When I heard Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City say, "Some people are settling down, some are settling, and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies," I felt compelled to write this chapter. The majority of single women whom I see for consultations are struggling with wanting to get married and wanting to hold out for a man they feel terrific chemistry for-nothing less than butterflies.
Sarah, a thirty-six-year-old elementary school teacher, always felt envious around her coworker Louisa. They had lunch together often at the school where they both taught and Louisa would boast about her one year marriage to Peter. Sarah would listen patiently, wondering why it had been so easy for Louisa to find a man she was attracted to and who was willing to commit to a marriage, while it was such a hard task for her.
Sarah was struggling with the breakup of her and her boyfriend who had decided, after three years of dating, that he wasn't ready to make a long-term commitment. Recently, Sarah had met a man who was very interested in exploring a relationship with her, but she didn't feel that attracted to him. The story of her romantic life. Either they were commitment phobics or they just weren't what she was looking for.
When Sarah met Louisa's husband at the school's Christmas party, she was totally disappointed. He was barely audible, speaking just above a whisper. He also stuttered. During the course of conversation Sarah learned that he hadn't gone to college and worked as a clerk in a hospital. She thought this was interesting since Louisa was an ambitious, professional woman working on her master's degree.
After the party Sarah was no longer envious of Louisa. In fact, she felt almost superior to her in that she still had an opportunity to meet a much more exciting, appropriate man than she felt Louisa had settled for.
Many women today are highly educated and career-minded. Although they long for the companionship of a man, they are not willing to settle for just any man. They are very committed to finding a man who makes them feel "butterflies."
It's been my observation that when women are very committed to getting married, they often don't want to exert the patience, the time, or the enormous energy it may take to wait for their butterfly man. Women who highly prioritize getting married will often compromise on certain qualities they would have liked a man they partnered with to have. Bottom line is being "Sadie, Sadie, married lady" is more important than finding passionate love.
I'll share with you a quick personal story. When I was just about to turn thirty-four, I had a therapist tell me that if I didn't choose someone to marry soon I would end up alone and very depressed. Of course she was married. When I had the occasion to meet her husband, like Sarah from earlier in the chapter, I was very disappointed and surprised by her choice, feeling that she had settled and compromised just to be married. Personally, I think what she told me about my future if I were not to marry was destructive and hurtful. I am presently not married, not depressed, and, in fact, embrace my independent, full, single life.
But needless to say, women who are dating with the priority of marriage in the back of their mind (and who are not willing to wait around for the stomach flip) are not so off-course. According to most statistics and the claims made by many women, there are simply not enough desirable men to go around. Simply put, it's social inflation. Too many women looking for too few men.
In my practice, I've observed that my male clients always seem to have any number of women to pick from. I've known men with prison records (felonies), men on SSD (Social Security Disability for Psychiatric Illness), welfare, and still women are clamoring after them.
I once treated a handsome, thirty-something man with a glamorous career who never seemed to lack for options. He would go out to nightclubs every weekend and meet attractive, sexy, available women who were very interested in dating him. He once told me, "I can't get over the volume of good-looking, high-quality women out there. It's like I'm in a candy store."
So, even though it may seem that a woman might have to consider compromising on some of her standards a little if she is dating with the sole purpose of finding a husband, I'm not idealizing marriage either. Many women I've treated who did walk down the aisle were sadly disappointed. They found that they had the exact same problems as when they were dating.
These women were horrified to find out their coupled life could be filled with boredom, anxiety, sadism, and frustration. They were never told this information in the bridal magazines they read so voraciously. Here is a post on my message board from a woman who married for practical reasons:
"I married someone stable who was nothing like anyone I had ever dated. It was mostly because my biological clock was ticking and I really wanted kids. So I married him, he was a great dad and I had great kids. After fifteen years I left him. I think ultimately he was kind of like the rest of them even though he did not appear to be. He was not at all commitment phobic, but I think he still was unable to get close. I did not care, because I really did not love him; we were so opposite."
Even New York psychoanalyst Dr. Susan Kolod who specializes in women and relationship issues feels that chemistry is an important ingredient when looking for a man. She told me, "With all the wear and tear you have to go to in a relationship, it doesn't seem worth it when you're not excited by the person."
With all this said, there are still very positive things about marriage, which can explain why a woman may not want to risk waiting around for her butterfly man to show .. . if he ever does.
Pros of Being Married
There are many benefits of being married that one just can't dispute. See if any of these perks would make you want to give up waiting for your butterfly man:
Waiting for Butterflies
Now let's look at the realities of choice in staying single while waiting it out for your butterfly man. Keep in mind, however, this means not only finally meeting a man who makes your stomach flip but finding one who reciprocates your feelings.
Pros of Waiting for Butterflies
Cons Of Waiting for Butterflies
Dating can be traumatic-dating for years, subjecting yourself to all different types of men can be traumatizing. Repetitive rejections and disappointments, having to attach and reattach, can take a toll on a woman's energy, emotional and physical health, and psyche. Although dating is supposed to be a social event, it can also be a horrible experience, causing feelings of humiliation and hopelessness. This is a lot to deal with-and without proper guidance, it can be overwhelming.
You're really alone! One of the major downfalls of being without a partner is that there is no one immediately there to help you if you should need it-such as when you have an illness, financial difficulties, or just a bad day. Experiences like these may cause single women to second-guess the choices they've made.
There are times when an unattached woman can feel especially lonely. She's had an argument with her boss, she's experienced the death of a family member, or holidays and birthdays might get to seem particularly lonely. If she doesn't have a strong circle of friends, she can also feel isolated.
Shopping-Bag Lady Syndrome
Many single women have a secret fear of ending up a "shopping-bag lady," even if they are successful and doing well financially. It appears to be a universal fear among women that they will end up alone, homeless, and broke. If you say to a room crowded with women that you're concerned about becoming a bag lady in your old age, heads will turn! Over half the women will acknowledge they've had similar thoughts whether married or not, although single women are more fearful. Women struggle with this worry for many reasons, which is completely understandable when you consider that, generally speaking, we've only been self-supporting for that past fifty years or so. I hope that in future generations women will become accustomed to being independent and the syndrome will no longer be a problem.
Crazy Cat-Lady Syndrome
Many single women are scared they are going to end up as "the crazy cat lady" the eccentric old women with tons of cats who never leaves the house. Although women can remain unmarried and still have very gratifying lives filled with love, they still struggle with the shame and fear of being the archetypal "old maid" who never got a man.