Some guy once told me to watch out because all women change when they turn twenty-five. Personally, I prefer not to generalize people, unless the generalization is terribly obvious like: all people tend to die when they eat cyanide. That’s actually useful and true. The rest of the time, whenever we generalize it promotes dangerously lazy thinking and we rely on arbitrary standards to group people together, things like race, class, politics, sexual persuasion and gender. Not all black people are good dancers. Not all gay people dress well. Not all Republicans are selfish assholes. And not all women change when they turn twenty-five.
But damned, if I wasn’t surprised to see a high percentage of the women I know turn twenty-five and suddenly their priorities switched. Suddenly, these otherwise independent-minded women, ones who were former punk rockers, footloose world-tripping travelers, and highly focused ladder-climbing career women, begin to often and openly discuss marriage, babies and husbands. It was like overnight, the Ugly Truth Fairy visited them and instead of teeth, she took their carefree ways and instead of cash she left under their pillow a biological clock to drive them insane. I guess I’d say most of the girls I knew suddenly grew up and became women.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. This isn’t some millennial issue. This is some old world pressure. The cynical filmmaker, Billy Wilder, once made a joke about this social phenomenon in his film, Some Like It Hot. While on a train to Florida, Marilyn Monroe’s nightclub singer character, Sugar, reflects on her life.
Sugar says, “I’m twenty-five years old. That’s a quarter of century. Makes a girl think.”
The character played by Tony Curtis, Josephine, asks her, “About what?”
Sugar answers, “You know- like a husband.”
That was sixty years ago. We should remember this was dialog scripted by two middle-aged men writing for laughs. But the understood pressure of being a twenty five-year old girl was common enough the audience got the joke. Feminists fought for centuries to give women a sense of freedom from such antiquated baby-making responsibilities and assumptions that getting wifed-up was their biggest goal in life. However, Marilyn’s dialog could fit in any rom-com from today and no woman would bat an eyelash or call it anachronistic. Today’s young women still seem to see turning twenty-five as the same dreaded dividing line.
Any person who’s spent some time around a twenty-five year old man will tell you how young men experience little to none of this time pressure, internal or external. A twenty-five year old man is doing damn well in most people’s eyes if he has a clean bathroom and some social plans past this weekend. He isn’t expected to have plans for anything as meaningful as babies, a family and a home for them to enjoy. It seems only young women suffer from the tick-tock of the imagined biological clock.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an internal sense of her biological clock or if it’s external social pressure. The effect is the same. And most times, it’s a combination of both internal fears and external pressures from family, friends and society. Most young Western women feel this squeeze. They each react differently, but the pressure seems shared. And consequently, this gender-based time-centered divide bedevils and stresses young relationships between men and women, and unfairly so. It leaves young women feeling as if they must drag the men in their lives into maturity. And the young men wonder why women constantly demand they act in ways that don’t yet feel natural to them since the men don’t use the same life clock.
Everyone knows girls mature faster than boys. It’s as obvious as the squeak in a teen boy’s voice and easily recognizable from the height differences in junior high when girls often tower over their boy classmates. By the time, we’re adults it seems although the height gap gets corrected the “time gap” never truly disappears. Women are seemingly always one step ahead of men in terms of maturation.
Some evolutionary biologists suggest women’s menstruation is responsible for our shared notions of time. The fact women could regularly track cycles of their body as reliably as the phases of the moon gave them a sense of anticipation of life cycles, while men used a much slower “clock” based on the longer seasonal cycles of hunting and farming to make sense of the changes of life from one day to the next.
For millennia, humans relied on sundials, hourglasses and candle-clocks to keep track of the passing of the hours of the day. The mechanical clock, as we would recognize it, was invented in 1094 C.E. by the Chinese monk, Su Sung. In medieval times, European clergy needed to ensure they could wake up at the same time every day to complete their morning prayers. They relied on mechanical clocks to keep reliable time as they slept. And their use of mechanical clocks helped spread the notion of standardized time until gradually it was used the world over.
Men may have given us the clock and our modern sense of mechanical time, but a woman’s internal clock is still far more important to society than the tick-tick-ticking of any man’s clock. The reason is simple. Her biological clock has a finite window. One day it will stop.
Rather than a clock, we really ought to consider it more of a countdown. And seen as such, women aren’t motivated by time as much as they’re motivated by opportunity. They’re like athletes who know their bones, joints and muscles won’t always allow them to perform at their peak level and thus, they really need to do their thing while they can. Most men like sports metaphors. A man understands the world of sports even if he never played anything other than soccer video games.
Perhaps, rather than speaking of a woman’s biological clock, we should describe it as a woman has “peak years” of her baby-making career. Maybe if we speak of her desire to bring home a few “championships,” men would stop feeling the pressure, and they’d no longer see it as some sort of negative consequence for them. Instead, men would view their relationship with the woman in their life as something of a team sport, one wherein they’d want to do everything they can to help bring home some “trophies. “
This essay is published in ” Love Sex, and Other Things You Might Find At The Airport” published by Thought Catalog.
Zaron is a freelance writer/journalist whose
This may all sound kinda silly to you. But you have to understand that to a twenty-five year old man, presumably a few years out of college, or a few years into his career as a blue-collar guy not quite able to start his own company but perhaps finally earning a steady and meaty paycheck, taking on the responsibilities of a baby and family seems daunting. It seems like, for lack of a better metaphor, a life sentence. And thus, there’s a certain reluctance to grow-up. He sees it as the end of his freedom. Sure, he may love his girlfriend, he may want to spend his foreseeable future with her, but the sense of urgency and the related demands placed on him feel arbitrary and forced.
This is why many young dudes give mixed messages. And this confusion makes the woman in his life doubt his sincerity and value as a partner. To her family and friends his hesitation appears to be concrete evidence of the fact he’s not the right guy for her. And perhaps due to these doubts and outside influences an otherwise healthy partnership buckles under the weight of expectations.
Thinking back to a few generations ago, when a guy got a girl pregnant, it meant he knew he had to do the “right thing” and marry her. If he was reluctant, outside pressure was offered in the form of a shotgun. Those days are gone. When was the last time you were invited to a shotgun wedding? The thing is, with so many forms of birth control on the market, attitudes about babies shifted. Sex became far more about pleasure and seduction. I refuse to entertain any moral arguments about the impact of this shift because honestly, I don’t care. There are plenty of people on the planet and I don’t feel anyone should feel any pressure to add to the numbers. However, if you want to have a baby, which many young people still do, the timing of that decision is paramount.
Women are finding growing opportunities for careers and decisions that were not available to them decades ago. But rather than shift their focus from being mothers to being career-minded young women, they’ve enlarged their expectations for themselves. And now today we hear a great deal about the struggles for a woman to have it all- a thriving career, a happy marriage, a growing family, a beautiful and well-kept home, a healthy and sexy body, and also enjoy the occasional exciting vacation and adventures outside of work. That’s a really full plate. Men don’t seem to have such a full appetite. Generally speaking.
If this “have-it-all” plan (for a hetero-normative life) is attainable, it requires at the foundation, a strong partnership with a man of her choosing. And one aspect of a strong partnership is the need to redefine what that is and what it looks like. More and more men are finding it works well for them and their family if they’re the stay-at-home partner/dad. Being a stay-at-home man is a growing trend. But it’s not quite something to be proud of at your ten-year high school reunion.
We ought to consider the expanded opportunities for women in the boardroom as equivalent to expanded opportunities for men in the family room. A readjustment of our values of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man will guarantee greater happiness for both in the bedroom.
If young men can remember women aren’t pushing them to “grow up” faster, instead they’re looking for strong teammates to help them bring home a few “championships” while they’re in their peak years of their baby-making careers, men will better relate and become eager teamplayers. And if women, start considering a man who’s willing to be a stay-at-home partner as a sexy and desirable man, then other men would stop sneering and joking and demeaning the guys who run households. Because, trust me, men take their cues from women. Part of the reason men respect alpha-males is because women desire alpha-males.
Luckily, from studies of female sexuality, we’re learning that women are just as turned-on by images of a hot young shirtless man as they are by seeing a man burping his baby at a ballgame. Female sexuality seems to be far more motivated by intimacy than mere appearances and if this is the case, with social pressures changing perhaps female sexuality will soon find stay-at-home-dads sexy. And if this happens, biological clocks will become less of a punchline, be less a source of stress, and more like a team-building exercise. Remember we’re all on the same side and just like the Quiet Game… everyone wants to win.
As women become alphas, a seismic shift is underway, one that requires women to expand their sense of what’s sexy and what a good partner looks like. There are not enough alpha men for all the new alpha women. And if these high-achieving women have any hope for life-long happiness they need to consider the idea that behind any successful woman there could be a man.
This essay can be found in “Love, Sex, and Other Things You Might Find At The Airport” by Zarron Burnett III.
Zaron is a freelance writer/journalist currently living in Los Angeles.