They have it all...so why is it so hard for some women to be happy?
Mar 17, 2009 11:19
Loving husband? Tick. Gorgeous children? Tick. Exciting career? Tick. Yet still millions of harassed modern women feel there's a gaping hole in the middle of their life...
What is it women want? This is the question they (and, most likely, men) ask themselves all the time. Across the country every day, women say to themselves: 'What happened to me? Where did my life go wrong?'
Men try to make us happy, but end up doing all the wrong things: they buy the wrong birthday presents, book the wrong type of treat, buy their wife the lingerie she doesn't want to wear. Meanwhile, women look at their lives and think: 'There must be more than this.'
Even those women who seem to have everything - husband, children, a healthy, happy lifestyle - ask themselves on a daily basis: 'Why am I so bored?' We are all, it seems, struggling with the fact that we feel dissatisfied - almost on an epidemic level.
Feeling glum: Women who have it all are still feeling unfulfilled
When I talk to people, mainly women, no one seems happy with their lot. It's as if their perception of who they should be has not matched up to the reality.
As my friend Clare told me the other day: 'I think I've spent the past 40 years working out who I am and what I want, and now I've found it, I don't know that I even want it.'
Most women generally complain that their level of dissatisfaction runs parallel with how much they have to do.
They have to look after the children, run the house, cook dinner, clear up, be good to their husband or partner, entertain friends and find the energy to have sex. In their daily lives, they are left exhausted and, in many cases, they feel under-appreciated and fed-up.
You can buy a woman the best car in the world or the largest diamond, but that doesn't stop her from feeling full of exhaustion and tedium. Material goods are nothing compared to real excitement.
How many of us have dreams of running away? Of waking up somewhere else, maybe with someone else, and starting all over again?
I used to think these feelings of dissatisfaction were most pronounced in women whose lives were a struggle, who had to penny-pinch and work hard and do endless juggling just to make ends meet.
When I was a single mother a few years ago, I once had to put all my groceries back in the supermarket as I'd run out of money and my card wasn't accepted at the till. It was the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me and it made me want to weep hot tears of frustration and anger.
Back then, I was bored of being hard-up, washed-up, on my own, love-lorn yet loveless and scrimping every last penny just for a pint of milk.
I didn't have everything I wanted back then. Of course I didn't. I'd stare at families walking in the park on a Sunday (Sundays are always lonely days for single parents).
I'd see the happy, pretty mummies and the handsome, relaxed fathers playing with their children and I'd think: 'Why isn't my life like this?' I assumed all these paired-up people with their high incomes were happy.
But I was in a Starbucks in a glamorous area of North London the other day when all these beautiful yummy mummies came in. They reminded me of the women I used to ogle at of a weekend. They looked amazing, the type of women who really did have it all.
Searching for happiness: Writer Lucy Cavendish
They had beautifully-cut, wonderfully-dyed hair. They had glowing skin. I heard them talk of how they'd just dropped their children off at their fee-paying schools and how they were waiting for their triyoga class to begin. I was suspicious of them on the spot.
But then they started talking more earnestly and, oh my, were they miserable! There I had been, staring at my bitten, unglamorous nails and thinking how country bumpkinish I must look in my jeans, jumper, no make-up and hair that resembled an out-of-control haystack, when I began to realise that they were all moaning.
They moaned on and on about everything - how disorganised their nannies were, how expensive their cleaners were. But, mostly, they talked of how bored they were in their marriages.
'I never see my husband,' said one. 'He works too hard.' The other women nodded in agreement.
'When I do see my husband, he's too tired to even talk,' said another. The women nodded again.
They went on to discuss how under-appreciated they felt. The list was endless - they didn't feel loved enough or cherished. They felt their husbands had lost interest in them. One complained that her husband barely knew her any more. 'I want more than this,' she said.
Maybe it's not more that they want, but something different. From what I heard, these women felt bored, lonely, abandoned. What they thought they wanted - a wonderful and easy life - isn't what they really wanted at all.
By the time you've done tennis practice and had a pedicure as a weekly routine for years on end, it all begins to pall.
One of the women said she'd developed a crush on the builder. 'I wonder what life he leads,' she said. 'Sometimes I want to run away with him because I don't know what else I want.'
But why don't we know what we want? Maybe the problem is that we are programmed to want more than we have.
Men can feel the same way - that's why they end up chasing younger women and buying big red sports cars. But the vast majority are pretty happy to muddle along while trying hard to get things right.
Happy family: But some women said they felt unloved by their husbands
They certainly don't understand women's restless desires and dreams - I've lived with my man for years and he still doesn't know what I want for my birthday.
However, I am prepared to admit that women themselves never seem to know what they want either. We are on an endless search to find fulfilment. I don't think men are programmed this way. If their needs are met and life doesn't get too complicated, they are happy.
In our household it is always me, and not my husband, who thinks we should move house/live abroad/ have another child. It is always me who sees problems in our relationship and then finds solutions.
Then I find more problems and solutions. Left to his own devices, my husband would probably feel content. Sometimes I feel it's an affliction - this restlessness in the core of me.
I wanted to ask those women in Starbucks: 'Well, what do you want then?' A young lover like the builder? A divorce? More children? Fewer children? More money?
But it seems that having money changes nothing. Instead of worrying about getting the cut-price goods at Lidl, these women worry about other things. Theirs may not seem valid to the rest of us who live in the real world, but they are still worries.
When we are young, what are we led to believe? On the one hand, most girls are fed a constant diet of what being successful is - thin, young, pretty, fashionable, popular. It never occurred to me that I would not grow up, meet a man, have children and live happily(ish) ever after.
At the same time, my mother encouraged me to be independent - on an economic and intellectual level. I read endless books written by Germaine Greer and other similarly-minded female writers.
It never occurred to me that I would not go to university, graduate and then join the world of work. There was no way I was going to subjugate myself to any man as a mere wife or girlfriend.
I expected to be treated as an equal, and, by and large, I have been. I got a good degree. I travelled the world. I moved to London and started working on a women's magazine. It all felt terribly exciting and everything seemed possible.
We are the generation that is supposed to be able to have it all - work, motherhood, marriage, divorce, new marriages, more children and our own money.
Serious: Victoria Beckham has wealth, three children and a husband, but is she truly happy?
But finding a balance that is satisfying is almost impossible. I know women who, from the outside, really do seem to have it all. Some of them, like those North London yummy mummies, have married rich and successful men.
I meet them for lunch sometimes and marvel at how their lives seem to be a round of exotic holidays, dinners at top-notch restaurants and exclusive gym memberships. They drive nice cars, have nice clothes and seem to have all the freedom they want. But every single one of them is bored.
Then I might meet women who have far more basic lives. They reflect the middle part of society where most of us reside. We have a car, a house, a husband who works but isn't a merchant banker. We have kids who go to the local school.
But we do the same things every day. We get up, get the kids ready for school, make breakfast and packed lunches, go to work/walk the dog/do the housework. And then we start all over again.
There is nothing wrong with this. It is how most of us live. But, every now and again, don't we all wish it didn't have to be the same every day?
Sometimes I want to buy a semi-clapped-out VW camper van, load my kids in it and drive off. I want us all to go on a big adventure. Like most women, I wanted marriage and kids and I have that, yet the urge to do something different can be very strong.
I think women search all their lives, as if we are only ever fulfilled on a temporary basis. In a positive light, it is a search for continual betterment. We have only one life, the theory goes, so why not pack in as much as possible while you can? Why settle for 'all right' or 'OK' when something is gnawing away at your insides, urging you to try a different way of living.
The downside is, you never realise how good anything is until it's gone. Sometimes life seems better lived backwards, constantly looking at the past and thinking: 'Wasn't that fun!'
It wasn't fun being a single parent - I remember that - but I also remember that I travelled a lot with my son, that I met loads of people and said yes to just about every opportunity.
But, at the time, all I wanted was to settle down and have more children. Now I have, I think: 'God, my life's turned boring!' But it's not my life that's the problem, it's the endless routine.
Maybe this is why the sexes will always be different. The type of routine that dominates men's lives doesn't seem to bother them. They get up, go to work, work hard, maybe socialise and then go home. They may grumble a bit, but they accept it. In fact, they seem to like it.
Women are different. That yummy mummy in the cafe wanted to go off and have a fling with the builder because, to her, it seemed more exciting than her pampered but predictable life. As she said herself: 'I've got everything. Why am I so bored?'
• Lost And Found by Lucy Cavendish (Penguin, £6.99) is available from March 26.
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