Modern Love

Why Women Have Never Had It Better When It Comes to Dating

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This post is the second in a series. Previously: In Defense of Millennials, Part 1.

The growing perception of Modern Dating for women is that it’s a chaotic, directionless spiral away from commitment and into drunken hookups and futility.

But, honestly? Women today don’t have it bad when it comes to dating. In fact, we have it pretty wonderful. The reason, of course, is freedom – we have the power, and tools, to have our dating life be however we’d like it to be.

For centuries and centuries, a woman’s lot in life was based entirely on the supposition that she would get married, and the sooner the better. In the middle ages, a girl would live in her parents house until the ripe old age of 15 or so, at which point her father would march her down the aisle and hand her off to a husband. The next 25 years would be spent getting pregnant, narrowly escaping death during childbirth, and picking out new tapestries for the castle great room, or whatever it was that women did back then. (Peasant women basically did the same thing, minus the tapestries and plus a good 10 hours a day of toiling away in the fields with a baby strapped to their back.) The only exceptions to the rule? Nuns and prostitutes, aka, celibacy and syphillis. The middle ages were pretty bleak.

As the centuries went on, things for women got better, but not by much. Women in Colonial America were finally able to inherit their husband’s property, thus providing some of the first examples of American female autonomy. And never-married women who could scrape together enough money could often manage to buy cottages where they would lead relatively quiet lives and do their best to avoid anyone suspecting them of being a witch.

With the industrialization of the 19th century, YOUNG single WOMEN were given the opportunity to leave the home and earn a living in mill towns: the very first example of the single life in America. Sure, they lived in all-girl boarding houses, worked an ungodly amount of hours, and made very little money. But they were also allowed to sneak into town for the occasional evening’s entertainment, one of the very few opportunities for young women to meet men unchaperoned. (Unfortunately, birth control at this point was still about a century away, so this single life was pretty finite.)

So, the single woman continued to unhappily exist until the 20th century, which is when things suddenly, miraculously, took a turn for the better. First of all, the car was invented, and what’s more, women were allowed to drive it. Instantly, women had more autonomy: the ability to leave the house, to get to a job, and, best of all, to meet men unchaperoned. Is it a wonder that the sexually promiscuous flapper of the 1920s coincides perfectly with the sudden and mass popularization of the automobile? Women have always been sexual creatures, it was just a matter of getting a moment alone with a guy outside of the damn parlor. Suddenly, women were smoking, drinking, dancing, and having sex: the germination of single life as we know it. But birth control was still dicey, and women hadn’t entered the workforce quite yet, so they still got married ASAP.

And then, boom! The sixties happened and everything exploded. The most important development, of course, was the birth control pill: that miraculous little thing that you swallow painlessly in the morning to have worry-free sex all month. (The pill has lasted, but the “worry free” part, not so much, thanks to STDs.) The other important development was the rise of the “career girl”, a woman who entered the workforce not because she had to support her family, or to help with the war effort, but simply because she wanted to. And when a woman got a job, she often got money, and her own apartment, and no one to cook and clean and look after apart from herself. So naturally women started to realize, “Wait a minute, if I can have sex outside of marriage, and support myself outside of marriage, WHAT is the big rush?” And, for the first time in history, there really wasn’t a rush, biological or financial, to get married. Which meant that women (and, by extension, men) could really take their time and try to find a relationship that was compatible, and not just convenient.

And, luckily, things have continued to progress ever since. Amazing advances in the fields of fertility have meant that women can raise families later than ever. Social advances have meant that it’s now become perfectly acceptable to raise a child with a partner, with a group, or alone. Now, more than ever before in history, we’re able to make choices for ourselves free from biological and social constraints. (Completely-free of them? No. Not yet. But when you factor in how relatively recently in the scope of human history these changes have occurred, it’s staggering how lucky we are to have been born in the past 50 years, vs the previous few millennia.)

In other words, you might be frustrated that your last few dates fizzled and didn’t lead anywhere, but your female ancestors might have loved to even get the opportunity to take men for a test drive. So the next time someone (your mom?) forwards you an article proclaiming that romance has never looked so bleak, you can enlighten them.

Because man, has it been bleaker.

And despite the occasional ambiguous text, frustrating lack of commitment, or confusion caused by changing courtship rituals, is it seriously nice to have options.

This piece has been adapted from Modern Dating: A Field Guide, Copyright 2013 by Chiara Atik. (Harlequin)