Marriage can wait, but job skills? Not so much.
Dating a divorced man in the South is often a remarkably different experience than doing the same thing in Yankee country. This might be one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a woman who’s transplanted herself from the Twin Cities to Tennessee.
At 37, it’s only natural that when I date there’d be a lot of divorced men in the mix. But most divorced men I date down here have one significant similarity.
They tend to have high-maintenance ex-wives who’ve never — or rarely — worked for themselves to earn a living. It’s still a little hard for me to wrap my head around the whole concept. The kids may all be in school, or there may even be no kids, yet these ex-wives often collect alimony and still aren’t working after the divorce.
As a result, what seems to happen frequently down here is that nobody stays single for long. It all seems just a little bit suspect to me. You’re telling me that after a decade of marriage most women can jump into a new, serious relationship within just a few weeks or months? Without settling?
What’s more is that they go from one live-in relationship to another as if suitable partners were a dime a dozen and through it all they once again show no interest in any kind of job or career for themselves.
At this point, some folks are unhappy because they think I’m criticizing housewives. But that’s not the case. I think it’s great if a partner can stay home. As a single, work-from-home mom, I’d love to raise my daughter without worrying about deadlines and earning enough money.
What I’m worried about is the number of women putting a relationship ahead of developing their own skills.
Women need options and I don’t mean more men. We need to be able to take care of ourselves. If we’re forced to latch onto one man after another just to stay afloat, something has gone terribly wrong.
Far too many women believe that life begins with marriage. That they need a man to get anywhere in this world. But what if he leaves you, gets sick and can’t work, or what if he even dies?
What will you do if you have no work history and no tangible skills?
When we talk about a woman’s career people get all riled up thinking there’s some liberal agenda to keep moms from parenting or being at home. That’s simply not true.
Life can change in an instant. Women need options to fall back on.
I am about as much to blame as anyone for naively believing marriage was my future. When I was twenty, I married my college boyfriend despite my own uncertainties. I was close to flunking out of school, and instead of getting my own stuff together I attached my life to his.
Nobody taught me that marriage could wait, but developing my own skills couldn’t. That set me back bigtime.
Women need to know what it’s like to work for a living — even if they’re going to “marry well” into a family that can financially support them.
You need to know who you are before you can have a healthy relationship with anyone else.
Dating as a middle-aged adult is so much different than dating as a young adult. Once you’re out of college it’s pretty much common knowledge that you need to know yourself before getting married.
But during college, you’re in this bizarre bubble where marrying someone you’ve known for a year or less is completely normal. You not only don’t really know them, but there’s very little talk about who you are, who you might be, and what you’re going to do with your life.
Even if you plan to stay on a career track after marriage, when push comes to shove, it’s typically always the wive’s career that will go on hold. Not the husband’s.
Working is good for your self-image and mental health.
The very best thing I did after my divorce was rejoin the workforce right away. My marriage had been a brief but unhappy one, and it took a big toll on how I saw myself.
Work put me in a new environment where I could focus on the future instead of the past. It helped build my self-confidence up again as I did well and realized I wasn’t the screw up I thought I was.
My depression lifted when I believed I had something to contribute once to the rest of the world. And every woman needs that feeling of self-worth.
Working can help you become a more empathetic partner.
My marriage lasted less than two-and-a-half years, but I dropped out of school partly so we could save money and live on campus at his school. Though I contributed money, I had to sell off things that had been important to me like my bass clarinet.
I struggled in my new role and the fact that I had no life for myself. My husband was the driver, the student, and he even worked when not in school. I applied for a few jobs, never got called back, and then put my development on hold to be a housewife.
Focusing on my own development would have not only benefited me. It would have also made me more empathetic to the juggling my husband had to do. One of my biggest failures in the relationship was how I felt guilty about my contributions being “less” than his, but I still struggled to understand my husband’s position.
To be fair, he could have taught me to drive and encouraged my independence, but at the end of the day, I’m the one who should have stood on her own two feet and demanded I make a path to bettering my future as well.
When “life happens,” it helps to have real skills to fall back on.
When my husband left me, I had to start my life over from scratch. Thankfully, I am resourceful and have always found work to support myself as a single woman, but that’s not always the case with other women.
If a husband cannot work for whatever reason, it helps for the wife to have something she can do to help make up for that lost income. If he dies, or simply leaves her, she needs to know how to support herself.
Here in Tennessee, I see a lot of women wind up living with a new man and being supported by him instead of supporting themselves. I can’t help but think it’s a terrible trend. Throughout history, being financially dependent upon a man has never done us women any favors beyond mere survival. In the past, it was a necessity. Yet it’s always been a setback too.
People change, but you’re never going to regret learning how to take care of yourself.
Everybody thinks they know what they want when they’re young. We think we’re different, we think our relationship is different too. And we don’t think the person we love is going to change.
But they do change, and so do we. Most of us are not apart of supportive communities for young marriages. So, once we begin to change, we drift apart or begin fighting. We find out that we want different things afterall.
Women who choose to work and develop their skills enough to figure out how they want to make a living are never going to regret becoming self-reliant. If their marriage works, and they stay home with the kids — that’s great.
But it’s even better if the wife continues to work on herself and her career. She’ll know that no matter what life throws at her, she’ll be able to confidently stand on her own two feet instead of stressing because her financial health and security is reliant upon her husband.
It’s so tempting to think we have all the time in the world when it comes to our careers. Yet in the face of love and marriage, we’re often afraid to wait too long.
But we get older and it gets harder to live our lives without settling and making compromises. It gets harder to go back to school, and it becomes impossible to drop everything to pursue a previously undeveloped dream.
No one faults a man for figuring out what he wants to do with his life before settling down to have a family. He’s not selfish for wanting to make a stable income. But we don’t read into a man’s choices much at all.
It’s different with a woman because we’re reading into everything she does. Will she take the career path or the family path? She may be seen as selfish or unrealistic for wishing to pursue her own dreams.
At the end of the day, the very best thing a woman can do for her future (and potential family) is to take herself seriously enough to be able to stand on her own two feet rather than making herself dependent upon another person.