Who are you now, and what do you really want?

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We women—single, single-again, married, cohabiting—all face unique situations and circumstances. But the ways in which any one woman suffers or feels confused or worries or wonders “what’s next” are not so different from those of other women.

Got a newsletter today from Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. She’s a warm and kind professional therapist who helps couples and families but also specializes in helping women who are single, single-again, or thinking about becoming single-again, or who’ve done all that society expected and just don’t know what they want now—she calls them “Empty Nexters.”

Dr. Karen has an interesting list of questions in her newsletter. They’re directed at women who are questioning “what’s next” about their own lives. I’m directly quoting it here so you can respond—in your head, on paper, or in your heart—if any of these questions resonates with you.

  • Think back to childhood, young adulthood. What were some of your dreams back then that you lost along the way?
  • Read magazines and even want ads. See what topics catch your interest. Don’t apply for anything; just be open to see what draws you.
  • Silence the inner voice that says, “I couldn’t,” or “I’d love to, but….”
  • Finish this sentence, “I would love to….” Don’t think about it, just write it out and see what words come.
  • Whose voice is inside your head saying, “You can’t!”?
  • What would your husband and children say if you were to say whatever came at the end of that sentence above?
  • What would your mother, father, siblings say if you were to do something entirely new and exciting with your life now?
  • Give yourself space to flush out old tears – for lost lovers, lost opportunities.
  • Attend a weekend retreat, just for women like you, Empty Nexters, figuring out what comes next.

Dr. Karen’s weekend retreats are specifically designed for women. Even if you don’t end up going to a retreat, she’s very generous about sharing her wisdom. You can read her inspiring words by visiting and subscribing to her newsletter at Dr. Karen Gail Lewis’s website.

Oh, and PS. There’s a special deal on pricing for the retreat—good only until September 15, so check it out today.

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Ever “defend yourself” for being single? Listen to Dr. KGL

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis is a great supporter of SWWAN. She’s been working with us for the past 3 years in many ways. We are thrilled to have her share one of her articles as our first Single Working Women’s Week guest blogger. Love to hear your thoughts on this tell-it-like-it-is post.

“Single Women, Stop Defending Yourself!”

“Proud to be single.” “Single by choice.”

Why do people who have not signed a legal document of marriage need to proclaim their feelings about their life position?

It is a shame women have to take a stance one way or another on their feelings about being single. Wouldn’t it be great if there were no more value judgment about being single than about the length of your fingernails? Sometimes they’re long and sometimes they’re short. But you aren’t treated differently because of their length. You don’t have to sing to the world that you like short nails or you’re proud of your long nails. Unfortunately, that non-judgmental thing is not the case in our society.

People who have signed the legal document of marriage don’t say they are proud to be married or married by choice. People in a majority (whether this is economics, racial, gender, or life position) take their place of privilege for granted. It’s only the minority [note from BP: Society’s conventions and rewards are designed mainly for marrieds and thus tend to make singles feel like a minority even though single women are now actually a 51% majority in America!] who may feel the need to sing out the praises for “not being married.” It sounds like what it probably is: a defense against others’ expectations – that everyone should be married. Too bad others often hear it as “Me thinks thou doth protest too much.”

Think about this: why do you need to laud your life position? If it weren’t that you are fighting off what others think you should do, would you need to?

I understand, though, I write as a woman who just turned 64. I write as a family therapist who specializes in singles (always single and single again). I also write as someone who has researched and published a lot about singles (see With or Without A Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives). One of the many things I’ve learned is that singles of different decades view their life position differently.

Prior to age 30 people feel free not to have to follow society’s traditional rules. Women and men no longer feel compelled to find a mate in their 20s, get married, and start a family. There is more freedom to explore their social world, focus on career, hang around with the opposite sex, have sex – all without expectations that you must “settle down.”

“Settle down.” What a stifling phrase. It sounds like you can be yourself up until the time you “settle down” and have to stop being yourself. Settle down to what?

After age 30, though, women are continually warned about the “ticking clock.” While they may not feel pressured about having children at this point, others certainly are wanting to pressure them. And, by the end of their 30s, most women have given in; that ticking becomes deafeningly loud.

Once women enter their 40s, they either have to change their song or they have to put on a good front. It’s hard to sound proud of something that you don’t feel you have any choice about—the fact is, you can’t make an appropriate man appear in life. Or, you can put on a good front while you sing the old song, knowing it may no longer be in tune.

Women in their late thirties and older need support for not falling into the trap of having to take a stand on how they feel about being single. They need support for the variety of feelings they have—sometimes it’s great and freeing being single, sometimes it can feel sad or lonely [BP note: just like being married!]. And sometimes it’s not an issue at all. Women need support to avoid the self-blame for why they don’t have a man. Mostly, they need support to push back against our culture that pressures women into how they should be feeling as a single woman.

If you want information about a source of great support, check out my Unique Retreats for Women weekend. And, be sure to get your 15 Golden Rules For Being An Emotionally Healthy Single Woman.

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, author of With or Without A Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives, and other books for singles, is a marriage and family therapist (39 years). Her most recent book is Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary She has a practice in Cincinnati and in Washington, DC. She is available for phone consultations, 513-542-0646.

Listen to some truths about being single!

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The hottest stations these days don’t broadcast from radios.

Had a great time being interviewed on a wonderful Internet radio series last Thursday. I also invited one of SWWAN’s favorite champions to join me, Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. We had a fantastic discussion with Leah (host and mastermind behind Women Living on the Verge of Evolution) about being single—what sucks, what’s great, what can we do to help each other.

Dr. Karen Gail suggested we establish small groups of women who can and will talk honestly with each other about the challenges and the joys and rewards of living as single women, supporting each other to express all our feelings—and as we do so, come up with ideas for improving the language our society uses about being single.

SWWAN is the perfect focal point for setting these groups up. We already have a couple of online community setups that we haven’t done much with. If anyone is interested in helping give form to the small consciousness-raising groups she suggested, email me and let’s toss some ideas around. Great way to meet other single working women!

Here’s the link to listen to the show: “Being Single: A prolonged state of waiting—or an empowered life choice?”  It’s fun! And we even had a single guy (my brother) call in to say he wishes single men could do more of what we single women are doing. Hurray! Consciousness-raising all around…

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Does a "bad" woman make a story exciting? I bet she's single!

Good movies always seem to have some conflict between “the good” and “the bad.” I’d love to do a survey sometime to see what percentage of the time the villain in a non-action film (where we expect the bad guy to be male because only another man can pose a worthwhile challenge to the male hero) is a female–and particularly a single female–versus a male. Do we find it easier to hate women?

Think about “Basic Instinct.” I’d never seen that whole movie before until the other night. And now I see how this single woman is portrayed as a spider, a trapper–without ethics, morals or a heart. Seems like another male fantasy movie–the incredibly attractive, sexy female that draws men like flies is finally unveiled as evil. Hmmmm. We’ve been blaming the female for stuff since at least biblical times. Dr. Karen Lewis mentions the history of how females are assigned to care for all relationships in her great SWWAN Dive interview.

And then there is the Bridget Jones’s Diary story. This poor single woman is desperate about being alone and is constantly worrying about how to change herself to catch a man. Then she sleeps with the guy who is a total user. She’s not evil, but she’s pathetic and personally weak and unempowered. If it weren’t for the wonderful poignant humor, this would be a totally depressing film.

This weekend is the opening of Single Working Women’s Week–our international celebration of all single working women. We’re in Chicago for this and will have available at our event, at a SWWAN-member discount, Dr. Lewis’s fascinating book, With or Without a Man, and her workbook of the same name. If you’re in town, stop by and see us at Radiance Fine Jewelry, 2139 N. Damen. 11 – 4 on Saturday and 12 to 5 on Sunday.

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Raising our consciousness

Many of us aren’t aware of the subtle and insidious ways that society disapproves of us for being single. A listener shared her reaction to the SWWAN Dive interview with Dr. Karen Gail Lewis the other day. We appreciate this passionate comment from her:

“As your interview with Dr. Lewis unfolded, I kept thinking ‘right on! right on! right on!”

“I sent the interview link to several coworkers – all professional women – who are recently or soon-to-be divorced and seem to be questioning why they feel so good about not having men in their lives. Dr. Lewis had the answer to that! I also sent the link to two friends who get depressed because they haven’t found mates, and to a career coach who had related to me that “research shows women generally have a tougher time in retirement than men” so they could hear Dr. Lewis’ challenges to biased research, ages-old cultural stereotypes and fears about single women.

“Her wise statement about being choosy in dating and getting involved with a man is key. Let’s drop the denial – there are many substandard men out there, men who are indifferent to women’s needs, their dreams and passions. These men STILL think women’s lives must revolve around them. No matter what planet they come from, I don’t believe it’s our JOB as women to teach these men how to relate. It was gratifying to hear my point of view validated! Here we are forty years into “liberation” and women keep selling themselves short – stop the insanity! As Dr. Lewis said, knowing who’s appropriate to let into one’s life, not just settling for anybody is key. That’s wisdom that should be spread far and wide!

“Thanks Barbara and Dr. Lewis for the great consciousness raising session and the resources you mentioned!” ~ S.W.

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DOES it get better than this?

I remember once seeing a newspaper article taped to someone’s refrigerator. It was a well-written article talking about a commercial that glorified a just-the-guys’ weekend–can’t remember if it was hunting or fishing or camping. The main thing was, they had their beer and each other. And the tagline was “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The author of the article, a man, went on to say how inappropriate he thought that tagline was. He talked about his relationships with his children, and particularly with his wife, and how that’s the sort of image that really belongs with a tagline like that.

I remember having a brief discussion with my father about this. And what a point of difference we had–it just showed that we were living/thinking/breathing on such different planes that it was a miracle we could ever cross the divide and reach each others’ minds.

We’re going to be interviewing Dr. Karen Gail Lewis on our SWWAN Dive radio show on July 17. Her book, “With or Without a Man,” is a sensitive analysis of what it really means to be single. She’s a professional therapist/counselor, a single woman herself, and she’ll talk frankly about both the bad and the good parts of being single.

“7 Shocking Truths Every Single (or Single Again) Woman Must Know” mark your calendar to join us on that call. Her stories are fascinating, and her advice is perceptive and wise. You might already know everything she’s going to say. But sometimes it’s exquisitely rewarding to share your dreams, hopes, fears and joys with others.




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