How the Search for Independence Replaced the Search for Prince Charming

Some women that sociologists would qualify as “thirties CSP+” seem to have no interest in married life. Better: for them, the search for independence would have replaced the search for Prince Charming. A phenomenon that concerns me. Because these women are friends, colleagues, women I see almost every day. And because I am not far from letting myself be contaminated; to understand it, I went to meet them, listen to what had made this poor Prince Charming old-fashioned and made “sentimental autonomy” so desirable.

– Yeah, great, we have to celebrate! Welcome to the club!

These friends do not celebrate a marriage or a birth, but the separation of one of them which they call “her autonomy”. We are not here in the cliché of the “divorce party” with alcohol flowing freely, but rather in a form of sorority.

“We are a group of single women for civil status, but occasionally in couples, and we congratulate those who manage to get out of the shackles of official couples who no longer really fulfill many women”, explains Sophia, 34, resident from Montreuil and manager of a coffee shop. “I have my own apartment, my job, my son: I have no intention of making concessions to share this with a man. I decide myself what I eat, when I eat, when I go to bed and how much time I spend with my friends.” More than celibacy, Sophia defines her situation as independence.

They lived happily and had many girlfriends

Taken separately, these discussions are only isolated anecdotes. But put into perspective, they form a “bundle of concordant clues” that define a culture common to a generation. The first generation of women whose mothers were feminists in theory, but were not always able to benefit in practice from the concrete effects of the struggle for equality. “I was born a year after the legalization of abortion, my mother had seven children and always told me that if she had been able to choose, she would have had only one” continues Sophia “because that freed from the grip of my father”. The couple as a ball, autonomy as the ultimate goal?

“Shoes on wearing, I found it, because on driving I found it (…) cause I depend on me” sang Destiny’s Child to us over and over in 2001, when our generation was passing their baccalaureate. Princess Charlotte of Monaco (also born in the 1980s) has a baby without getting married, does not move in with the baby’s otherwise divorced father, then leaves him for another. No big wedding in a princess dress with an arch-rich archduke. And yet, a very rewarding media treatment, way “Charlotte the independent” while 20 years ago, we complained about her almost plague-stricken aunt for the “same penalties, same reasons”. Conversely, Kate Middleton, who literally had her “princess wedding”, is much less of a dream for young women. Press articles with the subject “Kate Middleton sad” are twice as numerous as those with the subject “Kate Middleton happy”. Marriage also appears in this case as a series of painful constraints and in no way as a goal to be achieved.

Like the princely media icons, the films that massively move young women to theaters are no longer systematically romantic comedies. The women of our generations dream of stories of friendship, where women “get out of it on their own”, find work, take care of themselves financially, live happily and have many girlfriends.

Prince Charming is (no longer) a guarantee of material wealth

In Disney stories as in the girly movies of the 80s, the man brought financial comfort to the woman. Working Girl Where Pretty Woman are just modern versions of Cinderella where the poor working-class woman is brought out of her condition by a man more comfortable than her (the proof, he wears a tie).

But in the comedies of the 2000s, more Prince Charming. In Everything that shines, the happy ending is not related to a boy but to a new job. In The Gazelles, a group of newly divorced young women aged 30 to 35 explain that “their life is beginning”. Bitch is the story of a woman who cannot find a Prince Charming and who finds it very good. The Holy Grail is no longer being with a man, the Holy Grail is being independent. The Destiny’s Child song is not far away, and its lyrics “I depend only on me, I bought my car with my own money”.

Perhaps because the women of previous generations understood that the couple was not always a guarantee of material comfort? The institution of marriage is basically organized around material arrangements. Which no longer necessarily have to be…

So in Financial independence, a false promise? published in the sociological journal Plural Thoughts, Dr Caroline Henchoz, lecturer, states: “Women, who are more likely in society to have a lower income than their spouse, pay the price, particularly in terms of access to consumption and to decision-making autonomy, and this cost can increase further with the arrival of children.” Clearly, more than the level of income, weighs on these women the dependence vis-à-vis their spouse in decision-making, although nothing legally obliges them to do so for half a century. As if today’s thirties were the first generations to really experience de facto financial independence.

Prince Charming got fired

The couple, some have tried. And came back. They do not want to replace a husband by another like Scarlett O’Hara, but to replace a man by autonomy (like Scarlett O’Hara too, but Kennedy’s widowhood period). Cassia Carrigan, French blogger and writer (she notably participated in Letters to my womb) thirty-something, says: “I never dreamed of getting married, when I was little I imagined myself a writer, a single mother, and I planned to have enough money to buy myself a villa with a swimming pool at the edge of water (and a Barbie campervan) That didn’t stop me from getting married at a very young age, to try to achieve a sort of “normalcy”, to find out what it was like to live together like a couple. We’re harping on our ears. This marriage really put my ideas back in place: I don’t think I’m made for suburban conjugality and I’m groping to find my ideal love pattern. What’s certain is that it doesn’t does not imply a two-name lease or a joint account.”

Socially, the Sunday barbecue at the in-laws is not (anymore?) dreaming. We dare to say it. And the barriers that some of our elders have (“I don’t want to spend Christmas alone”, etc.) seem to have fallen. With the approach of the summer holidays, “Traveling in love” calls up 600,000 results on Google, “traveling alone” 1 million 300,000. “Traveling alone is an ultimate kiff!” launch together Pénélope, Sophie and Anissa, 32 years old each. Summer vacation alone is no longer even a state of affairs that we accept a little depressed, but a situation sought and assumed as “fulfilling”, according to them.

Moreover, formerly the section “It’s my story” of ELLE magazine narrated beautiful romantic or unusual summer encounters. This spring, a good half of the latest stories are dedicated to “happy breakups” that celebrate female independence. (“I left him”, “I got divorced”, etc.) The figure of the single woman is no longer associated with a loser but with a fighter. She “envy”.

Sexual fulfillment without (necessarily) attachment

On the American film side, the comedies of the last few years also evoke girl bands or relationships of “sexfriends” without commitment. “We are the ‘no-commitment’ generation, so an ‘until death do us part’ relationship isn’t necessarily a dream anymore.” explains Marie Minelli, author of the guide Dare sexfriends and of Good Girls Don’t Swallow on the clichés of female sexuality.

And this independence is not a sign of sexual frustration, quite the contrary. A study by Roy Baumesiter pointed out that statistically, the most emancipated women are the happiest sexually.

They trade less, too. A study conducted for Psychology Magazine shows a shift in the generation of women under 35: they dare more easily to express their fantasies and “ask” for what they want than their elders, more massively ready to compromise or to ignore their real sexual desires to please to their “Prince Charming”.

emotional independence

The couple is, finally, supposed to bring a feeling of satisfaction linked to love, emotional security, emotion. However, women no longer accept mediocrity or routine, on which they look more and more lucidly, according to the last work by sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann. In Trapped in her marriage (Editions Les liens qui liberating), he analyzes the mechanisms that lead women to be less and less satisfied with their couple relationship. Some take the leap of separation, without having anything to reproach their spouse, for love of independence. In a Canadian article, a mother explains: “I chose to be single to make all the decisions myself.”

Women no longer seek a companion out of necessity, he must be “a plus”. Not a “life partner”, but an “added value”. Aude (first name changed), 38, is a marketing director for a major cosmetics brand. She created her start-up which employs a dozen full-time people and created applications related to beauty. “I have four children, a super husband. But what gives me the most adrenaline is my career. when I was 25. I often travel abroad alone. Coming home every evening to have dinner alone with the same man is not at all a dream!” On Saturday evenings when the children are in bed, Aude does not dine with her husband, but with her friends. “Besides, if I have little battery one evening on the move, I prefer to call a girlfriend than my boyfriend.”

Like her, some women of this generation ask themselves: “And then?” The absolute happiness promised by fairy tales does not come with marriage. They take on 80% of the household chores and manage more than 70% of the educational missions with the children, while sleeping less and being more exhausted. In the study mom works in 2013, several women explained that they did not want their partner to be present during their maternity leave because “it’s like an extra child to manage.” From where this relief during their separations?

“I understood that I was looking for independence, not Prince Charming” explains Anissa. “It also requires work, reflection. It’s forcing yourself not to respond to the requests of men. Accepting and even having the will to spend evenings alone at home.” For Rachel Les Masseries, press officer and blog author No, honestly!, independence does not mean heart of stone: “I think the first sentence that comes to mind when I think of my mother is: “my daughter, remember that you must absolutely never depend on a man, nor emotionally , nor especially financially”. I think that if she hadn’t been fiercely against tattoos, I would still bear the stigmata of this maxim inked in my flesh today. What is funny is that a very close relationship with my mother has made me, over the years, a magnificent specimen of emotional dependence. And all that I understood when suddenly leaving my husband (the father of my children) and my mother (the grandmother -mother of my children). So, yes, today I am emotionally dependent, of course, but I am a junky who has tamed her addiction.”

Anissa points out that for years we have been sold marriage or love as THE answer to a human quest for the philosophical absolute. False advertising, for her. “My wedding was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but I felt more emotions when I got a promotion or when the waiter told me that for 2 mojitos bought, the 3rd was free. That begs a question, isn’t it?” Yes.

Also on The HuffPost:

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How the Search for Independence Replaced the Search for Prince Charming


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