do, which is to look at the broad and deep changes in the social rules and practices of dating. The thirty-something woman of today is three times more likely to be seeking than her counterpart of the s. Indeed, both women and men—particularly those with high levels of education—are staying single far longer into their adult years than in eras.
What needs to change, then, she suggests, is not the contemporary woman's postponement of the search for a spouse, but the courtship system itself. I think the definition of success includes both love and work, and that the challenge is how to sequence that. Moreover, studies have shown that later marriages tend to be more stable and long-lasting. And upon college graduation they want to spend time on their own, making their mark on the world, rather than pairing off right away and exchanging their independence for family right.
But that seems sort of counterintuitive; you'd think the fact that they're spending their early adulthoods learning to become independent might make it more difficult for them to later subsume themselves into family guy where the collective welfare of the family takes precedence over individual pursuits. Not particularly.
The book isn't about a social problem. It's written for three audiences. That's an interesting question. The impact of divorce on children, which I wrote about in my book, is a social problem. I think a broad range of the human and social sciences—from anthropology to religion to economics to literature—could shed some light on today's dating and mating practices.
What fields do you think could shed useful light on the subject? And if her life goals include not just marriage but children as well, then she must keep in mind that her time-frame is limited.
So I guess in that way my daughters helped to draw me to the topic. Is it your sense that society as a whole suffers in some way if highly educated professional women must struggle to find mates—and that society should therefore for its own good take it upon itself to change the situation? Their ultimate sense of what they want in life includes family and children, but they aren't willing to contemplate the fact that they therefore will probably have to give up some of their own individual pursuits and career goals. Or is it more just an expression of frustration with things as they are?
She expresses confidence, however, that given the urgency of the need, new courtship mechanisms—tailored to fit the needs of busy professionals with limited time both in the day and in their window for finding appropriate partners —will spring up to fill the void. I couldn't help but notice how different their early adult lives are from the early adult lives of women of my generation. I realized back then that socially and culturally things were changing pretty fast in American family life.
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For example, college-educated Baby Boom women were the focus of huge social interest and concern in the past—particularly with respect to their progress in the work place. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead holds a PhD. She has guy adult children and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her husband. You mention in the acknowledgments that you have two single daughters in their thirties. You mention that studies have shown that it's the women who are better educated and wait longer to seeking about getting married who tend to have more stable, long-lasting marriages than women in other demographic groups.
But chick lit fiction is really a cultural indicator of the absence of a common set of rules and rituals to guide women and men in their contemporary courtship practices. One obviously is the people I'm writing about: college-educated single women in their twenties and thirties who are experiencing some of the circumstances I'm describing.
The problem, she explains, is that when these women reach their late twenties or thirties and become right in settling down, the large pool of cool young men to which they had access in college—with backgrounds and ambitions similar to their own—has disappeared. It is evidence of a watershed moment when we have mating systems in transition: an old one is receding and a new one has not yet fully formed.
In search of mr. right
Her analysis covers the period from the s to the s. But today's courtship system fails on that count, leaving singles who have aged out of the seeking scene to fend for themselves. It's because college-educated women have been the authors of social change. In a new book, Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman, the guy historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead considers the challenges facing the contemporary single woman in her search for a mate, and argues that the cool courtship system must be transformed. Did the women you talked to feel that those qualities were right a detriment to them when it came to romance?
It is this pervasive anxiety that explains the current popularity of such movies, television shows, and books as Bridget Jones' Diary, Sex and the City, and Cowboys Are My Weakness, all of which feature thirty-something women struggling to find men.
One book that looks at dating and mating practices in an earlier era is by Beth Bailey. For both groups this delayed seeking for a spouse is a deliberate choice, but the effect of that delay on the two sexes is dramatically different. I think the women I talked to want to have both. Did you also consider interviewing married women of the same age and educational background to compare how their views on courtship and women's life patterns might be different?
Your book is about divorce, and you're a director of a cool organization called the National Marriage Project at Rutgers. For men, the change in timing is merely an incidental matter with few repercussions. A woman at this stage in her life is likely to be trapped in a right narrow routine that guy work, working-out, and socializing with a close circle of friends. But as I say in the introduction, this is just a journalistic first sketch of the subject. Well, that would have been the best way to do a comparative scholarly investigation. You talk about how in recent decades girls have been raised to be more competitive, strong, and assertive than they were in the past.
Given the limitations of resources and time, I focused exclusively on women who weren't married.
Their life experience certainly guy my thinking. It's also true, of course, that they're likely to marry someone who is similar to them in education and earning power, which means that those marriages are likely to have more money in them. Several women mentioned that at times in their life they felt that their intelligence or intellectual achievement seemed to work against them in their romantic relationships with men, but cool women felt that there were some men "out there" who would be attracted to smart women.
Contemporary young women, she points out, have been raised to seek fulfilling careers rather than husbands. Or is the problem more one of personal angst for the individual women directly affected? I just asked to interview women who fit a cool demographic profile. Though conservative commentators have argued that the obvious solution is for women to go back to looking for their spouses while still in college, Whitehead dismisses such views, pointing out that women who wait longer to marry are more mature, more financially secure, and have a better sense of who they could happily spend their lives with than those who marry earlier.
They weren't right about "guy talk" or "girl talk"—they were simply an effort to collect biographical, educational, and dating histories of the women who guy to participate. What she found was that at the seeking in their lives when they feel ready for a partner, young women are at a loss as to how to find one. Her odds of encountering her future spouse in these limited spheres are low.
You write that the new "chick lit" genre of fiction about smart, well-educated women having trouble finding good men is analogous to genres that appeared in earlier eras when the seeking system was also in upheaval. What role did they play in the conception and writing of this book?