I feel like I spent most of my life trying to get women to realize that the success is not measured by their marital status. For years, women were led to believe that being a wife meant that you had achieved something special. I thought that our girls today were learning the exact opposite. I may have been wrong.
Yesterday I lectured at an all-girls' school. After our first class about why the word "slut" perpetuates the double standard, our second class period was devoted to a discussion about how technology affects our sexuality, sexual health, and our relationships. I said that there existed great opportunities as well as great challenges. (For the sake of this post, I will focus on only two aspects of our discussion.)
First, I disclosed that as a teenager, I didn't have email, I-Chat, Facebook, or text messaging. I did, however, have an emergency car phone that was permanently attached to the car. That being said, my experience with adolescent dating was based upon calling a boy up on the phone, passing notes to him in science class, and telling him that I liked him -- in person. Nowadays, that doesn't really happen. Teens who rely on technology to communicate never get an opportunity to talk face-to-face. Or more importantly, if they get the opportunity, they rarely take it.
We wind up losing the (necessary) intimacy and vulnerability that is part of a relationship. Remember when you actually had to call someone on the phone or knock on their door and meet their parents before picking them up for a date?
I fear that those of us who can only type our thoughts or feelings on some electronic piece of equipment will never be able to engage in an intimate relationship, because we don't know what it's like to feel vulnerable and try to avoid vulnerability at all costs. The computer screen always seems to protect us. If the object of our affection doesn't respond to a text or email we chalk it up to a SPAM filter or a network problem. When we do get a message or a text we can interpret someone's words in any way that pleases us. We never know if someone is being genuine. (And no, those emoticons don't really tell us anything -- no matter how many smiley faces or LOLs someone types!)
Needless to say, my girls were not happy. "Why should we have to talk face-to-face if we have all these options?" Now, some of this has to do with their age -- fifteen -- but I explained to them that having tough conversations was part of being mature enough to engage in a relationship. And if they couldn't do that, perhaps they weren't ready for one. And that's okay, too.
But when we started to talk about their use of social networking sites, that's when things got interesting... and scary.
A girl raised her hand. "I have a friend who only wants to be able to write 'in a relationship' on her Facebook page." Many of the girls shook their heads in agreement. "I do, too," others added.
I cringed. How is it possible that we still believe that our worth (or popularity) is dependent upon being "the girlfriend/wife/partner of so-and-so?"
While I like Facebook in many respects, I find the "Relationship Status" part completely juvenile, if not damaging. Why do we feel compelled to announce or define our relationships for everyone else? (There is already a part where you can write your interests i.e. dating, networking, etc.) Why isn't it enough to define our relationship with our partner? Why must we formally legitimize our relationships for the greater public? Is it really anyone's business?
So of course, a student asked me, "Logan, do you have your relationship status on your Facebook page?" (Yes, I have a Facebook page.)
I answered honestly.
No. I don't. Being an "Mrs." doesn't make me the person that I am. Being a sexologist, a Ph.D., contributing to my community, my work with children and teens -- those things make me the woman that I am. Being a wife is part of who I am, but certainly not the most important thing about me. And in the end, we are secure enough with our relationship that my husband doesn't need me telling everyone that I am formally attached. We know it; who cares if anyone else does?
And therein lies the lesson for all of us: girls, women, boys, and men. We are more than the title at the beginning of our name. We do a tremendous disservice to ourselves when we forget that.