Today the Hollywood-gossip and 20-something-fan-girl sets are reeling over revelations that Kristen Stewart cheated on longtime boyfriend Robert Pattinson with the married director of her latest movie Snow White and the Huntsman. There are many snarky comments about how Stewart was so bold as to cheat on one of the most sought-after hunks in Hollywood. The fans and gossips are combing through old interviews and appearances looking for explanations. The whys won’t be found in such details — they’re in our society, in what we teach young women and men about love and commitment.
These days, we tell teens that their 20s are for living their life, doing their own thing, experimenting, experiencing. So if a girl meets Mr. Wonderful in her early 20s, when things turn to serious talks about marriage and children, she freaks out. Her friends, her sisters, sometimes her mother — they have told her it is too soon. If she goes so far as to get engaged, we women stage interventions. Granted, sometimes marriage is too soon. Other times the couple isn’t a good match. But we don’t typically weigh the relationships with a little discounting of the judgment of a younger woman. We take her youth as the decisive factor.
In this case, Stewart’s colossal mistake was the “I’m too young to settle down” freak-out. By most accounts, Stewart, 22, has had only two boyfriends. She’s been with Pattinson for about three years. They live together. Rumor has it they’ve been talking about marriage and children. I can guarantee that she has women she trusts telling her that she needs to do more before she settles down. That she has already done more in her career and traveled more around the world than most women ever do doesn’t matter. “You are only 22. You’re too young to settle down,” is what the little devil on her shoulder whispers during conversations about commitment or when she feels a connection with an older and supposedly wiser man. Thus, the freak-out.
By the time a woman is out of her 20s, she has seen the freak-out often. It takes many forms: a sudden breakup, a party binge, a fling — or three. Mixing the party binge with flings is particularly explosive — a drunk woman putting out signals that she wants a good time. The lucky women are those who end up merely embarrassed. Stewart went the fling route.
I have been a fan of Kristen Stewart in large part because she seemed resistant to peer pressure, and I thought that she might have enough self-confidence to resist popular folly. Apparently not, and that worries me. Either she is not as strong as I thought — certainly possible, though her level of awareness of the magnitude of her mistake suggests otherwise — or the bad advice to young women is more prevalent and more seductive.
Standing as a reed against a windstorm, a bit of experienced advice for young women: if a wonderful relationship comes along at 22, don’t blow it up because you aren’t supposed to be ready. If you aren’t ready, fine. If he’s not ready, if he’s not right, fine. But don’t throw away something good simply because your 20s are supposed to be about you. That is the start of a very lonely trail. Go read the testaments of 35-year-old women. Almost invariably, they have one that got away. The “I’m not ready freak out” is why.
Update: More from Leslie on this story: What Kristen Stewart’s Betrayal Means for Robert Pattinson
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