When Our Male “Must Haves” Become Our Personal “Must Bes”

Many moons ago, shortly after the inception of this blog, I wrote about the idea of becoming the men we want to marry. The idea was reintroduced to my musings in a Vogue excerpt by Anne Roiphe. She recently released “Art and Madness” in which she chronicles her destructive quest to love a man who embodied everything she loved about art and literature (and some of the things she hated). She longed to be a part of the fascinating world of authors and she thought the only way to gain access was by becoming the muse of a man. She would ultimately realize that by becoming the man she had hoped he was, she could be a part of this world on her own accord.

She points out that a muse (see: corporate wife, politician’s companion or what have you) can be fired. But a woman who generates her own genius or art can’t lose it at the whim of another individual. It seems we are continually progressing in the direction of embracing this idea. Women have recently come to represent half of the American workforce. There are a number of factors that contribute to this transformation including jobs being cut in traditionally male-saturated fields (i.e., construction, manufacturing), but one of the factors is undoubtedly more women going to work. More women supporting themselves. And more women aspiring to the positions they once hoped to marry in the form of doctors, attorneys, authors, etc.

What does this mean for the dynamic of marriage and relationships? Does the idea of becoming the person we want to marry mean we will never marry? There has always been that theory that men are afraid of powerful women, because they feel independent women have no need for them. But is that such an awful thing? Wouldn’t it mean more to be in a relationship with someone who wants you rather than needs what you are?

Aside from what it means for men, what does it mean for women? Does it raise our expectations because we’ve realized what we can become and now we want a man who can keep up with us rather than hoping to be able to keep up with him? Perhaps, marriages now become mutual admiration societies rather than spousal worship.

These ideas are far from new. They’ve been at issue since the dawn of women’s movements. But they are new to me as I continue to navigate my own way in the work place and dating realm. I am in a position now where I’m witnessing the evolution of women I’ve graduated with. I’m seeing where their lives are headed and how their ambitions affect their relationships.

It’s interesting that many of those who settled into lives with marriages and families are less likely to do something about careers they aren’t happy with. Those who push themselves into positions they love are more likely to have stale if not non-existent romantic lives. Based on stories of online dating from my male friend’s perspective, many of the women in their late 20s and early 30s on Match and other sites are in prestigious positions or well on their way to obtaining those positions.

I’m not saying either path is wrong. I consider that those women who are able to find happiness in their families and marriages, but struggle professionally probably don’t need outside validation in the form of a successful career. And those who are satisfied with their careers maybe relish their independence. But do we really have to choose one or the other? Because that doesn’t seem like equality either. Why shouldn’t we have both?

Maybe many women do. Maybe it’s something that comes later in life. Perhaps it just takes time to get to where we want to be in our lives and some of us focus on the personal aspect first and relationships after we’ve laid the groundwork for our career. And those who settle into marriages early build a basis for a strong relationship before turning attention their careers. And maybe men are actually making the same choices. 

It’s hard to tell at this point as many of my peers are just beginning their careers and/or their marriages. I will be very interested to see where our chosen paths take us as our roles in the workplace and relationships continue to evolve. It seems Ms. Roiphe went on to enjoy both a successful career as a writer and a happy marriage with Dr. Herman Roiphe so perhaps we can bring home the bacon and eat our sweetcakes too.