April 20, 2024

When Barbie’s Dreamhouse Becomes a Clubhouse

As this year’s female empowerment trend continues (think Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, breaking news of the first FDA-approved oral pill specifically for postpartum depression, the trend of large groups of women attending the Barbie movie), there remains an essential reality that shockingly goes unaddressed.

Here it is: Dear Women, you are likely to have a longer relationship with the women you go to the Barbie movie with than any of your male romantic partners.

Armed with this fact, young to middle-aged women will surely alter the choices they make in love, life, work, and leisure.

Studies reveal that female friendships tend to last longer than male romantic relationships with an average duration of 16 years compared to 10 years for romantic partnerships. As women grow older, their friendships often endure even further, lasting an average of 23 years. In my experience, these statistics seem conservative; I know many women my age with deep friendships spanning 30 years or more. In addition, while women in their 30s to 49 are the least likely to be single, with about 81 percent partnered, this changes dramatically over time. By the time they reach 65 years old, approximately 42 to 49 percent of women will be without a partner. The percentage of unpartnered women further increases to a striking 83 percent by the age of 85. In contrast, men remain significantly more partnered, with 75 percent still in relationships at the age of 65 and 65 percent at the age of 85.

Many women seem to be unaware of the statistics regarding the longevity of female friendships compared to male romantic relationships, as well as the likelihood of leading an unpartnered life. I personally experienced this lack of awareness as well. The noticeable discrepancy in partnership rates between men and women is quite jarring and serves as a wake-up call for women to prioritize investing in fulfilling careers and building strong female friendships. These factors can ensure a sense of companionship and financial support throughout their lives, especially during their later years.

The lack of awareness of a woman’s unpartnered life trajectory became even more clear to me during a dinner gathering with 12 friends, most of us in our 50s. While my friends offered empathetic words after my husband left me for a younger woman, I felt that they might not fully grasp the challenges I faced. I had never considered the possibility of an unpartnered life before my husband’s departure, and the reality of being financially, emotionally, and personally alone hit me unexpectedly. Fortunately, I managed to rebuild my life by growing my business rapidly, but the experience left me feeling far from the strong and independent woman I once was. Looking at my friends, I suspected some of them might not have truly contemplated the potential of an unpartnered life either. Since that night, two of the twelve women have also found themselves unpartnered and were not prepared emotionally and financially for what was to come.

Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus’s song “Flowers” made a significant impact, captivating the world with its pop-style melody and empowering message. The song, sung by the talented 30-year-old artist, reflects on her past breakup with Liam Hemsworth, declaring a decade later that she can find happiness in buying herself flowers, engaging in self-reflection, dancing alone, and loving herself better than he ever could. Watching the wave of “Flower” TikToks made by young women, I wondered whether this was a temporary revelation for young women instead of a way of life.

Despite expectations that young women today approach life differently than women my age, the social landscape in high schools, colleges, and even on dating apps still appears to consume women’s time and be dominated by men. This can lead to heartbreak, diminished self-worth, less time with female friends and distractions from studying and work during the formative years of women’s lives. Though many are predicting fewer women will choose to get married, it is just not about romance—it is also about economics. Women have been graduating college at least at the same rate as men for over 40 years but as women head into the workplace, men still make more money and hold more management and C-suite positions by far. Women also suffer economic setbacks when they return to the workplace after they spent time raising their children. This becomes extremely impactful if they find themselves unpartnered, working as hard but making less than their male counterparts and supporting themselves and their children on their own at a time in their life they did not expect.

At some point in life, a significant number of women may find themselves without a partner, and statistically, they might earn less than men on average, face financial uncertainty, and shoulder the responsibility of being the sole caretaker for their children if they have any. This outcome may be contrary to the expectations of many young and middle-aged individuals. The intention of this article is not to cause distress or instigate unnecessary worry about the future or discourage anyone from pursuing romantic relationships or marriage. Rather, it aims to encourage introspection and the cultivation of resilience and long-term contentment by focusing on various aspects of life, such as personal connections, family, community, and career.

Men and women fear uncertainty equally, but women’s vulnerabilities in our society make it more critical that we can handle the unknown well.

When my husband left, I considered myself fortunate in many respects. I had a strong spiritual foundation, valuable skills, and some fortunate circumstances. Yet, I cannot adequately express the pain I experienced during countless sleepless nights, worrying about losing my home, financing my children’s education, and navigating a world I never anticipated being alone in. Fortunately, I had a supportive network of women friends and family. Had I contemplated the possibility of being unpartnered one day, I might have made more thoughtful life decisions. This wouldn’t have altered my commitment to my marriage. I still believe in beautiful romances and have witnessed remarkable long-lasting marriages. However, the statistics suggest that most women may not experience the Disney fairy tale of a partner who saves and supports them throughout their lifetime. Therefore, it becomes crucial to be prepared for life’s uncertainties and to cultivate a sense of empowerment and independence to navigate whatever paths lie ahead.

Even though I researched and wrote the book A Year Without Men: A Twelve Point Guide To Inspire And Empower Women, today there are essential questions I would still ask myself and other women (single or partnered) including:

1. Love. Finding a romantic partner is a common desire for many people, but it is essential not to overlook the other forms of love that can enrich one’s life. Meaningful female friendships, strong family bonds, and involvement in the community can all contribute to a fulfilling and balanced life. Self-love and self-care are also vital components of this equation, as they provide the foundation for building and sustaining healthy relationships with others. Taking a holistic view of love can help individuals find fulfillment and happiness beyond just romantic relationships.

2. Earning A Living. Financial preparedness is crucial for everyone, regardless of their current circumstances or relationship status. Having a solid plan to maintain financial stability and independence is essential, whether you earn a living, are a stay-at-home partner, or rely on someone else’s income. Create a budget, save, update skills, consider education, explore a home-based business or part-time work, and build a strong network. Have open conversations with your partner, if you have one, about finances. Whether you are single or partnered, understand your financial investments and do monthly or quarterly reviews with an adviser or independently. Staying updated with financial news and analysis can help you make more informed decisions and stay on top of your investments.

3. Home. It’s completely normal to encounter difficulties in managing certain aspects of life or maintaining possessions. Sometimes, tasks may require assistance or specialized knowledge. In such cases, seeking help from friends, family, or professionals can make a significant difference. Creating a list of technicians or providers and keeping warranty information can be beneficial when something breaks or needs maintenance. Having this information readily available can save time and reduce stress in such situations. Additionally, being mindful about the purchases you make and considering your ability to manage and care for them independently is a wise approach. If you find that certain items or furniture are difficult to handle alone, you could explore lightweight or more manageable alternatives in the future. As you adapt and learn, you’ll likely find better ways to cope with challenges and become more self-reliant in various aspects of life.

4. Anxiety and Stress. Whether single or in a relationship, it’s essential to explore independent methods to address stress and anxiety. Practices like meditation, yoga, therapy, and self-reflection can be valuable tools in managing emotional well-being. If you are partnered, couples therapy is indeed a powerful tool for creating a more balanced and fulfilling relationship. It can help improve communication, understanding, and conflict resolution skills, leading to a healthier partnership. Cultivating a better relationship with uncertainty is also critical. Men and women fear uncertainty equally, but women’s vulnerabilities in our society make it more critical that we can handle the unknown well. It is most essential that women learn how to make uncertainty our ally, realizing that the unknown also brings new and good things into our lives, including new beginnings. Even during challenging times, there are blessings and new opportunities, but we must be present and strong enough to cultivate what still remains.

5. Self-Love/Self Doubt. The world has not always been fair to women, and we often face criticism and challenges related to our looks, intelligence, and presence in the business world compared to their male counterparts. The experience of a failed relationship can also trigger feelings of fear, self-doubt, and a lack of self-love, regardless of one’s age. Empowering yourself to embrace your worth, challenge societal norms, and find strength in your uniqueness is crucial for your financial independence and cultivating relationships that are supportive and joyful.

I just saw the Barbie movie with one of my dearest friends, Catherine. We are currently in our fifties. Even though Catherine is currently married, we made a plan as the credits were rolling to buy a big house with a bunch of our friends so we can live together in our 90s. Catherine prefers California, while I am more drawn to the East Coast, but we believe there’s enough time ahead to work out those details. For the many women and our daughters who grew up with Barbie maybe this is the new and most realistic Barbie World to come. Pass the popcorn—we can’t wait to watch.

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