Society wants to laud the rise of strong women, but we’re not quite there
Even though I always knew in my heart I would never want kids, there was a period of time in my 20s when I let my boyfriend convince me otherwise.
It wasn’t his fault; he wasn’t being coercive — we’d just never had the “do you want kids” conversation, and he assumed that I did. We were young; we’d been together since college, and we grew into adulthood together. I loved him, and he wanted children badly enough that I tried to convince myself that I did too.
Further, he wanted his wife to stay home with the kids.
At that time, I was working at a law firm — doing work I didn’t care for — and so I thought, Yes, I’d like to stay home with our kids. Even after I finished graduate school for teaching, I still thought, Teaching is fun, but overall, I’d like to stay home with our kids.
Years after we broke up, I found myself in two careers that I love (I’m a counselor and a freelancer — both writing and coding) and I realized that, No, I actually can’t imagine giving up my careers and passions to stay home with children. At all.
Before I met my current partner, I didn’t spend much time trying to date. It wasn’t important to me; I’d gone on some dates — I’d even been in a few relationships — but they weren’t significant to me. I found myself choosing my job(s), my pets, and my own hobbies — essentially, choosing myself — over keeping these relationships alive.
I know now that these relationships weren’t perfect fits for me. Part of the reason, though, that these relationships weren’t for me, is that I found it difficult to find a partner when as a driven woman. It was more challenging than I had anticipated.
I sought a partner who was driven. I wanted to end up with a man who was striving for more — who was following his passions, whatever they may have been — and was doing what he needed to in order to achieve them.
Of course, I also wanted to be with someone who knew when to call it. I was not interested in someone who abandons loyalty, morality, and ethics in order to achieve what he wants — but ambition itself was attractive to me.
Societally, we applaud men for being determined and driven. We encourage men to be “go-getters.” We push them toward their goals; we nurture that self-confidence. We celebrate their enterprising spirit.
I don’t think that this should change — but I do wish that this same congratulatory and positive energy would be applied to women who behave similarly. We talk a big game about our love and encouragement for self-made women, but our societal actions don’t back it up — and this became so apparent to me on my dates and in my relationships.
When I told men that I love my career as a counselor, they would smile and tell me how lucky I am to have found a career that I feel so passionate about.
When I told them that I freelance in coding and writing, they’d say “on top of your full-time job?” and when I told them that the majority of my writing focused on female empowerment — the wattage in their smiles faltered.
It’s not that they disliked feminists; they considered themselves to be feminists — we never would have made it to the restaurant in the first place if they didn’t — it’s just that they were not sure where they fit in that scenario.
They wanted to be supportive — they knew that ambition and confidence is a good thing. They’d been cultivating their own ambitions and confidences their whole lives — they just weren’t sure what to do with a woman who had been doing the same.
In the vision of their lives and families, it never occurred to them that their wife might be unwilling to sacrifice her own career and dreams. It never occurred to them that this might need to be a conversation.
I want to be clear — I’m not blaming them for this. Societally, it never has needed to be a conversation.
The first few dates were always fun. Intellectually, we had good conversations. Politically, we aligned. We shared values, and hopes for the future.
But, there was still a difference between being a driven and opinionated man, and being a driven and opinionated woman.
“You just don’t need me,” one of my exes once cried as we broke up.
I needed him, the way that people need other people — I had sought partnership from him throughout our relationship — but that’s not what he meant.
He didn’t feel needed, because I still provided for myself. I was busy with my own friends and my own goals and my own life — I didn’t need to absorb his friends or his goals. I didn’t want to. He wasn’t sure what to do with a girlfriend who didn’t abandon her own happenings for his.
And, he’s not the only man for whom this has been a problem.
“There’s a time and a place for those comments,” a guy I was dating once told me as we were driving home from dinner with some of his friends. He was referring to some corrections I’d made to one of his friend’s comments about the migrant caravan marching through Mexico.
“Oh? There’s a scheduled time and place to correct ignorance?” I asked him. “Okay. Well, if that time and place are not when you’re hearing ignorance spoken, please let me know when it is?”
“You know what I mean,” he said.
“No, I really don’t,” I told him. “Your friend was making harmful and racist comments. I corrected him, and I was even polite about it.”
“You were,” he conceded. “You were polite about it.”
“So what’s the issue?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything, and I sighed.
“Sorry I made you uncomfortable with your friends,” I told him. “But the truth is, when people make harmful comments, I’m always going to call them out. It’s not like he made the mistake of calling the napkin on his lap blue when it was in fact green. He was spitting lies and rumors about people who are currently fleeing for their lives.”
“You’re just so opinionated,” he grumbled. “You read so much.”
“You’re mad at me because I read a lot?” I asked.
“I’m not mad. You just work a lot and you read a lot and you know about everything and you always have opinions.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not docile. I read a lot and keep up with current events. I have a lot of clients who are impacted by current events and I need to know how to help them. I write a lot and research a lot for my freelancing. I have opinions. It’s part of what makes me good at my job.”
“You also don’t mind when things get uncomfortable for the entire group,” he said.
“I’m a woman,” I responded. “I have to allow things to get uncomfortable. If I didn’t, I’d be sitting there uncomfortable all the time as men grope me when they shouldn’t and say shit they have no right to say. And yeah, now I don’t have an issue calling people out on their garbage.”
“But the entire group was uncomfortable,” he said.
“Okay well, I don’t care. I can’t care,” I responded. “Only privileged groups have the luxury of shying away from discomfort. Women, minorities — we’re done sacrificing our personal comfort for the comfort of the group.”
He didn’t say anything, and we stopped seeing one another shortly thereafter.
There are benefits to dating ambitious and opinionated people. We take action. You won’t have to sit back and wonder who is going to take care of an issue, because we’re already working on it.
We’re independent, and we don’t mind spending time alone. Go — hang out with your friends for the weekend. In fact, please go hang out with your friends for the weekend. Couples who need to spend all of their time together seem alien to those of us who value independence. We have plenty of our own activities to keep us busy.
We have strong values. Part of the reason we’re so opinionated is that we stand so strongly for what we believe in.
You’ll know where you stand with us. We don’t have time for passive-aggressive games. We’ll tell you when we’re mad, and we’ll tell you why. You might not like the reasoning — but there won’t be any ambiguity you have to parse through.
These are all qualities that are appreciated in men — they’re still not valued so highly in women.
But, it’s fine. I’ve learned that the men who don’t appreciate these qualities in me are men who don’t have the same strength that I do. People who are thrown off by others’ willingness to express thoughts, accept discomfort, and go after what they want, are people who are dealing with their own insecurities — and they need to work on that for themselves.
I found a partner who appreciates these qualities about me. I forwarded him a tweet once that read, “You better fall in love with my mind because I have a lot of opinions and you’re gonna hear them.”
He texted back, “I do love your mind. Madly, deeply.”
We’re no longer in an era that assumes women will be the partner to sit quietly and give up their own goals while absorbing their husband’s. While we’re making headway, we still have a lot of road in front of us — it’s exciting to be part of it.