In today's Washington Post, Laura Sessions Stepp has a Valentine's Day essay lamenting that young women are increasingly tossing out love in favor of "hooking up." What the essay and her book, "Unhooked" (written about at length earlier this week), fail to pick up on is that these young women are trading achievement through a boyfriend, fiancé or husband for self-fulfillment. Simple as that.
Stepp notes that on this Valentine's Day, most young women will chat with their girlfriends about their crush on their chemistry partner or the guy in the neighboring cubicle. "What they probably won't say is 'I love him,'" writes Stepp. Of course not! Is she really arguing that embracing a flat, junior high concept of love -- where one "loves" a mere acquaintance like one's chemistry partner or cubicle mate -- is really preferable to focusing on personal pursuits and achievements?
She rattles off quotes from young women expressing that love is "a constant effort," "so annoying" and "a waste of time." These are high-achieving, driven young women who are putting their academic or career achievements ahead of romantic relationships, she says. But I think these quotes speak to something entirely different: Maybe ambitious young women are now more cautious of depleting their emotional funds, less willing to let frivolous relationships take center stage in their lives and more discerning about the relationships that they pursue. With these higher expectations for relationships, it shouldn't come as a surprise that women in their early 20s might defensively express a "to hell with love" attitude.
Women, for the most part, are no longer expected to live through men, to simply bask in the achievements of their significant other. They're actually expected to do their own achieving and have, in fact, been taught that part of landing that eventual long-term partner is becoming their own person. Is it alarming that girls and young women aren't desperately seeking out boyfriends -- that they might actually pursue singlehood out of their own self-interest? If we're to take this trend seriously, more than anything it suggests young women are becoming increasingly independent.