Women of my generation have been raised to believe that we can have it all, do it all and be it all. Our era is defined by the notion of the “independent woman” who is well educated, well dressed, financially free, has a great career, a fabulous social life and is able to buy anything that she likes.
There’s no doubt that I, and countless other women, have benefited from the sacrifices that were made by women who came before us. My ability to have a career I love, to vote and to make innumerable choices of my own free will is a direct result of those who fought hard – and even died – to ensure that future generations of women would be able to have everything that they themselves could not.
However, many women of my generation have come to find out that ‘having it all’ does not necessarily bring happiness. Many of us have found that even after we have attained the status, the great job title, the salary, closets full of clothes and all of the other trappings of success as defined by our culture, there is often still something missing. Unfortunately that something – fulfillment, inner peace, satisfaction, contentment – cannot be bought, or earned at a university.
If there’s anything that the women’s rights movement forgot, it is the emotional and perhaps even spiritual component of womanhood. This may account for why the United States Social Study – which measures the emotional well being of Americans – recently found that despite the great advancements that women have made over the years, American women have become less happy with their lives. The decline in women’s happiness is a phenomenon that is increasingly common to the West, which seems counter intuitive when we consider what is available to us.
The reality is that while we accumulate material goods and external status, many of us remain unfulfilled on the inside. Furthermore, it can be a shock to find out that while being an ‘independent woman’ is great for certain environments, such as at work where a woman may be required to display constant strength at all times, it isn’t necessarily always conducive to the vulnerability, openness and expressiveness that is required in other areas of life. Striking that balance is crucial, however.
One of the areas in which this dichotomy has become very clear is in the world of dating and relationships. There are currently scores of attractive, educated, intelligent, sociable and eligible women who remain single. Black women in particular are getting married in fewer numbers. Many women complain that this is, in large part, to do with an apparent lack of suitable men. I disagree, however, with the notion that black women are unable to find suitable mates because there are no good black men out there. I think the issue goes a lot deeper than that.
Just as we’ve bought into the illusion that external trappings and material possessions make us happy, we have come to believe that because we have a degree, a corner office and can pay our bills on time, this makes us suitable dating partners. However, many women fail to see how what role their emotions, beliefs, preconceptions, self-esteem and inner confidence play not only in their day-to-day lives, but also in their love lives.
There’s no doubt that there are men out there who aren’t suitable dating, relationship or marriage material. However, when a woman ends up dating such a man – as even the most successful woman has at some point or other – rarely does she stop to ask herself why she chose him. Instead, she blames the man for who he is.
But if we women only took the time to look at ourselves honestly, we would see that even if we ‘have it all’ on the outside, it is likely that there are some elements of our own self-esteem and self-worth that require some work. In fact, a lot of work.
I speak from personal experience and from being a woman who has many single girlfriends. As someone who desires to get married one day, I have had to take a good look at myself to see what I was doing that was contributing to some of my dating mishaps. Yes, I have a Masters degree from Cambridge University, but I saw that I needed to work hard on my internal world to bring it up to the same standard of excellence that I had for my external world.
The constant moaning about men – particularly black men – that we women tend to engage in can become very tedious and circular. I am continually surprised at our shortsighted belief that we can do no wrong, and that our problems stem from men and their shortcomings rather than from our own choices. If the same type of man, or the same type of problem in other areas of our lives shows up over and over again, we must always remember that we are the only constant variable in the equation.
It’s time for us women to take responsibility and take a cold, hard look at ourselves. The constant brow beating of our brothers is destructive to them, and to us.
Perhaps it just isn’t our time yet and we haven’t found the right man. But it’s likely that there is also work for us to do on ourselves. The work of clearing up the baggage from our past, of building our levels of internal confidence and esteem and working on our inner dialogue, which for many ambitious women can be a harsh and critical one, is vital not only for relationships, but for our lives. It can be harder work than our college education. But it’s vital, and worthwhile.
Our focus should not just be about what looks good on the outside. We women need to ensure that our emotional lives are given as much attention as everything else. Then, and only then, will we really have it all.