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The American Dream is a broken ideal

I learned the other day, through the many charms of social media, about a man named Dale Partridge. He writes for USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, he is a bestselling author and the founder of and @Sevenly, and according to his Twitter account, he is a self-described “Pro Blogger, Keynote Speaker, Family Man, and Follower of Christ.” All right, so the guy is pretty influential, maybe even inspirational. That’s fantastic. I have no issue with that.

I learned about Partridge when he started showing up on my Facebook newsfeed. Several friends had shared a post he made on April 10, which happened to be his 31st birthday. “I’m not sure when men decided that 30 was the new 15,” he began his post. “When men thought it was better to remain independent than making a commitment to another. When men were (sic) courageous in business and battle but afraid to be fathers.” He continues, “I’m not sure when video games and ‘guy night’ became more important than tee-ball and date night. When 4 year relationships weren’t long enough for a proposal … I’m not sure,” he says, “when men became boys.”

I put my phone down after I’d read his post with a sour feeling in my stomach. Everything he wrote seemed to be true, accurate and the “right thing.” The friends of mine who had shared his post on Facebook were all young women in their 20s; they all expressed sentiments when they shared Partridge’s post that were along the lines of, “Yes, finally! A real man.”

I felt that I was supposed to agree. My finger hovered over the “Like” button, but I hesitated. It took me a second to realize that I didn’t agree, at least not with everything Partridge said. In fact, some of what he said was in direct contradiction to my current life philosophy.

Partridge goes on to explain how our culture “has a boy problem,” what the Italians call Peter Pan Syndrome and what he calls immaturity and selfishness: “Men so focused on their dreams, their visions, and their desires they find themselves wealthy, known, and alone … [We] don’t need more boys,” he says. “We need men who will grow up, know up, and show up. Who will fight for romance and commit quickly and stay indefinitely. To turn their hearts toward children and work to raise them well.”

This is my issue. Partridge seems to be advocating for the traditional American Dream: that idealistic pursuit of happiness where men take care of their families and women take care of their men, when husbands and wives produce three smiling children and vacation along the shore every summer and then eventually retire in perfect harmony. He wants men to “grow up,” to “commit early,” to “turn their hearts toward children.” To do anything else, he seems to be saying, is immature and selfish. To want anything else, then, is immature and selfish.

I didn’t read Partridge’s post as an opinion that had to be exclusively about men. What if we read it as an opinion about how we all should be, men and women? If we read it that way, then we could say that it is immature and selfish for any of us to put ourselves and our dreams first, to not want children or not want to jump right into marriage or commitment. As a woman who is doing that very thing, I take offense. Marriage and children are not right for everyone, and I certainly don’t think they are decisions that should be made young or in haste. I committed to a man when I was 21. I married him when I was 25. I thought about having kids with him, vacationing along the shore and being in perfect harmonious retirement with this man. But I listened to a voice that had been quietly murmuring in the farthest corners of my soul for years that said I wanted a different life, and my happiness had to come first. I resent being called immature and selfish for my decisions to leave that life behind and start over — and I’ve been called that plenty of times in the last eight months. I resent any notion that says we have to subscribe to a broken American Dream, a template or a mold of societal expectations of what we should be doing, what we should have accomplished and what we should want at a certain age.

Perhaps what bothered me the most about Partridge’s post is that it was young, independent, educated women who were my age that were sharing and agreeing with his sentiments. There can’t be a double standard, ladies. If you expect men to act like the husbands from the 1950s, then expect society to start expecting you to act like the wives of the 1950s. If you have a girl’s night away from your kids, you’re selfish. If you decide you’d rather have a master’s degree by 28 than two children, then you’re selfish. With all the steps our society has taken in recognizing that the perfect American family and life are only ideals, I was shocked by the popularity of Partridge’s post. Shame on anybody who calls another person immature and selfish for wanting something different.

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