The importance of lady vacations

Last night over dinner and drinks I was hanging out with some old friends (I’m visiting my old home–the Bay Area–for a few weeks) and we got to talking about relationships and alone time. I emphatically stated that one reason I think I have stayed single for so long is that I am a person in need of a lot of alone time and relationships require a type of time and space management I don’t always feel able to do. Alone time gives me the space to work my things out, organize my life and figure out exactly what it is I am looking for–whether it be in love, career or ice cream flavors. Not having to answer to anyone is pretty damn nice and I realize not just a choice, but in some ways a luxury.

But before I sound like a cliched stereotype of a feminist in her 30′s trying to overcompensate for “zomgz, how much I love my single life,” the truth is it is not always easy and finding a balance between wanting to be in a relationship and maintaining a single, independent, non-self obliterated identity is no easy work. In my experience, the most successful relationships are ones where both people have a shared sense of what independence means, where your lives overlap and both people are really clear about what your individual needs are.

But it’s not easy. As women we are taught that our very identity is based on how much attention we get from our partners and our success is based on the success of our relationships. And the success of our relationships are based on how much time our partners spend with us which often turns into a vicious cycle where we lose some of our best and strongest gal pals into the throes of heternormative coupledom. We’ve all been through it.

Which is why it is nice to see that there has been an increase in women focused vacations. And I’m not going to get all lady mag on us and suggest that women having money, power and access to cruise ships that ruin the environment is the best thing that happened to feminism–we know it is more complicated than that. But the shift in relationships being more autonomous, giving women more freedom to make choices about how they want to spend their time and money instead of assuming they are devoting it to their family, I think is a good thing. Being tied in with the problematic consumption patterns of the tourism industry, not as great–giving us a unique paradox about the privilege of lady vacations.

via San Jose Mercury News,

Exact figures are not available on the number of “girlfriend getaways” taking place, but one survey last year by the American Resort Development Association indicated 38 percent of the women responding had taken a female-only vacation, and 63 percent said they planned to do so by 2012.

The travel agencies catering to women (Gutsy Women Travel and Adventurous Wench, to name two) and websites doing the same (girlgetaway.com, girlaway.com,journeywoman.com, among others), as well as the May release of the indie film “Vacation!” (about a girls-only getaway gone grisly) suggest significant numbers of women are finding opportunities to escape, at least once in awhile, from job and family pressures.

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, who created the Healthy Voyager Web series and radio show, writes on her site that a girlfriend getaway can be crucial to one’s mental well-being: Friends need time to get together, vent and laugh. Even if times are tough and a full vacation is too pricey, Scott-Hamilton states that just 30 minutes by a community pool with your best buddy is better than nothing.

As a a single person, single gal vacations aren’t really “get-aways,” they are just my lifestyle and I am just as likely to travel with one of my female friends as I am with my male friends. But in this case it is clear that women that these vacations are being marketed to are of the married set that need to get-away. It’s clear that independence and autonomy are good for the mental health of families–when women are happy, so are their families. But is this a shift in actual practice where women are more independent? Or just a new marketing moment where the tourism industry has found a new gold mine market and are marketing off a rather slight demographic shift? And women that don’t have the luxury to benefit from the lady-cation movement are not stamping up their passports or seeing any kind of change in what is expected of them in their families.

Thanks to George Kelly for the link.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I always wonder why it seems so necessary for some women to “get away” without their boyfriends or husbands. Not that I think they shouldn’t be able to if they want to, but I am curious as to the motivation.
    My boyfriend is as much of a feminist as I am; I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have similar interests and almost all the same friends. If I want to “get away” from life, work, etc, I want to do that with him, because he’s my best friend. Why do so many women seem to be in relationships with men that they constantly want to “get away” from? If you always want to get away from your partner, I would think that means that you aren’t happy with them.
    Sometimes I do go over to my girlfriends houses and chill with them, but that’s usually because my BF has other things he’s doing.

    • Posted June 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      It doesn’t have to mean you aren’t happy with him. Sometimes, it means you have your things you want to do, and he has his things he wants to do. Last Dec, I went to London and Tel Aviv; he went to San Diego. This year I’m going back home to visit my family, and he’s hanging out at home. Different lives, different schedules. If you want some perspective, think of this: I feel someone who constantly wants to be with their boyfriend must not be very independent. Obviously, that’s not always the case, but I’m sure you can see how it might LOOK like that to the casual observer who doesn’t know you, just as it might LOOK to you that these women who need alone time aren’t happy with their boyfriends. Different needs, different relationship styles.

      One thing I don’t particularly understand, however, is why women feel like they need “girls nights out”. I have both male and female friends, but I don’t ever feel like I am in dire need of spending time ONLY with the female ones. I have different friends for different activities, i.e., I have a beach party friend, a quiet dinner at home friend, a go to a club friend, etc., and sometimes they all mix up together. I don’t ever feel as if I need female company in particular. The person I hang out with at that moment is usually the person who is free, and who wants to do whatever it is I am in the mood for. To be honest, when I’m invited out by my lesbian friends I often find the gatherings to be a bit boring. Their world is very female-centered, and I like it better when there is a mix of people- male personalities, female ones, and something in between. I never feel the need to ONLY be with women the way they seem to do. But that’s not to say I find it strange that other women do feel that way- to each his/her own! :)

    • Posted June 22, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Everyone is different, some people can’t stand being alone, some people thrive on it. For me, I absolutely need to be alone, as much as possible really, in order to be happy. and I’m married.

      But I think you’re way off in your characterization… it has nothing to do with not being with the right person or liking them. For me, and those like me, I am like that / would be like that with ANYONE. Regardless of how much I liked them. I always needed to get away from my family and friends to be alone when younger too for example, even though I love them.

      It’s similar to when people say if you really loved X you wouldn’t look at other men/women. That’s not how it works. I’m going to be attracted to other people regardless of who I’m with, and I’m going to need alone time regardless of who I’m with. If those are some sort of deal-breakers it literally means that me, and a whole lot of other people, aren’t allowed to be in relationships which I don’t accept.

      Having said that, my partner also needs alone time (not as much as me but enough to understand) so while I wish I got more alone time, that’s mostly because we have a child that I don’t get enough. Before we had a child we always gave us each other plenty of space.

  2. Posted June 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Daphne.
    There’s a cultural/marketing idea that men and women need their lady/bro time where they get away from their partners and spend it with friends of the same gender, and I don’t think that it’s healthy in terms of relationships. If you can relax more around your friends than your partner, there’s something wrong with your relationship. In a healthier society I don’t think that we should be socially segregating ourselves by gender. I think that it reinforces gender roles, us-vs-them feelings, and the idea that men and women aren’t part of one cohesive society. I think that it’s often reinforced because whether they be lady-cations or bachelor parties, the images that you’re likely conjuring up involve spending money freely, and marketing people like to encourage that.
    I think that a lot of dysfunctional gender relations only survive when gender segregated social groups are a norm.

    • Posted June 22, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t think people do it so much because it’s the same gender but because for the most part, most guys are going to have mostly male friends and most women are going to have mostly women friends.

      In addition, you can’t exactly talk about your partner/relationship with other people when your partner is THERE.

      Also for alot of people, their partners might not be that close with their friends, and that can be a wrinkle. When my partner comes out with my friends (which he does sometimes), I often have to spend most of the night hanging around him because he doesn’t know them as well or have as much in common with them, so it’s not fair to leave him on his own. But that greatly limits me.

      For me to truly have freedom to socialize and do what I want sometimes I need to do things without him. This strenghens our relationship not hurts it.

      • Posted June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        I’m not against taking time to yourself or time with friends that your partner doesn’t participate in. I’m just against the idea that guys can only connect with guys and that women can only connect with women. I have events that end up guy only, because only guys were interested, but they don’t have to be that way. I think that things are better when you don’t assume that women don’t want to hike 8 miles of hills or that big burly men don’t want their nails done.
        Defying convention, I did invite my favorite lady friends to my bachelor party, and it was definitely better for having all the people I wanted there (including my fiancee).

  3. Posted June 22, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I agree with Daphne and James. I am 22 and for the last 6 years have seen the grouping of my social circle rearrange itself from timid boys/girls to couples. It feels, for lack of a better word, natural.

    I also think that the need to hang with the girls/boys and have getaways is the prolonging of this segregation that was the status quo when you were an adolescent. A sort of pressure from peers suggesting that you have lost your way, the old we vs them way, which I find quite immature. It can nonetheless perpetuate itself and create frustration for the people who are not is good couples. If frustration arises, it is caused by the fact that the couple is not working well. But people influenced by this sort of peer pressure might understand it as not working well because it is a betrayal of what is perceived as natural (the bros/girls unit). So every break up would be a sort of return to the roots and every time you become part of the couple a sort, yes, betrayal to your peer group. I think this is very wide spread and keeps couples dysfunctional.

  4. Posted June 22, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    People have different personality types and amounts of alone/ friend time that they need in order to thrive. I have mostly female friends, but that doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with men or that I’m somehow segregated and think about things in terms of us/them. I just happen to have more in common with women that I meet and become friends with them more often. Desiring time away with friends, regardless of their gender, is not necessarily damaging to relationships, in fact for me it’s the healthier option. As Heidi noted, people have different ideas about what they want in relationships – some want to do everything with their partners and some don’t. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love or want to spend time with our partners, it means that we have other parts of our lives that we like to spend our time on. For many people romantic relationships don’t define our whole lives – they’re simply one part of our lives.

  5. Posted June 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of heternormativity, what about women who are partnered to other women or non-male-identified folks? Their experiences are pretty much ignored in most discussions of “girl time” and “lady vacations.”

  6. Posted June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Unsurprisingly, I suppose, Samhita’s discussion of the personal brings out the personal stories in everyone here. I, too, had a defensive, personal reaction to her divulging, thinking: “Hey, I rarely hang out with all-girl groups anymore and there is so much pressure to do so!” Whether simply assembling together at a party or insisting on a girls’ night or a getaway, groups of both married and single women regularly encourage me to join gender-segregated activities. It’s fine that they want that, but many of my closest friends are guys and I personally prefer the conversations and activites they pursue in groups (usually playing cards and having a beer while discussing politics and art) to what the ladies suggest (clothes shopping – I’m sorry I absolutely abhor that – and a greater tendency to gossip about people). Gender-segregated activities often also lead to gender generalizations in conversation, which I hate. By virtue of joining the guys (either on my own or with other ladies), the likelihood of this dies down.

    The kernel of truth to Samhita’s piece that did resonate with me is the idea that whether dating or committed for life to someone, we are all independent people with sides separate from our romantic relationships. As a judge said at a friend’s wedding, “You don’t lose your individuality in marriage because your individuality is what attracted your partner to you in the first place.” My partner shares almost everything that is truly important to me (political & existential beliefs, relationship philosophies, emotional goals, a love of travel, wanting a family, etc.), but he does not appreciate the Beatles or Bob Dylan enough. Vacations from each other are often useful and having deep friendships outside of my marriage that nurture the sides of me he can’t be expected to helps me to be a better partner to him.

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