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For as long as I can remember, nearly everyone in a position of authority has advised me and other women of my generation and those who followed to craft a life as a “strong independent woman” or SIW rather than to follow a traditional path of marriage young and for life.

In theory, being a SIW frees a woman from the oppression and control of a life dependent upon a man. With her own education, career, money, and independent nature she can conquer the world on her own terms, thank you very much! Such a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, it was once said.

I know a women who is now in her early 60s who has followed the SIW path, an early adopter of sorts, and her story in many ways exemplifies the life cycle of a SIW.

In her youth she did marry to a charismatic “bad boy” and had two sons, only to find out a few years into the marriage that bad boys don’t change and when he tired of her, off he went leaving her alone to raise their two children. Back in those days mandatory child support and other things were not in place, so she was truly on her own.

She’s highly talented and so she channelled her energy into becoming one of the top interior designers in our area. She is yet quite a looker, so I can only imagine her in her youth. Doors opened thanks to her charming smile and crafty ways. She was on top of the world, at one point not getting out of bed for less than $10,000 a day in her early 40s. Life was easy. The richest people in the area courted her skills.

Then for reasons she has never fully explained, she decided to move to a South American country on a whim, thinking she could just take her talents and abilities along, recreating her highly successful career wherever she went.

For ten years she held onto that dream (and/or perhaps another bad boy relationship she’s never admitted to) that never materialized. In fact it only went from bad to worse as the years marched on. I followed her tales of struggle on Facebook, and even sent her money a few times when she was so desperately poor she didn’t even have food to eat.

She’s never outright said so, but she’s hinted heavily that she even turned to prostitution as a means of survival during those days. But what she didn’t realize was that even though her looks had always opened doors for her with men, other stars were rising as hers faded, and her ability to get men to do whatever she wanted whenever she needed was fading with it.

Two years ago, when she neared her 60th birthday she finally had to give up and moved back to the United States. She lives with her adult son and struggles to find even the minimum of work in the field she used to own outright. In her absence, other designers moved in, and now they are the talk of the town while those who used to vie for her attention barely remember her name. In addition, she does not have the ability  (or desire) to work long hours like she once did.

Her options are limited, and she knows she exists only on the good graces of her son and his family. But it is precarious, as his own marriage is under duress and his wife resents having the additional dependent, even if she cooks, cleans, and watches the kids. Her sons are not that bonded to their mother either, resenting how she often put her own life before theirs during their childhood, partly out of economic necessity but also out of her self-absorbed need to be the best of the best, admired by all.

She realizes now what she did not in her youth — being a SIW might be a whirlwind prior to age 40 or so, but the plan falls apart as a woman enters her golden years. Thinking the party would never end and that she could always support herself, she didn’t bother to save for retirement or plan for the years when she will not be able to work.

Prior to age 40 or so, she had many wealthy men who wished to marry her, in addition to many admiring lovers, but she turned them away not wanting to be “tied down.” Today, her chances of finding a husband willing to make up for her complete lack of assets at this point is slim, and even if she could find such a man, she’s so used to being alone I am not sure she could even make the transition from SIW to wife at this point.

In many ways, hers is a modern day version of the famed courtesans of the belle epoch period in France. Committed to no man, but lover of many, they also found the party came to an abrupt end with age, and many of those who once ruled the social scene and were quite sought after, pampered, and spoiled by their admirers often ended up destitute, alone, and abandoned in the end.

So beware, ladies, the siren call of the SIW life. Nothing is free, and there is always a price to pay for coloring outside the lines. Far better to find a good man early in life, commit to him, raise children, build a life together, and live out your golden years safely surrounded by the stable family and life you and your partner have built. Women who do so end their lives as the venerated crown jewel of their family, the adored matriarch.

Perhaps it lacks to dramatic highs and lows of the SIW life cycle, but as my friend would be the first to admit, better than facing a precarious crash landing just when one needs stability the most.

Let those who have ears hear.

 

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