Of men and women

Money, power, love and the modern woman

Should the modern woman marry for money? Do you believe in soul mates? What makes up an ideal marriage?  These are the sort of interesting questions that journalist Li Jie asked me for the June 2010 issue of fashion magazine Marie Claire China. The cover features Sarah Jessica Parker (I love her!), and you can pick it up on the newsstands now.

While this blog does not generally cover matters of the heart outside of the office, the fact is that these issues are important to your joyful success, and since this magazine article is now making the rounds in China, I’ll take this blog post to start a conversation about these issues here. I’ll be curious to know your thoughts in the Comments section to this post.

Q: In China, many people believe that women in their 20s should work hard to get to succeed professionally, and in their 30’s, should marry and switch the focus to family. What do you think?

A:  Our life circumstances all are so varied, and the core of being a modern woman is that we now have more opportunity to can choose the life we want. Some of us marry early, some late, some not at all. The possibilities facing the modern woman seem endless, and that in itself can be confusing. If you CAN do anything, what SHOULD you do? There’s no single answer for all our lives.

Having just completed my 30s, though, I’ve observed that every one of my female peers with whom I attended college or business school who later chose to stay home to raise kids has ended up unhappy with her choice. I am not making a political or philosophical statement here, as I believe women should have the right to stay home with the kids if they want. However, in my observation of my peers, it seems that being exclusively a  caregiver on a full-time can be a lonely experience, even when you are care-giving for people whom you love the most in the world. My happiest friends are those women and men who in some way are contributing their talents in some way to the broader society.

Q: What are your thoughts about age 40 and the future?

A: Life gets sweeter as you get older. In my 20s, I was stressed out and worried about my career. In my 30s, I was stressed out and worried about my career and my love life. After a while, I’ve discovered that things start to come into focus. My late 30s and early 40s have been by far the most joyful of my life. I’m excited about my 40s and I think my 50s will be even better.

I’ve been lucky to have a few deep friendships with older women. These older women have been a source of great fun, happiness and wisdom. They show me how to live well. Looking back, these friendships have helped me more than I’ve realized. I would encourage younger women to cultivate friendships across generations.

Q: A recent survey in China showed that more than 60% of female college graduates would like to marry sons from very rich families, whom we call 富二代 (Fu Er Dai), in order to save themselves years of hard work to get what they want. Do women in the States have the same dream, and what do you think of this?

A:  I think this is a dream shared by many beautiful young women throughout the world.  And in many respects, it is understandable. After all, in many societies, money is power, and beauty is power, so why should you not trade your beauty for his money?  However, I don’t feel this to be a sustainable strategy for your life. Your beauty is what in business is called a “depreciating asset,” while his money, if properly invested, is an appreciating asset. In your 20s, you are the most beautiful you will ever be. Ten or 15 years later, your wrinkles will start to show (as I can tell you from unfortunate personal experience!), so it comes as no surprise that at that point, many of China’s 富二move on from their wives to their 二奶 (Er Nai).

I know. It can be lots of fun to have a rich boyfriend. He takes you to the best restaurants, jets you around to glamorous cities, buys you fancy clothes. When it comes to marriage, though, it’s really important to focus on what personal values you want in the person you depend on most. Some people who inherited their money are used to buying other people’s attention, and become self-centered and expect everyone to cater to them. Those are awful qualities in a husband. To me, the benefit of having money is having a measure of control over your own life. If your means to acquiring money (marrying it) leads to a lifetime lacking power and autonomy, that is a truly bad trade-off.

Since I have always supported myself and made good money, I never wanted to be with someone who could not support himself financially, or whom I felt wanted to be with me only because of my political power in society. In the same way, my wealthy male friends, the ones who would make good husbands, often say they don’t want to date “gold-diggers.” I respect that. It’s often the men who want subservient wives who get women who marry them for their money.

So, I think it is really important for young women to develop themselves. If they don’t have financial capital, they should develop their own human capital, so they can make an active contribution to the economy and society around them. I love to see young women who are strong and fulfilled, with their own ideas and their own lives and their own financial independence. All that makes them attractive to a much wider range of guys, and to the right kind of guys who are looking for true partners in life. Being independent makes you even sexier to good men.

Q: Did you have many boyfriends before your husband?

A: I do not want to get into numbers, but I was 37 years old when I met my husband Dave, and let’s just say, I did not spend the previous 20 years playing bridge with my girlfriends!

In the love department, the modern young woman has so many more choices than previous generations, and often it’s hard to know what to do. Have you ever let a relationship drag on for months, or even years, unsure of whether to stay in it or if there is someone else out there who’s better for you?

From my previous relationships, I’ve carried away a better sense of what’s important in life, and of what a treasure is a great husband.

Q: You are a professional head-hunter for companies, and yet you said your husband is the most important search in your life.

A:  That’s true. Who you marry is one of life’s central decisions, and will change the path of your life forever, so it is very important to choose carefully. I’m truly fortunate to have found my life’s love in my husband Dave.

Q: Do you believe in soul mates?

A: Yes. But I don’t think there is necessarily just one soul mate for you out there. There are several potential soul mates out there for you. You choose one, and your souls intertwine over time. He becomes your soul mate.

Q: What’s your definition of an ideal marriage?

A:  An ideal marriage is a symbiotic partnership, like yin and yang. One person begins where the other ends. At first, you are two independent people with many options, and then each actively chooses to be with the other person. To me, being in an ideal marriage means waking up every single morning to find your best friend right there beside you.

An ideal marriage is like a miracle in your life. It is that sacred, and you both make it sacred by dedicating yourself to each other every day. There is nothing better in life.

Q: What advice do you have for young women out there to find their ideal man?

A: My friend Lori Gottlieb just published a best-selling book here in the States called Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough which soon will be made into a Hollywood movie. While I don’t agree with all of her book, she makes the central point that many modern women have too long a “checklist” for their future husband. Ask a guy what he wants in a woman, and he’ll say three things: cute, fun, good sense of humor. Ask a beautiful young woman what she wants, and she’ll say 300 things: the checkbook of Bill Gates, the looks of Brad Pitt, dresses extremely well but not too gay, knows how to order a nice bottle of wine in a restaurant, highly intelligent, life of the party, and 294 other things.

The thing is, many of the things on that checklist are things that you can work on: Haven’t you ever taken your guy shopping and said, “Oh honey, you would look wonderful in this!”

I would encourage the modern young woman today to whittle that checklist down to just a few things that are most important to her. For example: Shares my values. Wants what I want in life. I know I can depend on him. Being with him makes my heart sing.

What do you think about these issues? I invite you to write in your comments, in English or Chinese, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.