Over the course of the last year, journalists and social commentators alike have taken to highlighting an allegedly alarming new trend: The rise of the romantically-stunted, career-driven and perpetually single 20-something-year-old-woman.
The most egregious example of this commentary, of course, is Susan Patton's anachronistic call for young women to put down the books and start searching for a husband. However, this type of critique is not confined to the famously (and sometimes comically) outdated lifestyle pages of the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Progressive millennial women active in the blogosphere or at liberal college publications have also taken to lambasting their male peers' rampant and irrational fear of relationships -- and their female peers' corresponding singledom.
Of course, these viewpoints would likely fail to gain traction if they did not contain a modicum of truth: women in their 20s are increasingly single, and they are frequently resigned to face a slate of disappointing romantic prospects -- at least in the near future. Moreover, many of these women are occasionally fearful that Patton's premonitions of a lonely, perpetually single life may become reality.
What commentators on single life often fail to consider, however, are the potential benefits of millennial women's prolonged independence. Despite Patton's insinuations to the contrary, single women in their 20s are not pouring all of their leisure time into their careers and solitary, wine-fueled "Downton Abbey" marathons. Rather, these women (and even many of their peers who are in relationships) are investing their precious free time into a new kind of personal and emotional resource: a network of strong, enduring and supportive female friendships.
It is precisely young women's proclivity to remain independent longer that makes these networks more powerful than those of previous generations. Perhaps out of necessity, women in their 20s rely on each other more than ever before to get through difficult situations at work, make enduring life decisions, overcome personal tragedy or just have fun traveling and enjoying their free time. Regardless of the genesis of these tightly-knit networks, I believe the benefits of women investing in female friendships will be deep and far-reaching.
First, strong female friendship networks perform the incredibly important function of smashing down damaging stereotypes about women's inability to support one another and celebrate each other's success. These stereotypes pervade our popular culture and, if unaddressed, have the potential to seriously derail women's future in the workplace and even in their personal lives.
Second, strong female friendship networks go a long way in helping young women to build the connections and relationships they will one day require to match or infiltrate the old boys' club. Though the effects of male-dominated leadership are not always evident in entry-level positions, they will almost certainly put millennial women at a disadvantage later in life. Any early efforts to replicate the traditional male network and provide women with the mutual support necessary to challenge it will one day be greatly rewarding.
In fact, I believe the benefits of strong female friendship networks are so potentially great they are difficult to enumerate. Just imagine the possibilities of a generation of interconnected, supportive and focused career women tackling new challenges in the workplace, in government and in relationships -- together.
Of course, women in their 20s do not view strong female friendships as a replacement for a healthy romantic relationship, and many of them hope to one day have a happy marriage. But until they find kind and compatible significant others, and even after that point, women should celebrate and strengthen the relationships that are available to them now -- those with their fabulous female friends who will get them through hardship tomorrow and support them for years to come.