1. He apologized. He said he was sorry. He promised he was never going to make the same mistake again. Even though it’s not the first time he screwed up, he seemed genuinely upset about hurting you this time. His apology seemed authentic this time. You love him, so you want to see the best in him. You want to believe him. You want to give him a second chance.
2. You have a long, complicated history. You’ve invested hours, months, years into this relationship. You fought to get this far, so you don’t want to give up on him now. You don’t want all of your hard work to be for nothing. Besides, you are a ride or die. You won’t walk away when there is something, anything, you can do to try to make the relationship work. You are willing to sacrifice for him. You are willing to put your happiness and mental health aside because you stubbornly want this relationship to work out, even if you’re the only one putting in effort.
3. You don’t want to admit he’s changed. You don’t like the way he’s been treating you lately — but it doesn’t matter. You still see him as the good guy you first met. You know he has a soft heart. You know he has a kind soul. You aren’t sure why he’s been treating you so terribly lately, but you are holding onto the hope he will change back into the guy you first fell in love with a long time ago. You know he’s in there somewhere.
4. You blame alcohol for his actions. He’s not himself when he’s drinking or smoking or shooting up. He’s fine when he’s sober. He’s nice when he’s sober. You love him when he’s sober. You don’t want to blame him for things he doesn’t even remember doing. You don’t want to leave him when he never actually meant to hurt you.
5. You think the single life would be too hard to adjust to. You don’t want to find a new place to live. You don’t want to split your belongings. You don’t want to change your entire lifestyle. You’re used to him, used to the arguments, used to the pain. You can handle it for a little longer.
6. You blame yourself for his actions. When he gets angry with you, you see his point. You know how frustrating you can be. You can’t blame him for screaming at you, cursing at you, hitting you. You consider yourself unlovable, so you are happy he sticks around at all. You are happy you’ve found someone who can deal with you. That’s what you keep telling yourself.
7. You are lying to yourself. You are making excuses. You are covering for him. You are telling yourself what you want to hear.
But you need to leave. It doesn’t matter if he apologized. It doesn’t matter if you have a history. It doesn’t matter if he used to treat you well. It doesn’t matter if he’s different when he drinks. It doesn’t matter if you get under his skin. It doesn’t matter if it will be difficult to live without him. You need to leave.
Apparently, I have been doing my twenties all wrong.
Apparently, I’m supposed to raise my standards in my twenties. I’m not supposed to fall for anyone and everyone who gives me the slightest bit of affection. I’m not supposed to stare at my phone for days on end, waiting for a specific text from a specific person. I’m not supposed to get excited when someone puts the absolute minimum amount of effort into me. I’m not supposed to accept such poor treatment when I deserve so much more.
Apparently, I’m supposed to stop caring about people who couldn’t care less about me. I’m supposed to remove toxic people from my world — and from my mind. I’m supposed to stop replaying the moments we spent together. I’m supposed to stop asking myself what went wrong. I’m supposed to accept they are bad for me. I’m supposed to move on. I’m supposed to forget about them, even though I loved them.
Apparently, I’m supposed to practice self-care. I’m not supposed to stuff myself with fast food and caffeine and alcohol. I’m not supposed to put off doctor appointments, hair appointments, therapist appointments. I’m not supposed to care about my work, my friends, my family, more than I care about my own mental health. I’m not supposed to treat myself so terribly.
Apparently, I’m supposed to love myself. I’m not supposed to delete selfies. I’m not supposed to criticize myself every time I walk passed a mirror. I’m not supposed to struggle with my self-worth. I’m supposed to stand tall. I’m supposed to feel comfortable walking around without my makeup or my hair done. I’m supposed to appreciate my authentic, true self.
Apparently, I’m supposed to take risks. I’m supposed to leave my comfort zone. I’m supposed to put myself out there. I’m not supposed to lounge in my bedroom all day long. I’m not supposed to cancel plans at the last second to watch Netflix alone instead. I’m not supposed to hide myself away when I could be seeing some friends, seizing the day.
Apparently, I’m supposed to travel. I’m supposed to see the world. I’m not supposed to spend all of my time in the same town. I’m not supposed to turn down vacation days. I’m not supposed to repeat the same routine day after day without any variation.
Apparently, I’m supposed to get my life together. I’m supposed to come up with a five-year plan. I’m supposed to figure out what I want from this world and how I’m going to work on getting it. I’m not supposed to fumble through each day. I’m not supposed to have so many questions and so few answers. I’m not supposed to feel like such a screwup.
Apparently, I haven’t been doing any of the things I’m supposed to be doing in my twenties. I haven’t been living up to expectations. But I am trying my best. I am putting effort into bettering myself every single day. I might not be able to call myself perfect — but I can call myself a work in progress. I can call myself a fighter.
I’ve had an adventurous spirit for as long as I can remember.
My first solo trip was at 19 years old, when I boarded a plane for Honolulu, Hawaii, to celebrate the end of high school. I booked a stay at the YWCA and spent my days exploring the beaches and haunts of spring breaks past: International Village, Duke’s Lane, the Waikiki strip.
It was a memorable adventure because I was free. Free to wander, lie on the beach, check out the shops at the Ala Moana Center and watch Dallas with the ladies back at the Y. That trip was the beginning of many incredible solo adventures to come.
Adventure means different things to different people. Adventure can be jumping out of an airplane and sky-diving, but it can also be camping in the backcountry or taking that first solo trip to Honolulu.
Though you may not be ready for hard adventure yet (or ever—I’m not planning on jumping out of a plane anytime soon), adventure is in the eye of the beholder. It’s about going beyond your comfort zone and embracing the spirit of adventure, as much as the actual adventure itself. And you’re in good company.
The rise in female solo and adventure trips is a major travel trend that has taken off recently. The Conference Board of Canada and Allianz Global Assistance Canada published statistics showing that in the winter season 2018/2019, just over eight per cent of respondents intending to travel were women travelling on their own. That’s nearly double the number from eight years ago.
It’s not just the new crop of Generation Z travellers. It’s moms, wives and women over the age of 50. Women are embracing adventurous solo travel as never before as an extension of freedom, and in the spirit of internal and external exploration.
Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone can be an adventure, and that’s where the fun lies. But preparation is key to ensuring a safe and memorable adventure. This applies to all solo travellers, but travelling while female comes with its own set of challenges. Proper planning has ensured that my solo adventures have remained free of major pitfalls and disasters. These practical tips may help you do the same.
Tips for Solo Women Adventure Travellers
Know the Risks
Being familiar with the risks of an adventure activity or destination is important. Activities like skiing and zip lining have inherent risks, but we sign waivers declaring that we’re going to do them anyway.
There’s a thrill in trying an activity for the first time or overcoming a fear of heights, tight spaces or other phobias. Once you’ve conquered one fear, you may be emboldened by a new confidence to continue on that path.
As far as destinations go, be informed. Certain countries and cities may contain more risks than others, and that risk can change over time. Check the Government of Canada’s websites for up-to-date health information and travel advisories when assessing your destination choices.
Book your accommodations in advance so you know where you’ll be sleeping each night. Plan your transportation and walking routes as much as possible so you know where you’re going and when you’ll get there. Try to arrive before dark, particularly in a new and unfamiliar destination.
I’m a big fan of travelling light and only use carry-on luggage. Backpacks are great depending on trip style and duration. The less you carry, the more you can manage on your own and keep a free hand. Wear clothing with concealed pockets and consider using a money belt or neck pouch. Stash copies of passports in your suitcase and keep your luggage locked.
I’m positive that my spidey senses increased when I became a mother, and I use that vigilance when travelling to ensure my own well-being. Stay on higher floors in hotels, wear minimal jewelry and take extra precautions at night. Being aware of your surroundings is important. Listen to your gut.
It’s easier than ever to keep in contact with loved ones and friends. Even if you want to stay off-grid, check in every once in a while. Register with the Canadian consulate so they can reach you in case of emergency. Connect with other women travellers and the local women’s community to share travel advice, or cabs, meals and even hotel rooms.
Ride a camel in the desert? Check. Climb a 60-metre ice tower? Check. Kayak through a mangrove forest? Check. My taste for adventure has only increased as I’ve gotten older. I want to try new things, and I don’t care what people think anymore (a happy side benefit of aging?).
I hope you’ll embrace your own spirit of adventure and plan a solo adventure soon.
The idea of “unconditional devotion” is in many ways a beautiful one—and one I’ve personally bought into for most of my life and still somewhat align myself with today. To love someone without conditions, without prerequisites, without concern for what they give you in return, and in spite of all their faults, flaws, mistakes, and hurtful altercations to come. It’s the stuff our entire Western conceptualization of love is based around these days, as well as the movie narratives featuring grandiose displays of passion and sacrifice.
But for all the beauty and intimacy that can come from forging a bond based on unconditional devotion, that type of commitment can also be what keeps people trapped in otherwise unhappy relationships—particularly women.
How women get stranded in relationships that no longer serve them.
When you’ve committed to loving your partner no matter what they do, it makes it easy and acceptable to put up with unsavory behavior even when it goes too far—or to go along with an unsatisfying relationship that may not hurt but still drains, numbs, or simply doesn’t quite feel right.
Women, in particular, receive tacit encouragement to make their relationships work, even those that are flawed, harmful, or simply not serving them. This happens in two specific ways:
Women have been taught to prioritize having successful relationships.
In most cultures, women are raised to place more importance on having successful relationships than men are. It’s the reason every heroine in a movie needs a male love interest, why professional women are asked questions about “having it all” when men aren’t, why women not married by age 30 are called “leftover women” in some parts of China—the list of examples goes on and on.
“Women have a harder time ending relationships in general than men do—and yes, that’s absolutely because of socialization,” Kara Loewentheil, master confidence coach and host of the UnF*ck Your Brainpodcast, tells mbg. “Women are socialized to believe that their value comes from male approval and that being in a romantic relationship is their highest aim and goal in life. Even women who are raised with feminist values and who care about their career and personal happiness are still growing up in a culture where romantic ‘success’ is constantly portrayed as a woman’s highest calling and fulfillment.”
In her book Hard to Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up, journalist Kelli María Korducki outlines the social, economic, and political historical events that led to women finally being able to not only choose the relationships they wanted to be in but also leave unsatisfactory ones freely. Although women are no longer tied to unhappy relationships because of a lack of property rights or moneymaking power today, Korducki points out that the advent of love marriage as a replacement for economic marriages didn’t necessarily free women from the pressure to find a husband. The social ostracization inherent in “spinsterhood” was still too great.
“With the emergence of a companionate, affectionate marriage ideal came increased social pressure for women to endeavor upon the project of cheerful domesticity,” Korducki writes. “Marriage and the family became recoded as arenas for women’s spiritual actualization, the locus for pure fulfillment as opposed to a plane of existence largely grounded in duty. In a sense, post-Enlightenment wifehood took on the set of signifiers we still see reinforced by a certain style of mommy blog and lifestyle Instagram account in the 21st century.”
Today, women experiencing a breakup are still often seen as personal failures (see: the whole hoopla over Jennifer Aniston “losing” Brad Pitt to Angelina Jolie back in the day). Add that to the myth of how rare a “good man” is to find, Loewentheil points out, and it’s not surprising that women might be reluctant to leave a relationship they’ve already secured.
“Of course a woman is going to be more inclined to stay in a relationship that isn’t really what she wants because the alternative she sees is feeling lonely, used up, not good enough, invalidated, and having to start the process all over again,” Loewentheil says. “The real tragedy is that in encouraging women to believe that happiness and worth come from their romantic relationships, we actually end up creating a situation where so many of them stay in unhappy relationships because they would rather be with someone than no one.”
Women are raised with more empathy and caretaking intuition.
These emotional skills are key to having better self-awareness, healthier relationships, and more compassion for others throughout your life, of course—but that empathy can also sometimes backfire. Research shows people are more likely to stay in unhappy relationships when they feel the other person needs the relationship, and because of the way they’re raised, women are all the more likely to be hypersensitive to their partner’s needs and to prioritize their partner’s happiness above their own.
It’s not hard to see why this socialization might lead to a lot of women sticking it out in relationships that don’t really bring them much personal happiness.
“Empathetic people are great at explaining other people’s crappy behavior away,” psychotherapist and executive coach Perpetua Neoexplains. “In unhealthy relationships, sometimes the other party pays lip service, saying they’ll change. And as the nurturer, we want to help them change. Except that keeping them accountable is what gets us sucked in.”
How to know when your devotion is holding you back.
Are you staying in your relationship because it’s one worth fighting for—or because you feel a subconscious pressure to make it work, even if it’s not really want you want? It’s a tough question to answer because it involves deeply interrogating the roots of your beliefs around love, how you were raised to view relationships, and the true nature of your bond with your partner.
Here are a few ways to help you reflect and recognize when it’s really time to leave:
1. Consider where you learned your style of commitment.
We all learn how to love from somewhere or someone, Neo says: “Who were your models of unconditional devotion? For instance, if Mom and Dad are extremely devoted to each other, it may be because they both deserve it! They both may be the types who make things work and love and respect each other.” Can you say the same for your partner?
2. Ditch the belief that your partner needs to be full-on toxic before you have a reason to leave.
“It isn’t about whether someone is ‘full-on toxic’ or not. They exist on a spectrum,” Neo explains. “It isn’t about whether you sometimes exhibit toxic behaviors; we all do.”
Here’s the real question you need to ask yourself, according to Neo: Is this person good to me and for me?
You don’t need a reason to leave. If you want to leave, that’s reason enough.
3. Ask yourself this: Is your partner as invested in you as you are in them?
Even if you’re still investing energy in the relationship, it’s important to recognize whether you’re getting that same investment back from your partner, clinical sexologist and sex therapist Cyndi Darnell tells mbg. This is especially important for highly empathetic women who feel deep devotion to their partner. Is your level of devotion matched and returned to you? If it’s not, you need to be able to release yourself from the commitment you’ve self-created.
“If your partner has already given up on you, it’s hard to give them up too,” Darnell says. “It’s important to remember relationships are a choice, not an obligation.”
4. Make lists and write letters. Lots of them.
Contrary to lessons you may have taken away from Ross and Rachel’s relationship on Friends, Darnell is a big proponent of making lists to help you weigh your decision to stay or leave. “Write a pros and cons list. Literally,” she recommends. “Reflect on the contents of the list and ask yourself, Is this worth it? Write the reasons why and why not. Write a letter to yourself defending the relationship. Then write another prosecuting it.”
Pay attention to your gut—the physical sensations inside you—as you go through this process. As you make a case for both possible paths forward, Darnell says the answer may just come to you: “Check in with your body—which process resonated more? The body holds deep wisdom in these situations.”
5. Get some distance.
Darnell recommends taking some time to separate yourself from the situation. “Imagine it was a friend telling you their story,” she suggests. “What advice would you give your friend? Sometimes it’s more effective when we take ourselves out of the equation a little bit.”
6. Get real.
Here are a few powerful questions Loewentheil recommends asking yourself:
“If I knew there was plenty of love out there for me, and I could meet someone else, would I stay in this relationship?”
“If I knew I could be happy as a single person, would I stay in this relationship?”
“What feelings and thoughts am I afraid I would have if I left this relationship? Do I want to believe those thoughts? Am I willing to have those feelings in order to experience what might be on the other side?”
“If I knew I could feel good about myself however my partner acted, would I stay in this relationship?”
“What thoughts and feelings am I wishing I would magically think and have if I had a different partner?”
“What all these questions have in common is that they are ways of asking your brain to separate your thoughts and feelings from your circumstances,” she explains. “No relationship causes your feelings or actually validates you or means anything about you. All of that is caused by your thoughts. So asking questions like these can help illuminate why you are staying in a relationship or why you are leaving it to make sure that you aren’t making these decisions based on wanting someone else to deliver validation, confidence, or worth to you—because they never can or will.”
For years, decades in fact, I’ve puzzled over the knee-jerk response most people have when I tell them I (mostly) travel alone.
“You’re so brave.”
Why is it that a woman travelling alone, as I have often done for months at a time, is perceived to be “brave”, whereas men who travel alone are entirely unremarkable? Besides, in my case at least, it’s not true. You are only brave or courageous when you are afraid of something but still do it anyway. I have never been afraid of travelling alone. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things along the way that cause me deep fear, such as overloaded buses with bald tyres on mountain roads with sheer drops, but being by myself out in the world has never scared me.
The chief joy of travelling alone is the simple act of just doing it: crossing that invisible border in your head before you ever leave home, by deciding you want to see the world anyway, even if it means doing it by yourself. What’s the alternative if you don’t happen to have a partner at certain times in your life but still long to travel, as I do? Stay at home and never go anywhere? Deny yourself all those incredible experiences you will definitely have, in addition to the more difficult ones, which you will also definitely have? It’s that prospect, the one of self-imposed stasis, that has always incited true fear. Travel has always been far too important to me to sit around waiting for a partner in crime to come along and join me.
The first time I travelled alone was by default, when I was 19. I was due to go Interrailing with a friend at the end of the summer. She was an au pair in Germany at the time, and announced by letter two days before my departure that she would be ditching me halfway through the month, at Vienna. She had made a more-exotic new friend, Freya, a fellow au pair, who had invited her to Finland. It was too late by then to rope in another friend, so it was either go home after Vienna, or keep going by myself. I kept going. I got on trains by myself, checked into hostels by myself, found my way around by myself. It was weird, initially, and then I got so subsumed by the atmospheric glory of Venice and the exhilaration of the overnight trains that I stopped fretting about travelling alone without even noticing.
When I got back to Ireland after that trip, I felt proud of myself. I had done something I had assumed would be hard and not much fun, and it had turned out to be not hard at all and mostly astounding. My one souvenir was a necklace of colourful gold-infused glass beads I bought at a tiny shop in Murano, from an Italian woman I somehow communicated with in my dire French. She explained her son sourced the beads, and she strung them. I survived on bread and bananas for two days after buying them, so tight was my budget.
Years later, while browsing at a London market, I came upon a stall run by an Italian couple selling Venetian-sourced items. The man spotted the beads, which I wore coiled around my wrist as a bracelet. He asked to examine them and, thrillingly, pointed out six beads that were more than 100 years old. I still have those precious, storied beads; evidence of my first solo adventures.
That was three decades ago, and since then I have travelled all over the world, usually alone. I’ve carried the same rucksack I have had since the age of 25: a modest 45-litre-capacity one, that is now more or less knackered, but I cannot bear to replace it. It has become as familiar to me as a carapace. It’s small and light enough, even when full, to walk for miles with but large enough for all the essentials.
Travel to me is about freedom, in every sense that the horizons of that immense and beautiful word suggests. Hence the small rucksack that I don’t have to depend on anyone else to carry. I don’t like carrying anything valuable and until I had an iPad, never did.
I got an iPad in 2015 and so now I also have a camera by default, though I still don’t take many pictures. In 2007, I went travelling overland through Argentina to Ushuaia, at the tip of South America, so that I could buy a (relatively) cheap last-minute ticket to Antarctica. Although Antarctica was in fact the seventh continent I would visit, I did not have a single photograph of anywhere I had been before that.
On that journey out to the fantastical ice I was the only tourist on our ship not to have a camera and, 12 years on, I still don’t regret my lack of pictures from the White Continent. Everyone wants different things from their travels; I have never wanted to be distracted from living in the moment. Not taking photographs didn’t begin as a conscious decision when I went away for the first time on an extended trip – a year in Australia, in 1987 – but it has become one over the ensuing decades.
Mobile phones, the internet and social media did not exist when I first went travelling. I still do what I did then, which is to keep a diary. I never post anything on social media when I’m travelling; I want to feel far away, not to know my thoughts are popping up in real time on screens at the other side of the world.
The greatest gift of solo travel has been those I’ve met along the way. I may have set off alone each time but I’ve encountered many people who became important to me: other travellers, whom I would never have met had I stayed at home; people who changed the course of my life. I met my ex-fiance in Kathmandu and a long-term partner in Palenque, Mexico. I met lifelong friends in Australia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, India, Indonesia and many other places.
When you’re travelling alone, you have to make an effort to talk to other people. I have always loved this part of travel. (Or rather, loved it until everyone started looking at their screens instead.) You might know from guidebooks what you can expect to see but you can never know who you will meet. In Bali, halfway through my last extended period of travel (six months), I saw a sign outside a cafe that read, “We have wifi so you don’t have to talk to each other”. It was one of the most depressing things I’d ever seen. But I kept on talking to people anyway.
Rosita Boland is senior features writer at The Irish Times. Her book Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel (Doubleday Ireland, £14.99) is published on 30 May 2019. To order a copy for £13.19, including UK p&p, visit The Guardian Bookshop or call 0330 333 6846
Straight men have pondered the answer to this not-so-simple question since the beginning of time: what do women want? The answer will not be found in a Mel Gibson rom-com, but it might be lurking in a research paper.
Science is doing its best to solve the age-old puzzle of the female brain. Scores of experiments have attempted to name things women find attractive in men, with varying degrees of success. The studies are often small, and rely on iffy self-reported feelings for results, but at worst they provide food for thought, and at best they offer real insight that could take you from dud to Don Juan.
Here are six science-backed traits that women find irresistible.
Good Looks, But Only Sometimes
Take the abs of Matthew McConaughey, the biceps of Chris Hemsworth, and the flowing locks of young Brad Pitt, and you have the perfect man – right? Physical attractiveness can be a factor, but it’s not as important as you might think. Study after study after study has confirmed that while women choose better looking guys for flings, they fall for other qualities for long-term relationships.
A Sense Of Humour
Ask a woman what she like in her partner and she’ll almost always say “He makes me laugh.” It’s not news that ladies love a man who can tickle their funny bone, but science helps explain why. One study found that a good sense of humour is sexually attractive because it reveals intelligence, creativity, and other ‘good genes’ or ‘good parent’ traits.
A Furry Friend
No, it’s not just a stereotype – women really do love men with dogs. Studies suggest that dogs facilitate social interaction between humans. Another experiment found that dog ownership can increase the long-term attractiveness of men, as it indicates the ability to nurture and suggests tendencies for relationship commitment.
Time to brush up on your CPR and sky-diving skills. A studyconfirmed the prediction that women would prefer physical risk-takers (brave, athletic, fit) over risk-avoiders as long-term mates, but only if the risk was taken during an altruistic act. Another experiment discovered that modern risks are considered unattractive for either sex, while risks that harken back to our hunter-gather history are attractive when undertaken by men.
A study published in The Journal of Social Psychology observed that both males and females significantly preferred altruistic mates for long-term relationships, and the size of this preference was greater than for other traits in mate choice. Women are especially likely to choose a mate based on his tendency for prosocial behaviour.
Last but not least, one that doesn’t require a complete personality overhaul or the commitment of owning a pet: wearing red can make you more attractive to women, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. A man sporting the vibrant hue is perceived as better looking, more sexually desirable, and higher status.
Empowerment, by definition, is “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” I can pair this definition so well to the change I’ve seen in myself over the last couple of years since leaving school. I can physically feel how much more confident I am, as…
In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Adi Avivi writes as follows:
The fourth and last construct presented in this discussion addresses the political aspects of child freedom. The construct’s title is drawn from the feminist mantra “the personal is political,” a phrase attributed to different writers of the second feminist wave. Although its exact origin might not be clear, its meaning is important. The phrase indicates that people’s personal decisions and private conduct have profound political implications. When a woman makes a decision regarding work, family, dress code, or choice of language, she is choosing to express her acceptance or rejection of social norms. This is, of course, a simplistic view, as the choice to perform similar acts can have different meanings for different people. For example, choosing to get married could be a defiant act if family or society disapprove of the pairing; marriage could also be an act of submission to the most rigid and oppressive social norms.
Intersubjective Theory: Social and Political Implications
Benjamin (1988) discusses the social and political implications of her intersubjective theory. She claims that in U.S. society, the narcissistic fear of surrendering one’s power over other humans is the source of political, social, and personal cruelty and oppression. Our society idealizes the father-image, which includes aspects of individualism, separation, and domination and devalues the mother-image of connectedness, closeness, and dependency. However, both needs exist in every human, regardless of their sex and gender. The masculine image requires men to maintain rigid separation from others, and in doing so, reject their need for connectedness and closeness. If they address these “feminine” needs, they will have to acknowledge their identification with the maternal. They, therefore, can only tolerate rigid definitions that will simplify their relationships with others. Such definitions help maintain hierarchy by engendering a sense of omnipotence among those who believe they are fitting the only permissible role in the absence of choices. Other options can be classified as deviant or in some cases rejected altogether or even declared illegal. Allowing others to be different but similar, close but separate, independent but needed is impossible when one depends on narcissism and a fantasy of omnipotence in order to maintain a coherent sense of self.
However, the other continues to exist. The participants expressed a desire to contribute to the growing knowledge about CF women, adding that they wanted their voices to be heard. They hoped to dispel misconceptions and misunderstanding, helping non-childfree individuals, policymakers, religious leaders, and mental health professionals to see childfreedom for what it really is: a diverse and rich community with culture and values, made up of individuals who cannot be fully understood or explained by their childfreedom alone.
Comments by Participants
They hoped that social acceptance would reduce the resentment and bitterness some childfree individuals felt while inviting people who might benefit from CF life to entertain it as an option:
S8: “On a less realistic note, I’d like to think that research like this is a big step in changing the way people talk to and about the childfree and the choice to reproduce. It would be nice if people asked ‘are you going to have kids?’ instead of ‘when are you going to have kids?’ and say ‘If you have kids’ instead of ‘when you have kids’. If the dreaded ‘bingo’ went away tomorrow, it would make life so much easier.”
S13: “I’m hoping to bring attention to the cruel and dismissive remarks (‘bingos’ and otherwise) we childfree experience on the Web and real life, and to dispel the myths behind the most common bingos. I hope research shows that we are just as human as the next woman, that there is nothing missing or wrong with us, and that parenthood is not for everyone nor should it be.”
S15: “I am eager to see more exposure of the experiences of those living childfree. My hope is that as information about CF living grows, that more young people will take the time to consider the choice to have children rather than just having kids without thought. So many people are brainwashed into thinking it’s a rite of passage…”
Most participants talked about being discriminated against or misunderstood, and those who did not feel this way still mentioned incidents in which they were met with bewilderment and disbelief. All participants reported that other childfree individuals they met online constantly talked about the discrimination, insults, and rejection they felt. This was especially true when the women were in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, if they had recently married, or if they lived in smaller, more rural locations.
Tolerating the “Other”
Allowing others to be different requires a capacity to tolerate pain, because seeing other options puts a spotlight on one’s limitations. This, according to Benjamin (1988), is true on the individual level, the community level, and the state and country level. Throughout history, the inability to tolerate the “other” and the need to make “me” the only option have pushed nations to wipe out other groups, to deny human rights, and to demand conformity explicitly and implicitly. Benjamin states that both patriarchal hegemony and some feminist worldviews demand that women be mothers and color the maternal role as the source of feminine power. If a woman is not a mother, the patriarchal social order is in danger. Also, the unique power of reproduction as a defining symbol of female supremacy is threatened when capable individuals live fulfilling lives without reproducing. However, the participants of this study conveyed that having childfreedom as an equal option will not ruin humanity or take away feminine power. In fact, it will allow for the definition of what is human to be expanded and offer greater choice for women.
For example, some participants expressed moral and political concerns, saying that while the pronatalist culture ostensibly focuses on children, it actually centers on the concept of future children rather than already living children who are in need. When thinking of the consumption of resources created by every Western child in comparison to children in Third World countries, the moral implications of pronatalism in industrial countries is disconcerting. Promoting motherhood as the preferred choice for everyone is actually a failure to recognize the needs of millions of other, less visible children, in communities whose resources are often abused by Western countries.
Indeed, public and political forces are involved in reproduction. That involvement manifests in campaigns around abortion rights and access, controversy over economic entitlements, workplace policies and employment benefits, and religious freedoms. Because the CF choice is not valued or even accepted in many cases, CF women suffer discrimination both socially and legally. For example, sterilization laws in many places do not support women’s desire to cement their childfreedom (Richie, 2013).
Added to this, one-quarter of Australian women have suffered emotional abuse from a current or former partner. This occurs when a partner seeks to gain psychological and emotional control of the woman by demeaning her, controlling her actions, being verbally abusive and intimidating her.
Physical and emotional abuse is not only distressing, it’s psychologically damaging and increases women’s risk of developing a mental illness.
Women who have experienced domestic violence or abuse are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing a range of mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide.
In situations of domestic violence, an abuser’s outburst is commonly followed by remorse and apology. But this “honeymoon” period usually ends in violence and abuse. This cycle means women are constantly anticipating the next outburst. Women in these situations feel they have little control, particularly when the abuse is happening in their own home.
It’s no wonder living under such physical and emotional pressure impacts on mental and physical well-being.
One review of studies found the odds of experiencing PTSD was about seven times higher for women who had been victims of domestic violence than those who had not.
The likelihood of developing depression was 2.7 times greater, anxiety four times greater, and drug and alcohol misuse six times greater.
The likelihood of having suicidal thoughts was 3.5 times greater for women who had experienced domestic violence than those who hadn’t.
An Australian study of 1,257 female patients visiting GPs found women who were depressed were 5.8 times more likely to have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse than women who were not depressed.
Not only is domestic violence and abuse a risk factor for psychological disorders, but women who have pre-existing mental health issues are more likely to be targets for domestic abusers.
Women who are receiving mental health services for depression, anxiety and PTSD, for instance, are at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence compared to women who do not have these disorders.
How do mental health services respond?
Although survivors of domestic violence are more likely to suffer mental illness, they are not routinely asked about domestic violence or abuse when getting mental health treatment. So they’re not provided with appropriate referrals or support.
One study found only 15% of mental health practitioners routinely enquired about domestic violence. Some 60% reported a lack of knowledge about domestic violence, while 27% believed they did not have adequate referral resources.
One-quarter (27%) of mental health practitioners provided women experiencing domestic violence with information about support services and 23% made a referral to counselling.
In the absence of direct questioning, survivors of domestic violence are reluctant to disclose abuse to health service providers. If mental health providers are managing the symptoms of the mental illness but ignoring the cause of the trauma, treatment is less likely to be successful.
Practitioners need to routinely ask women about present or past incidents of domestic violence if they are diagnosed as depressed or anxious, or if they show any other signs of mental distress.
Practitioners should be able to provide referrals to specialist services and need to be adequately trained to respond to those who disclose domestic violence. This means not focusing solely on medical treatment, but also on referrals and support.
Hello, my name is Sarah and I really don’t want kids. I’m getting to the age where a lot of my friends have baby fever, and even if they aren’t considering children just yet, they’re excited about the prospect of being a parent down the road. But as for me, I’m not interested in having kids ever, and I’ve always felt this way. Does this make me totally unusual or abnormal? Sometimes, I wonder. But I just don’t feel like parenthood is part of my calling in this world.
Thankfully, I’m not alone, according to the therapists I spoke to for this story. It’s completely OK not to want children, despite the pressures society sometimes puts on us to feel otherwise. Listen to your instincts! “If your gut is screaming ‘no’ even when everything around you (your partner, your parents, society) are saying yes, do yourself a favor and listen,” says Rachel Zar, AMFT, relationship and sex therapist. “Being honest with yourself and with your partner … is the best way to make an authentic and intentional decision.” There are several signs to pay attention to that might signal you’re not interested in having kids. Here are three of the major ones.
YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR LIFE EXACTLY AS IT IS.
“If having your life turned upside down for another person does not feel worth it, it [parenthood] may not be for you,” says Nicole Richardson, LPC. Having kids is a huge change in so many ways, and if you don’t see that happening, you may not want to take that step. If your career is thriving, your relationships are thriving, and you really don’t want to shift things around, it might not make sense to bring kids into the equation.
YOU FEEL A STRONGER PULL TOWARD OTHER PASSIONS.
Got other things in your life that feel like a priority? You do you! “If you experience a pull to focus your life energy in other ways, such as career path, social relationships, traveling the world, or life with your partner, and don’t see children as a piece of that picture, you must give yourself permission to want that life and know that it’s OK,” says Liz Higgins, MS, LMFT. Higgins notes that sometimes people feel judgment from others about their decision not to have kids, simply because other people may not understand it. But you have to trust yourself and do what feels right for you.
YOU ONLY WANT KIDS BECAUSE YOU FEEL PRESSURE FROM OTHERS.
I could say this a million times, but your life is up to you! There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have to do something to live up to other people’s expectations. “If you know in your heart of hearts that you don’t need children in order to feel fulfilled in life, or if you believe that you contribute to the world and gain satisfaction in other ways, then don’t rush or force yourself into parenthood because you think it’s the next step you’re supposed to take,” Higgins advises. “Don’t succumb to pressure from friends or family if you know there’s a voice inside leading you to another path.” No one know you better than yourself, so do what feels best for you and your life.
Whether or not you choose to have kids, there are so many ways to feel fulfilled and contribute positively to the world around you. For me, I know that writing is what I love more than anything, and I want to keep space open to help others through my words. For you, maybe it’s travel, or career, or even prioritizing a relationship with your partner! You don’t have a make a decision right now, and that’s totally okay, but just know that you are whole and complete no matter what you decide. Trust your gut!