It’s a depressing time to be a young, marriage-minded woman in America. Not only is the dating scene a disaster, any woman whose life plan includes marriage and children gets little support or encouragement from a corporate feminist culture that mistrusts men and marriage.
Women are deluged with messages about how great it is to be independent of men and children and how men aren’t measuring up. This is a dramatic departure from the attitudes and beliefs of an earlier era. And by “earlier,” I mean just a few decades ago.
To the casual observer, marriage in America may indeed appear to be falling out of fashion. After all, stories about purportedly happy single women and the joys of being child-free abound. Plus the marriage rate overall is down.
Yet the young and marriage-minded are undeniably among us. “The desire of those who have never been married to get married someday remains high,” writes Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup, “with more than eight in 10 singles hoping to marry.”
Until recently, getting hitched has been a rite of passage looked forward to by most women (and men). It was considered life’s main event, not a side dish or a capstone to an otherwise happy and fulfilling life. Sadly, the latter is precisely how women today have been groomed to view marriage and family. And we have the lowest birth rate on record to prove it.
Modern women live with the remnants of a radical worldview that first reared its head in the 1960s — free love! sexual equality! financial independence! — and over the years spawned a tectonic shift in cultural values and mores. But most people find that a life lived unattached is no life at all.
Indeed, my inbox is loaded with messages from women who believed four lies the culture tells: that marriage plus motherhood equals jail, that women should “never depend on a man,” that sex is just sex, and that career success will (and should) define you.
Many of these same women are now picking up the pieces of a life gone awry. They either can’t find a marriageable man, or they do find a husband but are exhausted and resentful due to the relentless demands of motherhood and breadwinning.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’re a young woman who wants to build a life that includes marriage and children, you’re going to have to consider what your priorities are and what they aren’t. Career success and financial success are not prerequisites for a good marriage and a happy life. What matters most is choosing well and working with the biology you’ve been given. Ergo, make finding your person your first order of business — and build a life around that.
Too many women have bought into the lies the culture tells. Every week I work with women in their thirties and forties to help restructure their marriages and lives, because they made decisions early on about love and money and career with no foresight as to how those decisions would affect them down the line. No one gave them a roadmap that works.
Here’s one. It is perfectly reasonable to put your professional aspirations on hold in order to raise a family. Liberated or not, most married mothers don’t remain in the workforce the way most married fathers do: full-time and year-round. Naturally, this puts the woman who made plans for a different life in a precarious and painful position.
The truth is, our culture failed women by grooming them to become cogs in the workplace, as though women are no different from men. As if women’s bodies don’t do something men’s bodies don’t. As if women’s needs and desires, sexual and otherwise, are exactly the same as men’s. This was supposed to prove our dedication to equality, but all it did in the end was make women miserable.
My advice to young women is simple: Think bigger. Look at the entirety of your life and prioritize what’s most important to you. If finding someone to love who loves you back, not just for now but forever, matters, focus your energies there. Think and behave in a way that will get you where you want to go.
Whom you marry, and how that marriage fares, will have a greater effect on your happiness and well-being than anything else you do. It will be the axis upon which all other decisions are made: where to live, which career to pursue, how much wealth you’ll build — the list goes on. What sense does it make, then, to not prioritize it?
Men and marriage don’t curtail a woman’s career plans — children do. (And for the record: the trade-off is worth it!) So work within that framework. Be intentional. Don’t waste your years messing around with unmarriageable men. Don’t marry a man who hasn’t found his professional footing. Don’t choose a career that offers no flexibility.
Instead, put love and family at the center of your life and build everything else around that. That’s what I did, and it made all the difference.
This essay is adapted from Suzanne Venker’s new book, “How to Get Hitched (and Stay Hitched): A 12-Step Program for Marriage-Minded Women.” It will be published on August 31, 2021 by Post Hill Press. Suzanne’s website is www.suzannevenker.com.