Love is important to most women. With increasing sexual freedom, the importance of love has come to mean granting importance to erotic relationships as well as to affectionate ones. Not all women want a lover. Single celibates do not: Grandma would have called them good girls. Traditional wives do not: Grandma would have called them honest women. Lesbians do not, at least not the male kind: Grandma probably did not include them in her lexicon at all.
Apart from these three alternatives, there remain those who are no better than they ought to be. Grandma would have considered them fallen: she would have called them tramps. When you think of a man who is a tramp, you think of an unwashed hobo, taking handouts, sleeping on park benches, and living hand-to-mouth on the open road. When you think of a woman who is a tramp, you think of one bold enough to have a man in her life without the honorable permission of being either married or at least engaged. A “real tramp” has more than one.
It is this residual category of women, not a small minority by any means, who are eligible to consider taking a lover or even lovers. They may be tramps from one perspective, but from another, they are emancipated. They are the vanguard of the third wave of the feminist movement, and their ranks are drawn from both unmarried women and married ones.
Unmarried women make up a large part of our population. They include not only those who have never been married but also increasing numbers of those who have been widowed or divorced, sometimes more than once. Some of these women basically believe in marriage but do not want to get married yet. If an unmarried woman in this category were a man, we would say she was sowing her wild oats. All she is doing is having fun. Later, she expects to settle down to one man; and when she makes that decision, she will start husband shopping. Usually, but not always, the basis for her reformation is the desire to have a child and the recognition of the societal benefits of family life versus the single motherhood alternative.
Women of today who expect to remain single for the rest of their lives consist of basically two groups: those who have rejected marriage per se and those who simply predict that marriage, desirable or not, is unlikely. In the recent past, women who never married were assumed to be either the unchosen who could not get a man or those dedicated to a career who chose to work instead of getting married. Such women became the familiar stereotypes of the old-maid teacher and librarian. Since women now do not experience the same career-or-marriage conflict, modern women who reject marriage are likely to do so on ideological grounds. They would concur with Gloria Steinem’s widely quoted maxim: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle!”
Women who have resigned themselves to not getting married include those who have some unsolvable problem which makes them less marriageable than others. Being six feet six inches tall or having six children or being seriously disabled can be genuine handicaps in the marriage market. Other women, who are by ordinary standards attractive to men, may understand that their chances of finding a husband, at least the kind of husband they would want, are slim. This certainly applies to many young and not-so-young widows as well as to the overachievers who are over-educated and over-affluent compared with the men they are likely to meet. There are simply not enough eligible men available to go around for the women at the top. Statistics showing population distribution by age, sex, and marital status bear out that this is more than a perception. As columnist Maureen Dowd, of the New York Times, aptly notes, “Women moving up still strive to marry up. Men moving up still tend to marry down. The two sexes going in opposite directions has led to an epidemic of professional women missing out on husbands and kids.”
If there is a surplus of women in the given category and if a number of them therefore cannot marry, what then? Women who do not feel any significant sexual urges or women who are comforted by a deep religious faith and so prefer to devote themselves to God may be content to live celibate lives. Other women who do not meet these two criteria want to experience, if not marriage, then at least something of the potential to be found in man-woman erotic relationships.
A young woman friend of mine, tanned and glowing and just back from a Mediterranean jaunt with her man of the moment, exclaimed, “I think I’ve found the secret. Being a wife is a drag, but being a ‘bride’ is terrific. I think I’ll skip committing matrimony and just commit honeymoons. They’re probably the best part anyway.”
- Modern Woman Has, Enjoys More Sex Outside the Marital Bedroom (observer.org.sz)
- All the Single Ladies (Repost) – a compliment to my post “Oh, you’re single?” (paulettecake.wordpress.com)
- Hooking Up Smart – and Nasty (psychologytoday.com)
- More couples stay happily unmarried (ajc.com)
- Is marriage toxic to women? (introtosociology.wordpress.com)
- Women on Top: The Decline of the Double Standard (pickingalover.wordpress.com)
- Leave your toothbrush in my bathroom? I’d better call my lawyer first: Forget pre-nups, now women are demanding ‘cohabitation contracts’ (dailymail.co.uk)