Why Are So Many Smart Women So Clueless About Single Life?

Guest post by Terri Trespicio

Posted Jul 12, 2014

[Bella's intro: I first learned about  our guest blogger, Terri Trespicio, in 2012, which was a great year for high-profile, non-singlist articles about single people and single life. One of those was a cover story for Boston Magazine, "Single by choice: Why more of us than ever before are happy to never get married," which featured Terri on the cover. Terri has been writing insightfully about single life for years and I was delighted when she agreed to share her thoughts with us on the recent high-profile Thrive movement and how the celebrity women who spearheaded it seem to regard single women with no kids.]

 From Terri Trespicio:

 My head almost exploded at Arianna Huffington’s Thrive event this past spring. And not out of sheer joy, but utter frustration. It happened when event co-host Mika Brzezinski told us that the day she was fired from CBS, she packed up her things, walked out, and said to herself, “Damn! I’m so glad I didn’t forget to get married and have kids.”

The message is clear: No matter how much you love your job, or how ambitious you are, being a wife and mother is the most important and only “real” job for women. It’s the only one that counts.

I was appalled by this (and other decidedly unfunny things the Morning Joe cohost-slash-foil said that day). But remember: This was a crowd of 99% women in the middle of Manhattan, many of whom I’m willing to bet, are not wives or mothers. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this runs counter to what Arianna’s Thrive movement purports to be about: to redefine success beyond the two-legged stool of money and power by introducing a third metric, one that encompasses wellness, wisdom, and giving.

The message is: Don’t let work define you. If you’re a slave to your job, you put yourself at risk of stress-induced illness and burnout. That, I get. But when it comes to aligning with “what matters,” the only thing anyone could think of was being a wife and a mother.

Will All the Real Women Please Stand Up

There will never be a shortage of women who yearn for a traditional life (declining marriage statistics aside). But I saw precious few other examples on that stage of any woman whose success was defined outside of those traditional roles, regardless of their own obvious achievements (rock star, A-list actress, best-selling author).

Because the message is that none of that stuff really matters. (Despite her admirable big screen success, Julianne Moore talked more about how proud she was of teaching herself to make lasagna, as excruciating as she says it was). And while there was some time dedicated to the importance of having female supports in place (Girls Night!), it still felt auxiliary, as something “else” you might want, you know, when you’re not tending to your homestead.

What's the Point of a Single Woman?

Yet, millions of women in this country choose not to marry or have children. They’re passionate contributors to their communities with lives bursting with activity and connection. As Tara Parker-Pope pointed out in 2011 (“In a Married World, Singles Struggle for Attention”), nearly half the U.S. population is single (around 100 million Americans, according to the Census Bureau).

And they’re hardly just getting their nails done: While 68 percent of married women offer support to aging parents, that role more often falls to the unmarried children (about 84 percent, according to the Council on Contemporary Families).

Bella DePaulo, PhD, arguably one of the fiercest advocates of single living, cites some statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in a recent post which showed that single people in fact spend more time than married people on educational activities, socializing, and staying in touch with family and friends (and less time shopping).

But even Katie Couric, who was there to promote Fed Up, a film that sheds light on the troubling trends promoted by the food industry, told us we need to be concerned as “wives, mothers, professionals.” That’s right: If you don’t have a husband or a brood, you’re just a worker.

So...This Is It, Then?

Is this the next wave of feminism? Canonizing the people who attempt to have it all (which it’s pretty clear no one has)? And cooing over driven women who “push themselves too hard?” I sincerely hope not.

Not too long ago, women fought tooth and nail to get into the work world. There’s still far too few women in leadership roles in this country. We have not closed that gap. So while we don’t have to work ourselves to death, we shouldn’t have to be afraid to define ourselves by the very work we’ve fought so hard to do.

A friend of mine in her 40s (who’s often mistaken for 29) has big dreams—none of which involve raising children. She struck up a conversation with another woman at the Thrive event. “Do you have children?” the woman asked expectantly. “No,” my friend said. “Don’t worry,” the woman reassured her. “You still have time.”

I commend Arianna’s efforts to champion the third metric and start the movement toward more sane, meaningful lives and work. But while everyone can sleep 30 minutes longer or log off once in a while, until we can define ourselves as women first, not just as the roles we play, we’re going to be stuck right where we are.

[From Bella, again: Thanks again, Terri! Readers, if you like what Terri had to say here, check out her website for more. For some of my writings on related topics, check out "Did second-wave feminism neglect the single woman?" and "Shriver Report serves up compulsory marriage and mothering." For more on the myths about single people and their debunking, click here.]


About the Author: Terri Trespicio is a writer and lifestyle expert whose work has appeared in Oprah magazine, Prevention, Experience Life, DailyWorth, and Marie Claire, among others. Visit her at territrespicio.com and on Twitter @TerriT.