“I’m mad so many smart, professionally successful, delightful women beat up on themselves because…they aren’t married or haven’t stayed married or haven’t remarried.”
Dr. Karen Lewis, a family therapist, told me what I already knew: that many women blame themselves for being single.
Scaring men away
She’s amassed a list of ways they — we — do that (many of them are things I’ve told myself): we’re too fat; too skinny; too intelligent; not intelligent enough; we scare men away; we’re afraid of intimacy.
We get reinforcement for our self-criticism in the form of messages from loved ones, self-help books and even, in some cases, mental health professionals: “You don’t give a man a chance,” “You’re too choosy,” “You’re too set in your ways,” “You aren’t feminine enough.”
The “fix it solution”
That drives them to seek what Lewis calls the “fix it solution.” Single women who are unhappy being single feel that if they could only fix themselves, they’ll attract a mate and end up being happily married.
“The assumption is, as soon as I help them not be shy or not scare men off or not be afraid of intimacy, they are going to meet a man that they’re going to partner with.”
The fallacy of that kind of thinking is: Where are the men? Are they working on their own personal growth?
“The women come in trying to make themselves emotionally healthy so that men are going to want them more but the men are not making themselves emotionally healthy, because far fewer men come in to therapy,” said Lewis.
She’s featured in my book-in-progress, “The New Old Maid: How Happily Unmarried Women are Defying Spinster Stereotypes.”
Not satisfied with their lives
While most of the women I’ve interviewed are happily unmarried, Dr. Lewis has, among her patients, single women who do not feel satisfied with their lives. She does NOT help them “fix” themselves so they can attract a man.
Her goal in working with “wise, competent, successful single women” is to help them feel good about themselves; make good choices about their lives; take control of the things they have control over — and let go of the rest; deal with the very worst part of being single – the ambiguity of whether they will or will not ever meet a man of their choosing.
Dr. Lewis works with patients in her psychotherapy practice’s two locations (Silver Spring, MD Bethesda, Ohio), and conducts workshops throughout the U.S.