Women in their 20s have an advantage over men in their 20s because all men want to sleep with women in their 20s. And women have power over men who want to sleep with them.
I remember having this power. The first time I wrote about it my editor had to call the magazine’s lawyer. Now it’s pretty well understood by women that it’s easier to get stuff done in the office when everyone wants to have sex with you. There is even science to back up the recommendation that women should flirt at work to get ahead. And there is precedent that when you are in a meeting with a smart young woman, you can switch it to a date if you feel like it. Women know this is the rule, and they’re on their toes at all times.
So I was floored when this ABC newscaster got fired for writing that she gets better interviews when the person she’s interviewing has a crush on her. I like her honesty. It’s a joke that she got fired for writing it. And part of me thinks that she got fired, really, for writing that sometimes she does interviews bra-less. The person who fired her is probably a guy who asked her out and got turned down.
When I was clicking through links about the woman at ABC, I found a paper by economist Alvin Roth concluding that it is impossible to be happier than your spouse.
This makes sense to me. All the research about what makes a happy marriage suggests that the marriage is a team. There needs to be a clear division of labor, for example. When couples know who does what chore and they don’t have to discuss it, the couples are happier—regardless of who does more. (And, seriously, we all know the wife does more, even if she’s the breadwinner.)
There needs to be a team agreement on how to fight—John Gottmann calls this fighting fair . And there needs to be a team agreement on who is taking care of the kids (And the most statistically reliable solution for keeping a marriage together is the woman stays home with the kids.)
So what I realize is that I needed to make a big shift in my life: from thinking that men are useful tools for getting where I want to go, to men being potential teammates. It’s a more difficult shift than I anticipated because if you’re really good at work in your 20s, then you are probably already leveraging your ability to make men nuts over you. And if you are really good at marriage in your 30s then you are leveraging your ability to be a good teammate and care about the guy’s feelings.
When I was winning the career game in my late twenties and early 30s I didn’t realize that the game changes when you have kids.
In my 20s I was running Internet companies and making tons of money and I was great. I was not great at school, but I was great at work, and I had a career that people respected. And the interesting thing about school is that in your teens you are on top of the world if you are great at school. But the game changes in your 20s and school doesn’t matter. Work matters. That was good for me.
Then I needed to have kids. I literally just woke up one day and wanted kids. It was like a brain implant or something. So I hired a headhunter for $10K to find me a husband and then I married someone I already knew. And then I had kids.
And then you know what happens? It doesn’t matter if you had a great career. Because the world of husbands and kids is about keeping things together. Did you get a husband who makes a lot of money? Great. You can stop working if you want. Did you get two kids before your eggs dried up? Great because fertility treatments are largely ineffective for older women.
So the game in my 20s was to have a great career. And I like to win, so I played that game. Then I realized, sometime around when my first husband was asking for a divorce, that if I didn’t pay attention to my family I wouldn’t have one. And that’s what matters in this next part of life. I don’t want a big career and no family. And I don’t want to have to choose, but really, you do have to choose.
I miss the time in my 20s when I was hot and young and all I needed to do was get some guy to take me to dinner and I could reengineer my career.
There is no grand solution or a magic formula to avoid problems in adult life. But there is a sense of knowing what’s coming and being ready for it. So women who have grand careers in their 20s can be a little less smug about success, and little less guilty about leading men on at the office. And women in their 20s who can’t figure out a career can find solace in the fact that their time will come.