Shes seen nearly an entire century, and some days, Lena cannot believe how the world has changed. When I was 21, it was 1937. I got married three years before that, when I was 18. I had my first child when I was 19 and my second when I was 20. I had another beautiful little girl when I was 22. We were a real family, not like some of the families you see today, says Lena. One of the main problems Lena sees in the world today is the high divorce rate. She says that families are not cohesive units as they once were. Its like every man for himself.
Divorce was something that I never even considered. You just didnt. Even if you werent always happy, you were a family and you had kids. You stayed together and worked on things and it worked out in the end. Family in the 1930s and 1940s meant something much more than what it means today, in Lenas opinion. She says the divorce did not break up most of the families in her neighborhood”war did. Some of our men never came back. Divorce wasnt a factor. War made us thankful for what we had. Infidelity wasnt a real problem either. Girls liked having a man to wait for.
It was a thing of pride. Divorce and cheating happened, yes. But not like today. Today, its a normal part of most marriages to deal with it. When I got married, neither of us ever even considered the possibility that wed get divorced. She says that her marriage had its share of problems, but they worked through them. What people dont realize today is that it is unlikely to be head over heels in love with a man for your entire life. That fades away, but it doesnt mean you have to split apart. Your love matures and you are responsible for a marriage.
A marriage is about more than puppy love. Its teamwork. I didnt love my husband in the same way I did on our wedding night forever. The love changes and you take care of each other. Lena and her husband, Louis, were married for 52 years before he passed away. She says that the marriage was planned while she was still in high school and was mostly her fathers idea, because Louis, ten years older than she was, had a successful farm not far from her parents house. For Lena and Louis, dating was much different than it was now.
We would do respectable things together, like eat at the diner down the road from my house or go to the towns carnival in the summer. Today, you see girls and boys doing wild things like drinking at bars together and even spending the night at each others houses. When we were dating it was more formal. We still had fun, but dating wasnt about seeing how many men you could kiss. It was about finding that one man that you liked kissing enough to marry. Louis is the only man I ever kissed. He could provide for me as well. Marriage depended on that, not just love.
Today, Lena thinks that too many young adults are playing the field when it comes to dating. She reflects that this is because marriages are usually put off until much older. Its a lack of responsibility sometimes. Its also sometimes a need to have a career. I didnt want a career. Almost no girls I knew wanted to work. We wanted to get married and have babies. That was our work. It was what everyone did and it was what we wanted, she says. Dating, therefore, was more like a job interview, unlike today when most people date for fun until they are ready to settle down.
The problem with the dating world today is also that dating implies sex to men and young women, says Lena. She often finds herself disgusted at what she sees college-aged girls wearing and does not understand the appeal. To us, sex was a gift you gave your husband. No one was sexual in the sense that they are today. Sure you had your exceptions to that. There were gentlemens clubs in my day too. But sex wasnt a hobby. Not everyone was a virgin on their wedding nights, but if you did have sex before marriage, you sure as heck didnt flaunt it or usually even admit it.
Lena feels that todays society makes sex appealing and casual instead of special and private like it once was. Of course, many things other than family, dating, and sex have changed since Lena was the age of college students today. She herself didnt attend a college, but instead worked on her husbands farm. Girls didnt go to college most of the time. We didnt want to. In fact, where Lena was from, most of the boys didnt go to college either. She says that she graduated with about 30 kids in her class, and about 10 of them went to college. She thinks that one of them might have been female.
It wasnt really a sexist thing. It wasnt like people thought girls werent smart enough. It was just that you wanted to get out of school and have a family, and you couldnt really do that if you went to college. It was our own choice most of the time. She also says that college was very expensive, so only girls who didnt plan on having a family ever went to college. Otherwise, it would be like throwing money away, because girls did not have both a family and a career. She says that the war really changed that because women were forced to do mens work while they were off fighting.
After that, gender roles began to change, because women found that they were not only capable to do mens jobs, but they liked doing mens jobs. Lena says she was fortunate that her husband wasnt drafted, but that she knows of many wives in her neighborhood who got jobs to help support their families and the war effort. Today, you can see a female doctor, a female dentist, and a female lawyer, no problem. Women were always strong and powerful, but they used to just show that by being mothers. Now, super-moms have their families and their jobs.
Lena thinks that this is both good and bad. While she admits that the changing gender roles have helped put the most qualified people in the right roles regardless of gender, she also thinks that it has helped to contribute to the high divorce rate. When Lena first married Louis, she made his meals every day, mended his clothing, cleaned the couples house, and helped him in any way that he needed help. Today, she finds that women simply dont have the time to do that. Lewis provided her with financial and physical security. Today, she finds that women simply dont need a man to do that.