Last night three of us sat in the beautiful living room of my friend's brand new condo. It was gorgeous. We toasted her buying her own home (in the Bay Area that is a HUGE feat!), and indirectly toasted the business she started several years ago that has given her such financial opportunities. She is nothing short of amazing as she builds her empire, hires employees, travels the world, and fills her life up with the experiences that matter most to her. Not being married....
And yet she shared how exhausting it is to feel like others assume she's done something wrong to still be single. Their statements, their questions, their looks of pity, their advice... it can all feel isolating and condemning.
She'll be the first to say that she so looks forward to being in a relationship that feels healthy, fun, and meaningful so it's not that she prefers being single. But she prefers being single to being in a relationship that is empty of the things she values; she's unwilling to get married to just be married.
She doesn't need our advice to try online dating; she doesn't need us trying to encourage her by reminding her the perks of being single; she doesn't need us to tell her that she just needs to get more comfortable being by herself.
What she needs are women who will just let her tell her own story and experience, women who are able to hold both the truth that there are parts that can "suck" about be single and the hope with her that it will still happen; all without implying that there is something wrong with her or that she's not doing life right.
I'm not single, and yet I know the feeling.
Not having kids....
At my most recent speaking engagement I must have fielded the question, "Do you have kids?" at least seventy times in that one day. For the first 50 responses I kept whispering to myself, "They're just trying to connect with me. They're just trying to find common ground on the area of life that matters most to them. Don't read anything else into it."
But by mid-afternoon, I was exhausted. I was weary of feeling like they wanted me to have kids as though I'd have more credibility to them if I did. My insecurities were starting to flare up and the fear of "not being enough" was lodging itself in my chest. The voice of shame began to whisper: "You're not a real woman unless you're a mom. They think you can't relate. They will trust you more if your life looks just like theirs."
I felt judged and dismissed; but I didn't want to adopt that story because I don't think anyone was trying to judge me. So I've spent the last week processing those fears with close girlfriends, journaling, talking with my husband, and coaxing my voice of wisdom to speak louder than my voice of fear.
The irony here is that the third friend I was with last night is married and a mom. But she too knew the feeling we were describing.
Not having enough kids...
She has an only child and fields similar-feeling questions all the time about whether she's going to have another, when, and why it's the best thing to do for x, y, and z reasons.
Without knowing her circumstances, her heart, her body, or the details of her life-- she feels like other women presume there is a "correct" path that should be followed. Like me feeling dismissed with statements like, "well of course you can do that because you don't have kids," she feels that way because "she only has one and that's easy!"
I've also heard women who have more than the presumed 2-3 kids talk about feeling judged, too.
And let's not sidestep that everything I've seen on feminism lately has more to do with how much a women "leans in" or "reclines" in her career once she has a family so we know that there is massive insecurities getting flared up in that arena as everyone struggles with trying to do it all right.
And, of course we all know, that you can be married, with the 2.5 kids, surrounded by the proverbial white picket fence, and still incur the feelings of not be enough, competing with other moms, and feeling as though no one understands just how unique or difficult our personal experience is-- whether we have twins, an adopted child, a special needs baby, a difficult teenager, or a an adult child that lives at home-- the list goes on and on of things that quickly push us to feel like something is wrong with our lives.
Feminism must start in our friendships and spread out...
Last week, a friend and I sat in the audience to listen to Debora Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, who spoke about how she believes we've lost sight of the original goal of feminism being to liberate women. The data she shared made a convincing case that not only have the numbers not really budged beyond the "token 1-2 women" in the upper echelons of most industries, but that more discouraging is the fact that we're not yet acting like liberated women on the inside, either. Our body image hasn't improved in the last number of decades, we're exhausted and weary, we are more educated and yet feel more incompetent, we never feel like we're doing enough, we feel guilty for not making homemade Halloween costumes, and we're not reporting higher levels of happiness.
Last night, sipping tea, I looked at these two dear friends of mine and thought, "How is it that we are all strong, self-aware, healthy, vibrant, happy, spiritually-engaged, and pursuing our dreams, and yet still enslaved by this idea that we're not really a woman until/unless we do x?"
And while I believe there are some serious systemic issues that need to be addressed to help level the playing field, I also think women are doing a lot of this to ourselves and each other. It's women who are editors of the magazines featuring photo-shopped women, it's women looking down on other women for making different life choices, it's women who are forgetting that every time they judge someone else that it heightens their own insecurity.
Insecurity about our lives leads to judgment of others. We all want validation that we're doing the best we can and that it's enough. And if someone makes a different choice than we do then we are tempted to believe that one of us made the wrong choice. And we don't want it to be us, so it must be them.
And that is a faulty paradigm. We aren't competitors, we're sisters. Truly connected; our fate is shared in so many ways as a rising tide lifts all boats. While we're out there campaigning for equal pay and corner offices, we also have to do the work of making sure we're not like prisoners who no longer live behind bars but still don't know how to enjoy freedom.
The part of feminism I care about most is how we feel about ourselves. And that is shaped by the relationship we have with ourselves (finding our own peace in our choices and being centered in our own worth), the relationship we have with what I call God (understanding why we're on this planet, our calling, our value, what makes us special), and the relationship we have with those around us (practicing the shining of our light and seeing how special everyone else is, too).
Last night, the three of us women, whose lives don't mirror each others at all, shared our hearts, spoke our truth, and validated each other in meaningful ways. We promise to cheer for each other, even when one of us has something the other seemingly wants. We promise to not take it personally when someone makes a choice different from ours. We promise to ask questions and listen to each others stories as if we're each a traveler who has visited countries that we won't be seeing; instead of trying subtly convince each other to follow the same path we did. And we promise to do the personal work in our own lives to show up with as much vulnerability, honesty, courage, and love, as we possibly can.
We practiced feminism-- liberating each other to live the best life we each created.
And the more we do that with each other, the more we can do that with the women we have yet to meet.
Feminism is in trouble the more disconnected women get from ourselves and each other.