(WOMENSENEWS)--February brings the chance to send out Valentines and monitor the incoming media messages about mating and dating.
My radar is picking up a decidedly retro pulse. "Wake up and smell the past," is the signal I keep getting.
One major publishing company, William Morrow, is resurrecting a 40-year-old French tome, "The Men in Your Life: Timeless Advice and Wisdom on Managing the Opposite Sex," in which women cater to their husbands and girls study how to catch them.
New York Times columnist John Tierney asserts that women want affluent men to marry. And a brace of news stories over the past year suggests that Ivy League women want to leave the career track and go home to be housewives.
Do we women have to go back to the days of vacuuming in our pearls to have a happy love life? Do we really want a Sugar Daddy to pay all our bills?
As I've said in this space before, and as I will continue to reiterate as long as seems necessary, the answers are no and no.
Much has been made of research showing that women often opt for older men who are also "good providers." It came from University of Texas psychologist David Buss' large-scale study of mating habits in the early 1990s. But the findings do not sort out why this might be, or if women's generally weaker financial standing might be a major factor.
Looking for a Caring Man
In societies with a high degree of gender equality, where women have their own resources, they seek out a different type of man. Psychologists Alice Eagly (Northwestern University) and Wendy Wood (Duke University) reanalyzed the Buss data and found that when you only look at women in societies with a high degree of gender equality and where women have their own resources they don't seek out rich and older men. They look for men who are caring, understanding and able to bond with children.
So what about those smart, educated young women, who--the media tell us lately--are looking for rich men to marry?
First off, there's no good data to show there are many of them beyond the anecdotal few who show up in sensationalized stories in such prominent publications The New York Times and Time magazine.
Meanwhile, there's been a shortage of journalism about the perils that young women face if they do choose the "opt out" track.
What happens if wealthy hubby opts for a newer model? Some 40 percent of marriages today end in divorce. Not all men are wonderfully generous. Look at the court fights over former mates' hidden assets and the level of child support payments. Studies consistently show that men do better financially after a divorce while women do worse.
There are psychological costs as well. Women who choose men for their lifelong earning potential often find that they soon fall into very traditional marriage patterns. As his job becomes the fulcrum around which the family revolves, she can easily disappear into household work.
Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley studied working women and homemakers over 22 years and found that, at age 43, the homemakers were more depressed and frustrated than the working women, who had high self esteem and were happier about their lives.
Pursuit of Happiness
Choosing a mate on the basis of affluence, meanwhile, seems not only dull and dreary but like a defeatist way to attempt what is presumably a pursuit of happiness.
Young college women on the hunt for a wealthy guy to support them can't take a chance on the struggling filmmaker, the musician, the social worker, the guy who's teaching in an urban school or, I might add, a journalist. These are the guys who are more likely to possess the tenderness required for domestic bliss than the fast-track corporate climbers who have eyes only for the next rung on the ladder.
So I have my own timely advice. To women interested in "managing the opposite sex" I would say, simply, give it up. Try instead to manage your own expectations. Look for someone who can help you face life's challenges, not someone to foot the bill. Plan to share financial expectations and assume you'll both need each other along the way.
After all, even well-off men can meet financial disaster in the brave new world of layoffs and globalization. Men's wages have been stagnant or declining for three decades, and today, it's not just factory jobs that are moving offshore, but good white-collar jobs as well. A lawyer or an accountant--male or female--can find that somebody in Mumbai winds up doing the job more economically for a company.
Couples Come to Mind
In these regards, several couples I know come to mind.
One male high-level corporate manager lost his job while the children were in college. Only his wife's good salary as a tenured teacher saved them from disaster.
Another woman who thought she was living in the lap of luxury faced economic chaos when her husband was laid off. Her own good job in the technology area got them through a rough patch when mortgage payments and other bills might otherwise have gone unmet.
When a high-level government employee was sacked, his writer wife stepped in and carried the family's finances for a time.
What would have happened if those women didn't have good jobs? Stress, tension, marital discord or even worse scenarios, given that the male suicide rate closely shadows the unemployment rate.
And then there's my own experience.
When I was in an Ivy League graduate school, if I had been looking only for a guy who would support me in an upscale suburban lifestyle I would never have married a sexy, funny young journalist from a working-class family. I would have missed out on a man who still makes me laugh, who's a great dad and a guy who still rings my chimes. Are we rich? No. But we're comfortable on our two incomes.
So how about a valentine for America's "typical" couple of today, the two-earner couple. Instead of trying to bring back Ozzie and Harriet, why not offer words of praise for a model of marriage that is a good fit with today's reality? Men as well as women benefit from it.
Professor Caryl Rivers of Boston University is the co-author, with Dr. Rosalind Barnett of Brandeis University, of "Same Difference; How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs." (Basic Books).
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For more information:
"Why Dowd Doesn't Know What Men Really Want":
Council on Contemporary Familes:
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