This originally appeared on Mamamia. Republished here with permission.
Apparently, we women have a problem. Something so insidious it’s stopping us from “keeping a man.” (Yes, I loathe that term too.)
Just last week I encountered yet another strong friend I admire in distress, her relationship almost over.
The problem, her partner had explained to her, was that my friend was “too independent,” that she doesn’t need a man. And her man didn’t like that.
She came to me to discuss her dilemma because she knew I’d been in the same situation years earlier, after a man I cared for deeply told me the same thing.
The problem in our relationship, he said before leaving me (to return to an ex-girlfriend he had previously described as “clingy and suffocating”) was that I could live without him.
He was aware that I was happy in my own company, had my own friends, interests, and life, and this made him feel redundant, unwanted, and unloved.
The reality was he was none of these things. I loved him dearly. He was a lover, best friend, and my rock, but what’s more, he was someone I could love, wholly and deeply.
But yes, I always knew that if our relationship headed south at any stage, I could survive. It would be hard and I would be devastated but my resilience muscle had been well exercised over the years and would likely flex again. And so it did when he left.
So, when counseling my girlfriend, I had little advice to offer, only lame promises that the pain would abate and life would go on. That the bright side was she liked herself and her own company—this being the best soft landing for any life dumping.
Still, she remained incredulous. The fact that she’s strong, she explained, is because she’d been too brittle before. She may not have needed a man to support her financially or emotionally, but only because she works hard and has a strong support system of girlfriends. Not wanting to get married doesn’t mean not wanting to be asked.
It’s not the commitment of marriage that scared her but the institution, she stressed. He didn’t want kids either, so why was he questioning her ambivalence to parenthood and not his own?
It constantly confounds me that in a time where men dismiss women in their 30’s and 40’s as ticking baby clocks or potential bridezillas hell-bent on commitment, a woman who is none of these is also a turn-off—her lack of complication is perceived as, well, too complicated.
Women who are happy being single, who see relationships as icing on cakes and not the whole damn gateau, seem to be intimidating to some men.
They think we are somehow too complete and self-satisfied to appreciate a relationship. That in not being clingy, needy, or insecure, we are sending a message that says we don’t need, desire, or appreciate them.
Apparently, just hanging out in a relationship is not what’s expected, we need to be hanging on to it for dear life.
Now, this is contrary to what most men I know tell me they want in a relationship. I can’t count the number of times a man has explained the failure of his last relationship being a woman “wanting more” than they can give or “pushing too hard” toward marriage and babies.
Yet, when they encounter a woman like my friend or me—independent, self-satisfied, past the desire or possibility for babies, ambivalent about marriage, and just happy to be in a loving, uncomplicated, and trusting relationship—we’re too much hard work.
Obviously this does not apply to all men (please save me the angry tweets), but I can assure you they are out there. And here’s the interesting thing: Even though they frustrate and confound me, I do actually understand and empathize with these men.
Knowing what a man’s role is in society these days is fraught. And men are rightfully confused, caught in a tug of war between expectation and desire, craving freedom but being sold commitment, wanting it all without knowing what it all is.
You see, I have opposed popular convention in my life too, withstood the “so you’ve never been married?” questions and the inevitable “don’t you regret not having children?” intrusions, and it has been hard.
Not fitting into society’s norm of marriage, children, and commitment has meant constantly having to defend my life decisions. And often it’s been incredibly upsetting and awkward.
Men are no exception. Having written on the subject of childlessness a lot over the years, I have heard too many heartbreaking stories of men feeling the same pressure, sadness, and frustration as women when their lifestyles are perceived as less relevant, a failure in comparison to the traditional marriage-and-kids.
They confess that they too have a biological longing that can defy even their better sense, judgement, and aspirations. And that they’re not immune to the same desires and insecurities as women.
And so to the men who have not quite gotten there yet, who are still feeling the draw of convention despite protesting the contrary and don’t know what they really want as a result, I say: Keep trying.
You might just find it’s OK without what your parents and peers think is important in life, that by being content within yourself you may see clearly what you really need to feel happy and complete.
What’s more, you might just find yourself a partner similarly content with their lot too. The perfect icing for your cake.
Wendy Squires has been a journalist for more than 20 years. She released her first novel, The Boys’ Club, based on her brief experience working as a network television publicist in 2010, and is working on another. In 2011 she moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she now writes a regular opinion column for The Age and freelances for numerous publications.