`Sex and the City' syndrome in Colombo?

I RECENTLY had the opportunity to take a glimpse at the lives of two young women, both around the same age (between 27-29 years of age). One was from an underprivileged background and the other from an upper middle class family.

22 Jul 2011 0 comment

One was a native of Colombo and a top executive heading a division of a company whilst the other was a simple housemaid from far away Polonnaruwa. Though their worlds might seem so much apart, they had one thing in common: Relationship problems with the opposite sex.

Finding (and keeping) the right man to spend the rest of their lives with was a problem common to both of them. The woman from Polonnaruwa, who was working as a domestic helper in a house in Colombo, did not want to have anything to do with her husband of seven years. I was there at the Police Station when she said that she did not want to go back to her husband, opting instead to file papers for divorce.

The Police woman at the Women's Branch chided this woman for what she called her callous dismissal of her husband, but the woman claimed she would rather live alone than live a life of misery with her spouse.

The other woman had tried serious relationships with four men at different intervals, but had not been able to connect with either of them. All four relationships had gone on the rocks without coming to the expected happy conclusion, by her own admission, a situation not unique amongst her associates. I know several smart, independ-ent, good looking young people in Colombo who are unable to either keep or find a partner for life.

Sri Lankans are essentially a traditional people. Those in the city may not be high sticklers, but barring the odd exception, most complied with the norms when it came to marriage and family in the past. What then has changed in our city?

According to statistics of the US Census Bureau, there are 86 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women, which they say is not good news for women lookino for Invp in all flip tivi-nnri places, namely the major metropolitan arkas along the East Coast and in the Midwest.
A news report says that New York boasts the largest number of unmarried women, which makes the Big Apple the wrong place to find a man to marry. The same trend can be found in nearly all the cities along the Atlantic seaboard, as well as just about every city in the South and the Midwest. A kind of 'Sex and the City' syndrome?

We really don't know what Colombo's statistics are in this area but random samples seem to show an alarming trend of the syndrome being prevalent. We can stereotype the reasons for this and say it's a breakdown of family values etc., but in my view the answer to this question might be multifaceted. With women becoming more employable than men, and in some situations being even better workers, they are holding better positions in the workplace. Therefore, apart from family values, the role reversal that has occurred may have led to these incompatible relationships.

Last month I wrote in my column that the average woman in 2024 will be earning more than her male counterpart. Newsweek says: "Even before the financial crisis, the spending power of women was increasing in both rich and poor countries. The downturn has accelerated the trend, particularly in the United States. American men lost more jobs (they worked in the hardest-hit areas like financial services and manufacturing), whereas women started more companies. The pay gap has also continued to decrease. In 35 per cent of double-income households in the United States, wives now make more than their husbands, up from 28 per cent five years ago. Assuming the trend continues, the average woman will make more than the average man by 2024."

This changing trend is also seen in Sri Lanka. Apart from many business leaders being women, even amongst rural communities women have taken on a stronger role by getting employment overseas and in the local garment industry. With such empowerment women are moving to the next stage in how they manage their personal life.

At the Police station where the housemaid from Polonnaruwa was being interviewed by the female Police sergeant, there was some bizarre advice given.

The officer, who was admonishing the maid for forgetting her roots and her family just four months after she came to work in the city, told her that in the end she needed some man even if he was a mere `pambaya' (scarecrow) for her survival; counsel which the housemaid simply refused to accept, choosing instead to stay in the city and continue her job. The other young woman, who had everything going for her except a man in her life, said she found the men in her previous relationships either too possessive, having no focus, no goals, being too much under their mothers' thumbs or not knowing what they wanted out of life. This made me realise that at the hearSof the problem was just one thing. That the women in the metropolis maybe looking to keep their independence whilst looking for the Holy Grail - 'the perfect man' who will accept them just as they are. And the trend is catching just like the woman from Polonnaruwa who after just a few months in the city opted for her independence.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Leda cho